The Observer: A night at the Engeman/Mamma Mia! in review

The Observer

July 28, 2016

David Ambro

 

Now that Mamma Mia! has ended its Broadway run and the script is available for regional theater the test will be the music. Get the music right and you have a good Mamma Mia!

In its production of Mamma Mia! that opened at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport, they got the music right.

This is one of those must sees, an Engeman best.

They bound through the plot with great ease, and it’s a good one. A single mother, Donna Sheridan played by Michelle Dawson, runs a hotel on a tiny Greek island. Her 21-year-old daughter, Sophie played by Hannah Slabaugh, is getting married the next day.

Sophie doesn’t know who her father is, but she longs to know. She finds her mother’s diary, reads about relationships she had 21 years ago with three different men, Sam Carmichael played by Sean Hayden, Bill Austin played by Jeff Williams and Harry Bright played by Frank Vlastnik. In her mother’s name, she invites all three to her wedding in hopes of figuring out which one is her father.

By the wedding day, the three men agree to share a third each of fatherhood; Sophie and her fiancé Sky, played by Jacob Dickey, decide not to marry; and, not to waste a good wedding Donna and Sam marry and everyone lives happily ever after.

It’s everything romantic comedy is meant to be, but Mamma Mia! didn’t spend 14 years on a Broadway stage for its quirky plot  penned by Catherine Johnson. It’s the music by Benny Anderson, Björn Ulvaeus and Stig Anderson, and made famous by the swedish rock band ABBA, that made Mamma Mia! a Broadway sensation.

And in the groundbreaking Northport production, the Mamma Mia! debut on a [East Coast] regional stage, the orchestra and cast deliver an uplifting performance that lives up to the Engeman motto. “Where Broadway meets Main Street.” 

Ms. Slabaugh’s Sophie is solid, starting off softly with her “I Have a Dream” solo pining to learn the identity of her dad, then she picks up the tempo with “Honey, Honey,” accompanied by Jennifer Seifter as Ali and Lydia Dawson as Lisa, an Act I highlight. Slabaugh is captivating with her version of “Thank You For the Music,” performed with the three dads.

While Slabaugh emerges as a lovable Sophie, like any great musical this score lends itself to the star, and that’s where Michelle Dawson’s Donna takes over. With a powerful supporting cast of voices at her side, Ms. Dawson’s delivery of the Mamma Mia! classics wows the audience.

The show’s namesake song, “Mamma Mia!,” performed with her three husbands and the ensemble, is wonderfully entertaining, and the other Act I classic, “Dancing Queen,” with Donna and her two friends, Tanya, played by Heather Patterson King, and Rosie, played by Robin Lounsbury, drew rousing opening-night applause. These are two songs that leave you singing them long after the show is over, if you can sing, or humming them if you can’t.

In Act II it just keeps getting better, song after song that you have heard over and over – a lot of Dawson, some Slabaugh alternating in, and a chorus of wonderful supporting voices. “S.O.S.,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “The Winner Takes it All,” “Take a Chance on Me” … Theatergoer or not, these are songs that will be familiar to Engeman audiences and they are a ton of fun to listen to.

The end of Act II also offers a special treat that is worth waiting for, “Our Last Summer,” featuring Mr. Vlastnik’s Harry with Donna. Mr. Vlastnik is a professional with Broadway credits on his resume and when he starts into “Our Last Summer,” his star shines. He has an enchanting voice that alone is worth the price of admission.

By the time this musical medley is over, this night at the Engeman is like a stroll down Memory Lane, romantic comedy sharing the spotlight with musical theater to provide a great night out. Again, whether you’ve seen it on Broadway or not, this is one of those not-to-be-missed runs at the Engeman.

Mamma Mia! runs now through September 11. Tickets are $76 for Saturday evenings and $71 for all other performances and can be purchased at engemantheater.com, by calling 631-261-2900 or by visiting the theater box office at 250 Main Street in Northport Village. There are performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. with additional shows on Saturdays at 3 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

 

The Observer: Hometown Pepper adds spice at N’port theater of his youth

The Observer

July 28, 2016

David Ambro

 

While it has become a playhouse of the stars – “Where Broadway Meets Main Street” its mantra – the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport has deeper history for Christopher Hlinka.

In Mamma Mia!, which opened at the Engeman last week, Mr. Hlinka plays Pepper, a flirtatious young Greek isle hotel worker who brings acrobatic elements to the part. While his castmates coo at the charm and intimacy of the Engeman and the quaint Northport Village where it is located, Mr. Hlinka recalls the days when it was a second-run 99-cent movie theater where your feet stuck to the floor and the price of admission included a bag of popcorn. He calls Northport home.

Mr. Hlinka, 25, a 2009 graduate of Northport High School, recalls the days a decade ago before 250 Main Street was overhauled into the Engeman Theater. During his tenure at Northport High School, Mr. Hlinka was a member of the Powdered Wigs theatrical troupe – he played Cliff Bradshaw in Cabaret – and he sang with the storied Northport Tour Choir. He also attended the elite Long Island High School for the Arts in Syosset. He credits his high school experience with launching him into a career in theater.

After high school, Mr. Hlinka attended Marymount College in Manhattan, graduating in 2013 with a bachelor of arts degree in theater. The summer after he graduated he was selected as one of the rising young stars to perform at City Center on Broadway. The year after graduation, in 2014, he joined the cast of the Broadway  National Tour of Mamma Mia!, performing as Pepper and as the understudy for Eddy, another of the young flirts at the island hotel where the love story unfolds. He spent three months in the role in San Francisco, toured the country, and then traveled with the show to a landmark performance in Bogota, Colombia.

Last July he ended his run with Mamma Mia!. Mr. Hlinka said since that time he has been performing in concerts, taking dance classes and voice lessons to improve as an actor. Then, when he heard that Mamma Mia! was going to be performed at the professional theater in his hometown he wanted to audition and he landed his old role as Pepper.

“It’s been full circle for sure,” he said during an interview in the Engeman lobby Saturday, July 23.

Mr. Hlinka said his parents, Cathy and Jan Hlinka, who still reside in Northport, are regulars at the Engeman but that he has only been there once before, to see West Side Story. “I remember when it was a movie theater,” he said. “What they have done with it is beautiful. I have seen a lot of regional theater around the country and this is a wonderful theater.”

As for Mamma Mia! at the Engeman, Mr. Hlinka said working with director/choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo has brought a new vision to his role as Pepper. “Working with Antoinette has been a dream,” he said. “She has allowed everyone to have a little bit of their own spin on their roles.”

“She has done a really great job of re-imagining the show,” Mr. Hlinka said. “Mamma Mia! played on Broadway for 14 years and when you get a role it is like being plugged into a machine and you have to play it just the way they want you to, which is wonderful and fun, but here with Antoinette we can take more liberties with our character choices.”

Mr. Hlinka said he has tried to bring a more “badass” version of Pepper to the Engeman show, with tattoos and an attitude. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

When he was performing in the national tour, Mr. Hlinka said his parents traveled to Chicago to see him on stage. He admitted to being a little more nervous when they are in the house and disclosed that they were at the show on opening night last week, although having performed the part hundreds of times now the nerves are far less.

Mr. Hlinka is excited to perform in front of a hometown audience at the Engeman. “Every night there are people here I know, and I look forward to seeing them after the show,” he said.

His older [brother] Jonathan, a member of the United States Coast Guard stationed in Baltimore, was in town last weekend for a bachelorette party and he got a chance to go see the show before he had to go home.

As a member of the Powdered Wigs, Mr. Hlinka said he performed in a show his freshman year with actress Ashley Flanagan, another Northport High School graduate who has starred on the Engeman stage. “I looked up to her a lot. Then I saw her here in West Side Story, which was inspirational,” he said.

Mr. Hlinka said Northport High School and the Long Island High School for the Arts provided him with the foundation to become a professional actor. “Without the stepping stones that Northport High School provided, I definitely would not be where I am today,” he said. “It does take a lot of luck and good fortune and you have to be in the right place at the right time, and each stepping stone is about who you know to make it big, but I’m working on it.”

During an interview this week, Ms. Hlinka, a teaching assistant in the Northport-East Northport School District, said she grew up in Manhattan and has always loved the theater, so she has been taking her two sons to shows since they were young children. She said that Christopher has been on stage since he was six years old, but she is still “very nervous” while she watches him perform.

“I’m nervous and I always shed a tear, more than one usually,” Ms. Hlinka said about watching her son perform. “I don’t have the kind of stamina that he does. It is very emotional to watch and the energy that he puts into every performance is amazing.”

She said the schedule at the Engeman is especially grueling, with shows on back-to-back days and two a day sometimes. “He works very hard. He has to stay in great shape.”

When she saw her son perform as Pepper in the Broadway tour version in Chicago, Ms. Hlinka said the theater and the stage were much larger, the musical numbers were grander, the budget much greater, so the costumes and sets were more extravagant. But, she said, overall the show at the Engeman is just the same.

“You always know that when you go to the Engeman Theater you are going to have an excellent show,” Ms. Hlinka said. “The show quality overall, I think is awesome.”

“Christopher is living his dream,” Ms. Hlinka concluded. “He is living his dream every day and not many people get to do that. That is one of the things we say together all the time he and I – he is living his dream.”

 

Long Islander Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ Lights Up The Stage With Summertime Excitement

The Long Islander

July 28, 2016

Janee Law

 

The stage at the John W. Engeman Theater in Northport illuminated summertime on a Greek island on Saturday, as it was dressed in accents of blue, white stonewalls, budding flowers and a wooden dock. Audience members took in the beautiful setting as they proceeded to their seats to witness Tony Award-nominated musical “Mamma Mia!”

The story of summer fun unfolds when Sophie Sheridan, portrayed by Hannah Slabaugh, sets out on a quest to discover the identity of her father and invites three men from her mother’s past back to the island the day before her wedding.

The show, directed and choreographed by Antoinette DiPietropolo, is filled with fun and a provocative energy. The ensemble brings humor, heartache and heartwarming performances.

Donna Sheridan, played by Michelle Dawson, embodies a strong and independent mother who unravels in the “Mamma Mia!” number when she comes face-to-face with all three men from her past.

Dawson, who played the character five years ago on Broadway and the Broadway tour, said working with a different director has been amazing.

“It’s still the same story, the same music, but it’s a new vision,” Dawson said after the show. “Getting to experiment with the scenes in a different perspective from the director is really awesome.”

Based on the music of Swedish pop group ABBA, the show includes classic hits like “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” and “The Winner Takes It All.”

Dawson’s vocal performance is riveting. Starting out low with “Money, Money, Money,” she gradually hits higher notes with each passing song, particularly in “The Winner Takes It All.”

Slabaugh, who portrays the cute and courageous Sophie, said being part of this production and playing her character has been amazing.

“I see so much of myself in her, which is always a good thing. but then there were also places to explore and learn. It’s been a great time,” she said.

Other memorable performances include “Dancing Queen,” during which Donna and her friends Rosie and Tanya, played by Robin Lounsbury and Heather Patterson King respectively, embody girl time by playing dress up and using a shoe, a flashlight and a hairbrush as their microphones.

“I love ‘Slipping Through My Fingers.’ It touches my heart,” Dawson said. “You can feel the audience relating to the characters. There’s a little bit of us in all of those roles.”

The ensemble received a standing ovation at the end of the performance as they engaged with the audience by going into the crowd while singing “Mamma Mia!” and “Dancing Queen” for a second time, and “Waterloo.”

Tia Hamlin, of Huntington, who was in the crowd, called the singing “fantastic.”

“We saw ‘Mamma Mia!’ probably 14 years ago in New York, and the quality here was just fabulous. I think the closing was the best, when everybody is up on their feet and dancing. It was so fun. They never let us down when we come here.”

Performances run through Sept. 11. Show times vary from week to week, but this week performances are slated for 8 p.m. on Thursday and Friday; 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Saturday; and 2 p.m. on Sunday.

For more show times and to purchase tickets, which range $71-$76, visit the box office at 250 Main St. in Northport Village, call 631-261-2900, or log on to ­Engemantheater.com.

Read online: www.longislandernews.com/life-and-style/mamma-mia-lights-up-the-stage-with-summertime-excitement

Newsday review: ABBA has them dancing up a storm at Engeman

Newsday

July 26, 2016

Steve Parks

 

Agendas are being pushed in our faces — the Republican convention last week; the Democrats winding up Thursday. But here’s a musical with absolutely no agenda, other than to take your mind off whatever may be going on outside the Engeman Theater at Northport.

Long Island’s only year-round Equity company launched its 10th season with the East Coast regional premiere — that means not counting its 14 years on Broadway — of the jukebox musical “Mamma Mia!,” based on the disco-era hits of the Swedish band ABBA, which, but for this show, might be forgotten. The musical that had people dancing in the aisles, if not right up to its 2015 close, had folks dancing like last call was hours away at opening night of this infectious Engeman production directed and gleefully choreographed by Antoinette DiPietropolo.
Scripted by Catherine Johnson (music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus), “Mamma Mia!” gets right to the point as fatherless bride-to-be Sophie discovers her mother’s diary describing intimate dates with three men when she was 17. (We’re already anticipating “Dancing Queen,” which doesn’t disappoint.) Sophie, confident that she’ll discern which of the three is Dad, invites each to her wedding.

Hannah Slabaugh as Sophie projects a gullible innocence that tricks her into believing she can manage this without complications. Michelle Dawson as her mom, Donna, reprises a role she understudied on Broadway and played on national tour. Her expertise comes through in convincing us of her bewilderment that these men from her past have shown up for Sophie’s wedding. And she delivers with gusto the climactic “Winner Takes It All.”

The daddy candidates are stereotypical. But get over it. As some songwriter of note once asked, “What’s wrong with silly love songs?” Without overdoing it, Frank Vlastnik plays Harry as Not Donna’s Type. Or rather, she’s not his. Jeff Williams as Bill evokes a grandfatherly tone while Sean Hayden as Sam occupies the just-right category of odds-on favorite. After the title song with Donna, all are keen on the honor of giving Sophie away, while Jacob Dickey as the groom wonders why Sophie’s fuss isn’t over him.

DT Willis’ taverna set glows with a Mediterranean vibe (lighting by Adam Honoré), while James Olmstead’s band keeps the disco beat throbbing to the pulse of urgent young love, past and present. If you don’t still get it, well, never mind.

 

Read online: www.newsday.com/entertainment/theater/mama-mia-review-abba-has-them-dancing-up-a-storm-at-engeman

Times of Huntington-Northport Review: Engeman presents a ‘Mamma Mia!’ fit for a ‘Dancing Queen’

Times Beacon Record

July 26, 2016

Rita J. Egan

 

The Long Island premiere of “Mamma Mia!,” the jukebox musical that features an assortment of iconic songs from the Swedish pop group ABBA, opened at the John W. Engeman Theater last week. And, it appears the name of the game for the Northport venue is success as it has produced another Broadway-quality show right here on the North Shore.

Director Antoinette DiPietropolo skillfully directs a multitalented cast of 20 who recreate the warmth, charm and energy that audiences loved when the production ran on Broadway for 14 years.

Written by Catherine Johnson, with music and lyrics by former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, as well as some songs with Stig Anderson, “Mamma Mia!” tells the touching story of 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan who lives in a taverna on a small Greek island with her mother Donna. After reading her mother’s old diary, Sophie, who is about to marry her fiancé Sky, decides to invite three men from the single Donna’s past, one that may be the young woman’s father. While the threesome’s visit may or may not bring the answer Sophie is looking for, it does take Donna on a wonderful musical trip down memory lane.

Portraying Sophie’s mother, Donna Sheridan, is Michelle Dawson, who played the character in the Broadway National tour. The actress perfectly embodies the quirky, free-spirited, earthy nature of Donna, and she has great stage presence, too. With her animated facial expressions and dynamite smile, it’s easy for the audience to decipher whether Donna is in agony over past mistakes or enjoying beautiful memories. Her vocals are strong on every number, and when it comes to “The Winner Takes It All,” in the beginning of the song she uses her singing talents to deliver the lyrics as if they were a monologue, and then she powerfully builds the song up to its heartbreaking ending.

Dawson also shows off her comedic abilities with Heather Patterson King and Robin Lounsbury, who play her visiting friends Tanya and Rosie, respectively. The three are funny during the song “Chiquitita” where Tanya and Rosie try to cheer their friend up, and then deliver a well-executed “Dancing Queen” as they remember their days as Donna and the Dynamos. A couple of scenes later, they treat the audience to their fantastic vocal talents once more with “Super Trouper.”

King is perfect as the sophisticated yet fun-loving Tanya, and during Act II, she sings “Does Your Mother Know” like a rock goddess. Lounsbury as Rosie is funny and delightfully carefree, especially during the number “Take a Chance on Me” where she playfully lets one of Donna’s former lovers, Bill, know exactly how she feels.

Hannah Slabaugh as Sophie Sheridan is everything you expect the young woman to be — sweet, loving, curious and determined. She captures Sophie’s spirit perfectly, and her vocals are lovely on every song she sings.

Sean Hayden is charming and sweet as Sam Carmichael, one of Sophie’s potential fathers. On opening day, when Sam sang “Knowing Me, Knowing You” to the young woman, it seemed as if both Carmichael and Slabaugh were misty-eyed.

Frank Vlastnik is well-cast as the buttoned-up yet kind Harry, and during Act II, Vlastnik and Dawson treat the audience to a tender version of “Our Last Summer.” Jeff Williams captures the sexy, adventurous nature of Bill Austin and at the same time easily shows the character’s softer side. He demonstrates good vocals on the numbers he takes part in, too. Jacob Dickey is adorable and endearing as Sky, Sophie’s fiancé. Dickey possesses the handsome good looks of boy band member, but when he sings, he performs his parts like a successful solo artist. Jennifer Seifter (Ali), Lydia Ruth Dawson (Lisa), Darius Jordan Lee (Eddie) and Christopher Hlinka (Pepper) as Sophie’s and Sky’s best friends enhance the upbeat feel of the musical, and Hlinka shows a good amount of comedic ability when Pepper attempts to seduce Tanya.

Director DiPietropolo also choreographed the Northport production, and her choreography is at its finest at the end of Act I when the whole cast as well as ensemble delivers a fun, energetic “Voulez-Vous.” As far as the striking set in shades of blue and sand with floral accents, it’s worthy of a stage on the Great White Way.

Designed by DT Willis, the set includes doors that allow the actors to move effortlessly on and off stage as well as a section that easily switches from a front door to a bedroom. Not to be forgotten is the band featuring Alexander Rovang (conductor/keyboard), Anthony Brindisi (keyboard 2), Douglas Baldwin (guitars), Russ Brown (bass) and Josh Endlich (drums). The musicians do an excellent job recreating the instrumentals of the cherished ABBA tunes.

After the bows on opening night, in true “Mamma Mia!” musical form, the cast had no trouble getting the audience to get up and dance with them to favorite ABBA hits. The pop group once sang “the winner takes it all,” and in the case of the Northport production, the cast, crew and audience all walk away winners.

The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main Street, Northport, will present “Mamma Mia!” through Sept. 11. Tickets are $76 for Saturday evening performances and $71 for all other performances. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.

 

Read online: www.tbrnewsmedia.com/engeman-presents-a-mamma-mia-fit-for-a-dancing-queen

NY Theatre Guide Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ at John W. Engeman Theater

NY Theatre Guide

July 26, 2016

Kristen Weyer

 

The John W. Engeman Theater opens its 10th season with Mamma Mia!  This feel-good musical, with a book by Catherine Johnson, is written around the music of Swedish singing group ABBA.  With music and lyrics by Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, and occasionally Stig Anderson, this show features such classic hits as “Dancing Queen,” “Money, Money, Money,” and naturally “Mamma Mia,” to name only a few.  Directed and choreographed by Antoinette DiPietropolo, Mamma Mia!  is a fun and energetic good time

Taking place on an idyllic Greek island, this romantic comedy has a slightly twisted, yet very humorous plotline.  Sophie (Hannah Slabaugh) is getting married, and she wants her father to walk her down the aisle.  The problem is, she has no idea who he is.  Her mother, Donna (Michelle Dawson), has raised her as a single mom her entire life. Not letting this deter her, Sophie secretly reads her mom’s old diary and discovers that she has three potential fathers!  So unbeknownst to Donna, Sophie invites all three men to her wedding, hoping to discover which one of them is her father.  Could it be handsome architect Sam Carmichael (Sean Hayden)?  The intrepid adventurer Bill Austin (Jeff Williams)?  Or perhaps the straight-laced London banker Harry Bright (Frank Vlastnik)?  When all three accept the invites, returning to the island, and woman, they haven’t seen in twenty years…well what could possibly go wrong?  As confusion and comedy reign supreme, audiences of varying ages will enjoy the amusing antics and marvelous music of this terrific show.

The Engeman’s production of Mamma Mia! is very well done.  A beautiful set by DT Willis, with just the right touch of blue, creates the perfect backdrop for this Greek comedy.  While DiPietropolo shows great talent in both direction and choreography throughout the production, it is quite noticeable during “Money, Money, Money,” and “Lay All Your Love On Me,” which are particularly good.  The dance numbers are pure fun, and the fabulous costuming by Tristan Raines ranges from classic beachy, to outrageously enjoyable throwbacks to the ‘70s. Music Director James Olmstead and the entire band, do a superb job with this fast-paced score.

The ensemble is full of talented dancers and singers.  Hannah Slabaugh and Jacob Dickey make a cute couple, with good chemistry as Sophie and Sky.  Michelle Dawson gives a convincing portrayal of the beleaguered Donna, while also boasting some impressive vocals.  Heather Patterson King and Robin Lounsbury are very funny as Donna’s best friends Tanya and Rosie.  Sean Hayden does a wonderful job portraying Sam’s trepidation of once again seeing Donna.  Jeff Williams’ laid back performance of Bill is perfect for his character, and his believable Australian accent adds that extra touch.  In contrast is Frank Vlastnik as the proper Harry, whose desire to loosen up and be spontaneous is endearing.

With lots of laughs, and fantastic fun, Mamma Mia! is an entertaining escape for the whole family.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours 30 minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

Advisory: Sexual references and innuendo.

Mamma Mia! runs until September 11, 2016 and is presented at the John W. Engeman Theatre in Northport. For more information, click here.

 

Read online: www.nytheatreguide.com/2016/07/theatre-review-mamma-mia-at-john-w-engeman-theater

Smithtown Matters Review: MAMMA MIA!

Smithtown Matters

July 24, 2016

Jeb Ladouceur

 

Granted, many fans of the feel-good ‘Mamma Mia!’ featuring songs like “Dancing Queen,” … “The Winner Takes It All,” … and of course the title track … probably identify the play with the so-so motion picture adaptation starring the great Meryl Streep and Colin Firth. But the fact is, the movie was greeted with mixed reviews at best. It made $600 million with an investment of $50 million. In Hollywood parlance … hardly a blockbuster!

The stage show that opened in London’s West End in 1999, on the other hand, has been attended by 60 million theatergoers over the years, and it’s grossed a whopping two billion bucks! In fact, the musical played almost 6000 performances on Broadway alone, making ‘Mamma Mia!’ the longest running ‘Jukebox’ show in the Great White Way’s history!

But as The Bard has written in ‘The Tempest’ … “What is past is prologue.” In other words, historical events merely set the stage for what is about to take place today. And what’s currently going on at Northport’s snazzy Engeman Theatre is really quite a marvelous piece of show business indeed.

First, let’s get that silly definition disposed of: The term ‘Jukebox Musical,’ I hasten to point out, is not a pejorative; it merely defines a stage or film musical that uses previously released popular songs as its score. And it should be further noted that ‘Mamma Mia’s’ unquestioned success has contributed greatly to the acceptance of the genre throughout the world.

I frankly prefer not to use the ‘Jukebox’ idiom because a number of the people I know in this critiquing business tend to equate the expression with artificiality … but if there’s anything synthetic about Music Director James Olmstead’s appealing numbers at the heart of this show, I’ll eat my hat. The plain fact of the matter is that once any musical is revived, and new life is breathed into its familiar score, the show has essentially become the equivalent of what the theater industry foolishly (in this critic’s view) chooses to call a ‘Jukebox Musical.’

Be that as it may, the lovely Michelle Dawson (Donna Sheridan) wastes no time in assuming center stage with poise and élan in this story that takes place on a Greek island. You see … ‘Donna’s’ little girl (Sophie), played by Hannah Slabaugh, is getting married in the morning, but before she walks down the aisle, she’s determined to find the answer to something that obsesses her—which of three potential candidates (each of whom obviously has a 20-year-old history with Mamma)—is her daddy?

The potential for grown-up farce in this situation is evident. And the audience at the sold-out Engeman press opening responded to the rib-tickling challenge predictably.

Ms. Dawson has played ‘Mamma Mia!’ in the Big Town, as have performers Sean Hayden, and Jacob Dickey … and their experience shows. But the rest of the featured cast, though they’re new to this Tony-nominated play, are equally at home. They include Robin Loonsbury, Heather Patterson King, Jeff Williams, and Frank Vlastnik (a standout as Harry Bright) and they owe a lot to veteran Director-Choreographer Antoinette Dipietropolo and her creative team. These seasoned experts make the players look great!

There are a dozen more cast members who appear for our edification in this summertime toe-tapping delight, and unless I miss my guess, most of them are on their way to feature status … and even stardom.

After so many years of constantly producing Broadway quality shows, and individual virtuoso performances, there’s no reason to believe that appearance on the Engeman stage won’t ultimately lead these kids all the way to the top.

Read online: www.smithtownmatters.com/long-island-theater/2016/7/24/theater-review-mamma-mia.html

Meet Mamma Mia! Star Michelle Dawson

Now playing is the musical sensation MAMMA MIA! based on the music of Swedish pop band ABBA. This production is the East Coast Regional premiere of the hit musical, which closed on Broadway in September 2015 after a 14-year run.

We sat down with lead actress Michelle Dawson, who plays Donna Sheridan in the upcoming production.

Born and raised in Vermont, Michelle dreamed of being an actress from a young age. “I got bit by the bug early on and didn’t look back!” At the age of 18, she was crowned Miss Vermont in the Miss America pageant and won a most-talented award. Since then, she has appeared in professional productions all over the country as well as on Broadway, where she was in the original casts of Cyrano – The Musical and Spider-Man: Turn off the Dark, and the Broadway revival of Showboat.

Michelle is no stranger to MAMMA MIA! having performed in both the Broadway and National Touring productions. On Broadway, she understudied for Donna and Rosie before going on to play first Tanya and later Donna in the National Touring production.

“I toured for over 2.5. years with Mamma Mia! It was an absolute highlight in my career! I had the fortune to play Tanya for a year and Donna for over a year and a half,” said Dawson.  “One of my biggest highlights on tour was the 2009 Tony Awards! They did a segment on national touring companies, and I performed ‘Dancing Queen’ as Donna along with the two other Dynamos.” On tour, she was often joined by her 11-year-old son and her husband, Chris Cardona, a professional violinist who has performed in Broadway shows and recorded with a number of well-known artists.

Despite her familiarity with the show and her role as Donna, performing with a new cast and creative team has brought with it a new perspective and unique experience for Michelle. “I came in knowing all the music and the script, and it’s the same type of role, but it’s a director’s whole new vision,” she said. “With a different director comes new insight, things I hadn’t thought about before.”

Director and Choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo’s vision of Mamma Mia! has Michelle and her fellow cast members delving deeper into the characters’ relationships and feelings within the show. This has given Michelle an even stronger connection with her character, which she thinks will resonate with audiences.

“One of the reasons audiences love it so much is because we are real people. Donna’s a mother – she’s a single mother – and she has a lost love, and I think a lot of [people] can relate to that,” she added describing her character. “She’s earthy and she works hard, you know, running the joint and doing it all on her own and not really taking a moment to think about herself and what she wants.”

Enhancing the characters and story of Mamma Mia! is, of course, the iconic music of ABBA. The musical features 22 of ABBA’s greatest hits, including “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper,” “Take a Chance on Me” and many more. With lovable characters, a relatable story and sensational music, Michelle is sure that Mamma Mia! will be enjoyable for all: “It’s such a fun ride! You’ll laugh, cry, and laugh again!”

MAMMA MIA! will play the following performance schedule: Thursdays at 8:00pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00.  Some Wednesday and Sunday evenings are available. Tickets are $76 on Saturday evenings, $71 all other performances and may be purchased by calling (631) 261-2900, going online at www.EngemanTheater.com, or by visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Street, Northport.  Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express accepted.

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