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.

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