NY Times Review: Dancing in the Aisles to ‘Mamma Mia!’ in Northport

New York Times

Aileen Jacobson

August 19, 2016

 

Catchy tunes and a clever plot helped make “Mamma Mia!” a 14-year-long hit on Broadway, and those qualities continue to provide buoyancy for the production at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport.

The musical’s construction is smart, too: It begins with a lively overture previewing some of the familiar tunes by the Swedish pop group Abba that fill the show, and it ends with curtain-call reprises of two of the bounciest songs, the title number and “Dancing Queen,” along with a bonus song, “Waterloo,” that Catherine Johnson, the resourceful book writer, somehow was unable to squeeze into her plot. She did, however, manage to find ways to integrate, with few or no changes in the lyrics, more than 20 other songs by the Abba writing team, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus (with some help from Stig Anderson). The musical closed on Broadway only a year ago, after spawning multiple productions and tours all over the world.

Since the actors encourage an audience singalong and group dance party during the choreographed curtain call — some performers even run into the aisles — the show ends on an intensive upbeat note.

The Engeman production needs that forgiving finale. It suffers from different styles and levels of acting skills, though it retains a fluffy, feel-good energy. Antoinette DiPietropolo, the director and choreographer, is better at moving cast members around in lively steps (and allowing the excellent dancers among them to show off) than she is at reining in the less seasoned actors, whose exaggerated facial expressions sometimes veered into cartoon territory.

The production’s greatest strengths are its leading actors. Hannah Slabaugh, who plays the 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan — who is about to get married and desires to meet the father she never knew — calls to mind a young Laura Benanti, with her fresh look and spunky-but-wise-beyond-her-years spirit. She also has a lovely voice, noticeable from the start in “I Have a Dream,” a soft ballad that begins and ends the plotted part of the musical.

Sophie has grown up on a small Greek island where her single mother, Donna, runs a taverna. After finding her mother’s diary from some nine months before her birth, Sophie discovers that her father could be one of three men, though none would be aware of her existence. Pretending to be her mother, Sophie sends wedding invitations to all three men, certain she’ll be able to determine which one is her dad. They all accept and show up, which is not a welcome surprise for either Donna or Sophie’s fiancé, Sky (Jacob Dickey).

To the role of Donna, the former star of a disco-era girl group called Donna and the Dynamos, Michelle Dawson brings a knockout voice and an aura of maturity and gravity. Ms. Dawson knows the part well — she was an understudy for it on Broadway and played Donna during the national tour. She suffuses her numbers with deep emotions, particularly in her high-voltage “The Winner Takes It All,” when Donna feels she has lost her chance at happiness.

The men playing the possible fathers (Frank Vlastnik, Jeff Williams and Sean Hayden, each personable and distinctive) are less intense, but like Ms. Dawson are adept at keeping their roles within an acceptable realm of realism. As are the two women who play the Dynamos, with Heather Patterson King as the glossy, still-svelte Tanya and Robin Lounsbury as the more down-to-earth Rosie. When they enter, trailing remnants of their glamorous but eccentric pasts, they look a little like Edina and Patsy from the BBC television comedy and recent movie “Absolutely Fabulous.” When they, along with Donna, dress up in their tight, silver Dynamos outfits, they all look like shiny refugees from a “Star Trek” movie, thanks to Tristan Raines’s amusing costume designs.

Earlier, in their everyday clothes (Donna’s include ripped jeans, because she does a lot of repair work on her property), the three women reminisce about their former glory with an impromptu performance of “Dancing Queen,” each grabbing a shoe, a hairbrush or a flashlight to use as a make-believe microphone.

Very few numbers remain as a solo, duet or trio. In many scenes, a supporting chorus of singers and dancers soon pops up, which works well for a jukebox musical like this one. The band, under James Olmstead’s musical direction, provides a driving rhythmic support. DT Willis’s set, dramatically lighted by Adam Honore, is a low-key but pleasing element, with evocative silhouettes in the first and last scenes that enhance the fable-like tone of the musical.

The most troubled relationship is that between Donna and Sam (Mr. Hayden), while the most heartwarming is the one that develops between Rosie and the adventurous Australian, Bill (Mr. Williams), to the tune of “Take a Chance on Me.”

Two of the lines from that song are “But I think you know, that I can’t let go,” which is something nearly all the lyrics could be saying. These classic tunes are earworms — so watch out. Even reading or saying the titles may embed them, once again, in your psyche.

Read online: www.nytimes.com/theater-review-mamma-mia-in-northport.html

Village Tattler Review: Thank You for the Music of Mamma Mia!

The Village Tattler

Claudia D. Wheeler

August 4, 2016

 

The perfect summer musical is already engaging audiences at Northport’s John W. Engeman Theater, now through September 11, 2016. Mamma Mia! takes it all and gives it all–another successful production with an enormously talented cast led by the amazing director and choreographer Antoinette DiPietropolo, who returns to Engeman after successful choreography of Memphis, Miracle on 34th Street, The Producers, A Christmas Story, Evita!, The Music Man, South Pacific, Hairspray, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change, and NunsenseMamma Mia! is produced by Richard T. Dolce, the Engeman Theater’s Producing Artistic Director.

The band in this musical is such a key to its success showcasing the pop songs of ABBA, and Engeman’s band knocks it out of the theater with Alexander Rovang as Conductor and Keyboard; Anthony Brindisi on Keyboard 2; Douglas Baldwin on guitars; Russ Brown on bass; and Josh Endlich on drums.

Tickets are going fast and shows have been added to meet the demand (seewww.EngemanTheater.com for the full schedule). Performances are on Thursdays at 8:00pm, Fridays at 8:00pm, Saturdays at 3:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sundays at 2:00. Some Tuesday, 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 atwww.EngemanTheater.com, or by visiting the Engeman Theater Box Office at 250 Main Street, Northport.

This Tony Award-nominated musical was written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, and is based on the songs of the Swedish pop group ABBA. Music was composed by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, former members of the band ABBA, who were involved with the production from the start. The show premiered on London’s West End in 1999, making its way to its Broadway premiere in 2001, where it ran for 14 years (most of that run at the Winter Garden Theater).

Memorable hit songs include “The Winner Takes It All,” “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Thank You for the Music,” and “Voulez-Vous,” among others.

The cast of Mamma Mia! features the incredible Michelle Dawson who plays the lead Donna Sheridan and played the same part in Mamma Mia! on Broadway. Her acting is spot on and she plays the role seamlessly. Having seen the Broadway version of the musical about 4 years ago, I was impressed with Engeman’s version. Other Broadway credits for Dawson include Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, Ragtime, Showboat, & Cyrano.

 The show centers around a plot that unfolds on a Greek island paradise (kudos to the creative team that includes DT Willis for the amazing scenic design). Donna’s daughter  Sophie is about to get married and is on a quest to discover the identity of her father (all of Act 1 is the day before the wedding); Act 2 takes place the day of the wedding.

The trio of possible fathers are invited to the wedding by bride-to-be Sophie. They return to the island they first visited 21 years before when they met Donna.

Bride-to-be Sophie Sheridan is played by Hannah Slabaugh who makes her Engeman debut in Mamma Mia! Her credits include the National Tour of Annie; Regional Theater: Les Miserables (Eponine), Next to Normal (Natalie). Her groom-to-be is Jacob Dickey whose credits include Regional: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Theatre Raleigh), Mamma Mia! (Royal Caribbean), Next to Normal(Charleston Stage).

Sophie’s possible dads are played, at times hilariously, by the three actors Sean Hayden, Jeff Williams, and Frank Vlastnik, who are all Donna’s boyfriends from 21 years before. Hayden is Sam Carmichael (Broadway national tours: Lincoln Centers The Light in the Piazza and Mamma Mia! Off Broadway: Confidentially, Cole; Williams is Bill Austin (Broadway/National Tour: The Music Man, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Pirate Queen, A Christmas Carol, The Will Rogers Follies,Me and My Girl); and Vlastnik as Harry Bright (Engeman Theater: The Sunshine Boys; Broadway: A Year with Frog and Toad, Sweet Smell of Success, Big. Off-Broadway: Sondheim’s Saturday Night).

Notable performances are made by both of Donna’s girlfriends Tanya and Rosie. Heather Patterson King, who delights the audience in her role as Tanya, is a long-time friend of Donna’s who returns to the island for the wedding. King’s credits include Regional and NY: Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof, The Wizard of Oz. The character of Rosie is performed by Robin Lounsbury, whose credits include Regional: Fulton Theatre, Barrington Stage, Paper Mill Playhouse, North Shore Music Theatre.

The cast also includes: Lydia Ruth Dawson, Joey Dippel, Jay Gamboa, Christopher Hlinka, Stephanie Israelson, Yurina Kutsukake, Darius Jordan Lee, Suzanne Mason, Edward Miskie, Anjuli Regnier, Avery Royal, and Jennifer Seifter.

The creative team includes DT Willis for scenic design, Tristan Raines for costume design, Adam Honore for lighting design, Adam Shubert for sound design, Gayle Seay and Scott Wojcik as casting directors, Wojcik/Seay Casting, Kristie Moschetta for props design, Denise Wilcox as production/stage manager, and Megan E. Coutts as assistant stage manager.

Read online: www.villagetattler.com/thank-music-mamma-mia/

Long Island Press Review: Mamma Mia! Hit Musical Debuts at Northport’s Engeman Theater

Long Island Press

August 2, 2016

Elise Pearlman

Mamma Mia!, the Broadway smash hit musical showcasing the high-energy songs of pop superstars ABBA, recently began its East Coast regional debut at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport.

It is said that the musical, which has played to international audiences and had a record 14-year run on Broadway, often inspired dancing in the aisles. Well, the Engeman production was so sensational that if the historic theater had wider aisles, dancing would have prevailed. Following a thunderous standing ovation, the cast treated the audience to a finale reprising the show’s hottest numbers. As theatergoers clapped, sang along and danced in place, the actors broke the fourth wall and streamed off the stage, performing throughout the theater and heightening the excitement.

If you can only see one show this summer, it must be Mamma Mia!

The story unfolds in a taverna perched high on a sun-kissed Greek island adrift in the Aegean Sea. The owner of this little piece of paradise is single mom Donna Sheridan, who’s finishing up last-minute details in preparation for the wedding of her 20-year-old daughter, Sophie. There’s quite the emotional conundrum casting a shadow on the festivities.

Donna was never sure who Sophie’s father was because she sowed some wild oats with three guys around the time that Sophie was conceived. Sophie unearths her mother’s diary, which contains intimate details about the possible identity of her father. It’s her dream to have him walk her down the aisle, so unbeknownst to her mother, Sophie has invited her three could-be fathers to the wedding. The past will collide with the present in the funniest way possible when this trio of unexpected guestswhom Donna has not seen in 21 yearsarrives.

How did the songs of the wildly popular Swedish pop music group that reigned for 10 years between the early 1970s and ’80s come to be the basis for a global smash hit?

In the early ’80s, award-winning British theatrical producer Judy Craymer serendipitously met ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson when they were working with Tim Rice on the musical, Chess. After hearing “The Winner Takes It All,” Craymar conceived of ABBA’s songs as a framework for a theatrical production. The songwriters themselves were not totally convinced of the viability of such a project.

It was a long time in the making, but in ’97, Catherine Johnson was commissioned to pen the book. The show opened in ’99 in London. It has been reported that Craymar reaped more than $100 million from her stroke of genius, and Mamma Mia! mania continues to this day. Now it’s reached Northport.

Mamma Mia! is one of the most captivating and exhilarating productions to ever grace the Engeman stage. The cast, the direction, choreography, the set and the music are simply superlative.

The performance of Michelle Dawson (Donna) is informed by a complete understanding of each of the adult female characters. She has played all of them between the Broadway National Tour and as an understudy on Broadway. Dawson shines as the strong woman who pulled herself up by her bootstraps while nursing a bruised heart. She bares her soul in the gut-wrenching song, “The Winner Takes It All,” and renders it beautifully.

Hannah Slabaugh, who boasts a plethora of national and regional tour credits, embodies the youthful exuberance that defines Sophie Sheridan. She has incredible stage presence and the mellifluous voice of an angel. From her first song, “I Have A Dream,” you’ll be smitten.  Jacob Dickey, plays Sky, her fiancé, and you’ll feel their chemistry in their duet, “Lay All Your Love on Me.”

As the story goes, Donna was once part of an all-girl band, “Donna and the Dynamos.” Donna’s singing sidekicks, Rosie and Tanya, are played to perfection by Robin Lounsbury and Heather Patterson King, respectively. Ms. King, who has played the character in Mamma Mia International RCI is hilarious as the thrice-married femme fatale who has some very humorous, off-color moments in “Does Your Mother Know?” with a flirtatious younger man, Pepper (Christopher Hlinka). Ms. Lounsbury similarly tickles the audience’s funny bone to the max in her duet with Bill (Jeff Williams).

All of Donna’s former lovers have pursued different paths in life, and a large portion of the plot has the audience guessing about Sophie’s paternity. Sam (Sean Hayden, who played the character in the Broadway National Tour), who jotted the design of the taverna on a napkin during his time with Donna, became an architect. His tender, caring side comes to the fore in the bittersweet solo, “Knowing Me, Knowing You.”

Similarly, Harry (Frank Vlastnik), now a banker, shines in the reminiscent duet, “Our Last Summer.” In contrast, Bill (Jeff Williams), an Australian journalist, shows off his comedic chops when Rosie puts some aggressive moves on him in “Take A Chance On Me.”

Scenic designer DT Willis’ visually appealing set resonates with the blues and turquoises of the Aegean Sea. An oversized circular portal provides an enchanting view of the waters below the hilltop taverna. The circular theme and the Mediterranean colors are echoed in the floor design.

Further visual unification is supplied by the charming blue distressed interior doors. Adam Honoré’s glorious lighting further enhances the beauty of the set. The silhouetting of characters against the circular portal is an outstanding touch.

I first met Antoinette DiPietropolo when she directed and choreographed another one of my favorite shows at the Engeman, Nunsense. Her direction and choreography is flawless, and she brings the same sense of fun that she brought to Nunsense toMamma Mia! I particularly enjoyed the choreography and wild abandon of the seductive “Voulez-Vous,” as well as “Does Your Mother Know?”

The hits keep coming, so I’d be hard-pressed to pick a favorite song, but, of course, the title song, “Mamma Mia,” when a conflicted Donna experiences an emotional thunderbolt as she sees her lost love again, is a standout.

Music is what has made Mamma Mia! a sensation. The extraordinarily talented James Olmstead, who has been at the helm for Engeman’s best-loved musicals, is once again the musical director. Known for his expertise in maximizing the sound of the pit band, and his skillful re-orchestration, he is at the top of his game, and it shows, big time.

Expect to be wowed by the colorful costumes designed by Tristan Raines. I absolutely loved the form-fitting silver ensembles worn by Donna and her gal pals in “Super Trouper.” The fringed vest and granny glasses seen in “The Dancing Queen” will trigger a wave of nostalgia.

Mamma Mia! runs through Sept. 11. Theatergoers are urged to purchase tickets early as high demand has already prompted the addition of extra performances, and this show might very well sell out. Tickets can be purchased at the box office, by calling 631-261-2900 or visiting www.engemantheater.com The John W. Engeman Theater is located at 250 Main St., Northport.

Read online: www.longislandpress.com/mamma-mia-hit-musical-debuts-at-northports-engeman-theater

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

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

The John W. Engeman Theater presents MAMMA MIA!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

(Northport, NY- June 2016) – The John W. Engeman Theater announces the cast and creative team for MAMMA MIA!  Performances begin on Thursday, July 21 at 8:00pm and run through Sunday, September 11, 2016.

Over 60 million people around the world have fallen in love with the characters, the story and the music that make MAMMA MIA! the ultimate feel-good show! This tale full of sun and fun unfolds on a Greek island paradise when, on the eve of her wedding, a daughter’s quest to discover the identity of her father brings three men from her mother’s past back to the island they last visited 20 years before. Based on the music of Swedish pop group ABBA, this Tony Award-nominated musical includes hits like “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “The Winner Takes It All,” and many, many more!

MAMMA MIA! is produced by RICHARD T. DOLCE the Engeman Theater’s Producing Artistic Director.

The Director and Choreographer is ANTOINETTE DIPIETROPOLO (Engeman Theater: Memphis, Miracle on 34th Street, The Producers, A Christmas Story, Evita!, The Music Man, South Pacific, Hairspray, I Love You You’re Perfect Now Change and Nunsense. Off Broadway: With Glee. Regional: Annie, Jesus Christ Superstar, Chicago, Ragtime. National Tour: How The Grinch Stole Christmas, Associate Director/Choreographer for The Big Apple Circus).  The Musical Director is JAMES OLMSTEAD (Engeman Theater: Thoroughly Modern Millie, Memphis, West Side Story, The Producers, A Chorus Line, Evita. Broadway: Radio City’s New York Spring Spectacular (Keyboardist), On Your Feet! (Copyist). Off Broadway Music Director: 54 Below/Feinstein’s Broadway Swinger, Birdland’s BAA 10th Anniversary Concert, Laurie Beechman’s Perfectly Complicated. Off Broadway Synth Programmer: Fun Home. Composer: Mambo Italiano, Gary Goldfarb: Master Escapist.).

 

The Creative Team includes: DT WILLIS (Scenic Design), TRISTAN RAINES (Costume Design), ADAM HONORE (Lighting Design), ADAM SHUBERT (Sound Design), GAYLE SEAY and SCOTT WOJCIK of WOJCIK/SEAY CASTING (Casting Directors), KRISTIE MOSCHETTA (Props Design), DENISE WILCOX (Production Stage Manager), and MEGAN E. COUTTS (Assistant Stage Manager).

 

The cast of MAMMA MIA! features MICHELLE DAWSON as Donna Sheridan (Broadway: Mamma Mia!, Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark, Ragtime, Showboat, & Cyrano); JACOB DICKEY as Sky (Regional: The Mystery of Edwin Drood (Theatre Raleigh), Mamma Mia! (Royal Caribbean), Next to Normal (Charleston Stage); SEAN HAYDEN as Sam Carmichael (Broadway national tours: Lincoln Center’s The Light in the Piazza and Mamma Mia! Off Broadway: Confidentially, Cole); HEATHER PATTERSON KING as Tanya (Regional and NY: Oliver, Fiddler on the Roof, The Wizard of Oz); ROBIN LOUNSBURY as Rosie (Regional: Fulton Theatre, Barrington Stage, Paper Mill Playhouse, North Shore Music Theatre); HANNAH SLABAUGH as Sophie Sheridan (National Tour: Annie; NYC: Babes in Arms (Musicals Tonight); JEFF WILLIAMS as Bill Austin (Broadway/National Tour: The Music Man, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, The Pirate Queen, A Christmas Carol, The Will Rogers Follies, Me and My Girl); FRANK VLASTNIK as Harry Bright (Engeman Theater: The Sunshine Boys; Broadway: A Year with Frog and Toad, Sweet Smell of Success, Big. Off-Broadway: Sondheim’s Saturday Night).

The cast also includes: LYDIA RUTH DAWSON, JOEY DIPPEL, JAY GAMBOA, CHRISTOPHER HLINKA, STEPHANIE ISRAELSON, YURINA KUTSUKAKE, DARIUS JORDAN LEE, SUZANNE MASON, EDWARD MISKIE, ANJULI REGNIER, AVERY ROYAL and JENNIFER SEIFTER.

Press Opening is Saturday, July 23rd at 8:00pm

 

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.

 

The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport is Long Island’s only year round professional theater company, casting actors from the Broadway talent pool. From curb to curtain, we have made it our business to provide affordable, quality, theater in an elegant one-of-a-kind location with outstanding facilities and extraordinary service. The renovated Theater offers stadium-style seating, state-of-the-art lighting and sound, a full orchestra pit, and a classic wood-paneled piano lounge with full bar.

 

For a complete show schedule and more information contact the theater directly at 631-261-2900, visit the box office at 250 Main Street, Northport or visit www.EngemanTheater.com

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