Theatre Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ at Kavinoky Theatre

The cast of “Mamma Mia!” at Kavinoky Theatre.

My reviewer’s reserve lasted about 20 minutes, and after that, I couldn’t help myself.  I started singing along.  And I wasn’t alone.

That’s the power of “Mamma Mia!” on stage at Kavinoky Theatre until January 28. You can’t help riding the ‘70s wave again and belting out those toe-tapping ABBA tunes.

Overall, it’s a fine production of a familiar musical with a fabulous cast. It’s the perfect choice for a cold winter night, too.  Does this reviewer recommend it? I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do!

Director Lynne Kurdziel Formato put together a powerhouse cast of 23 actors who are on fire with fun in this one. And what a cast. Arianne Davidow is luminous as curious child Sophie, who is determined to figure out her paternity before her wedding.  Debbie Pappas Sham plays ex-rock singer single mom Donna Sheridan to the hilt. Her cover of “The Winner Takes it All” is more poignant and soulful than the original. Her galpals from her Donna and the Dynamos days – Tanya and Rosie played by Loraine O’Donnell and Lisa Ludwig – are hysterical. Tender and caring as they croon “Chiquitita” and having a blast reliving their past in “Dancing Queen” (Truly, what girl hasn’t sung into her, um, curling iron like a rock star in the privacy of her bedroom?), the trio’s voices are wonderfully melded. Then we meet the other trio – the potential Dads that Sophie secretly snuffed out from her mom’s diary. And…(read that as dot dot dot), they are sublime. Matt Witten (fresh from his smooth and slimy salesman gig in Road Less Traveled Production’s “Glengarry Glen Ross”) is Bill Austin the globetrotting writer who never settles down. Doug Weyand is the suave Brit Harry Bright (he nails the accent consistently, too, which is impressive).  When he and Donna pair up for “Our Last Summer,” it’s sweet with old memories. Peter Palmisano is the hot-as-heck architect Sam Carmichael who covers “Knowing Me, Knowing You” expertly.  He and Donna make good work of “SOS,” too.

The whole ensemble is remarkable. Scan the crowd for familiar faces like Kelly Copps, Arin Dandes, and Bobby Cooke: you’re used to seeing them in featured or starring roles. Here they are happy to sing and dance along with an energetic troupe of emerging actors. It’s great to see so many students and recent grads blending seamlessly with their more experienced cast members. What a great tribute to the outstanding theatre programs in our region! Indeed Sky, the husband-to-be played by William Hin is finishing his senior year at the University at Buffalo: he and Davidow are a winsome pair. I hope he sticks around after grad: he can grow into all kinds of roles in our robust theatrical community.

David King’s simple Greek isle set is enhanced with the new LED curtains that display lush scenery views. This is old hat for director Formato: she’s worked with this technology in Europe for years. The swirling shapes and cheesy floating hearts are distracting: I liked the authentic blue sky-white sand beach scenes better.

There’s more than a few winning moments: Rosie and Bill (O’Donnell and Witten) have real chemistry when they pair up on “Take a Chance on Me.” Tanya (yes, that’s Ludwig under the brunette bobbed wig) has the guys eating out of her hand in “Does Your Mother Know.”

One tiny wrinkle is the music: keeping true to the Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus tunes is mandatory, so the sound (three electronic keyboards plus piano bass, guitar, and some percussion) sometimes sounded tinny and over processed. Stick to the center of the house or the balcony and focus your ears on the voices on stage.

Overall, it’s a fine production of a familiar musical with a fabulous cast. It’s the perfect choice for a cold winter night, too.  Does this reviewer recommend it? I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do!

Running Time: 2 Hours with a 15-minute intermission.

“Mamma Mia!” runs until January 28, 2018 and is presented at The Kavinoky Theatre. For more information, click here.