BWW Review: East West Players' Winning MAMMA MIA! Takes It All!
East West Players' Producing Artistic Director Snehal Desai sharply directs his en pointe cast in a crowd-rousing production of non-stop Abba hits, the most joyous MAMMA MIA! Choreographer Preston Mui has created intricate, very FUN dance routines, deftly executed by all. The most ingenious number, utilizing one of many unique East West Players' touches, has the women dancing with large red fans snapping open and shut in precision in "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)." Another number includes the synchronized slapping of the rubber flippers on the men's feet, and the men partnering at another point in top halves and lower halves combined. Hard to describe, but a real hoot to see! This ensemble number stopped the show!
As joyously-infectious as Abba music can be, the uber-strong women leads - Joan Almedilla as Donna Sheridan and Grace Yoo as her daughter Sophie - take this production to another celestial level. Yoo has the perfect combination of innocence, acting chops and gorgeous vocals. Her opening and reprise of "I Have a Dream" totally beguiles. Yoo's second act opener "Under Attack" has her Sophie in a bad nightmare with the ensemble lifting, throwing and overwhelming her. Stunning number!
With all the various theatrical productions and cinematic versions of MAMMA MIA! I have had the pleasure of seeing, allow me to state that Almedilla makes me forget any of the previous Donnas I have seen, including the always incredible Meryl Streep. Almedilla makes her Donna Sheridan her own woman with her comic timing, her acting acumen and her powerful vocals. Almedilla's "The Winner Takes It All" WOWS! Just WOWS! Brava, Ms. Almedilla!
Playing Donna's former singing cohorts, Anthea Neri as the frequently married Tanya Chesham-Leigh and Elvira Barjau as the not-quite-as-lucky Rosie Mulligan each have their moments to shine. Barjau in her Rosie's seduction of Bill Austin (Michael Palma) in "Take A Chance On Me" and Neri in the A.ma.zing "Does Your Mother Know" dance of seduction with the young male ensemble. So HOT!
Barjau and Neri, together with Almedilla, clearly exhibit their enduring female bonding and lasting power as a still vibrant trio in "Dancing Queen" and "Chiquitita."
For those unfamiliar with the story of MAMMA MIA!, Sophie has sent wedding invitations to the three ex-lovers of her mother who might be her actual father. As luck would have it, all three show up for Sophie's wedding unaware of Sophie's actual intentions. Palma charms with his Australian accent. Danny Bernardo creates a loving relationship with Donna as the charismatic Harry Bright. Alan Ariano gets his center stage as Sam Carmichael in "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do."
Sophie and her bridesmaids (Nicole Santiago as Ali and Jules Aurora as Lisa) have a wonderful rapport in their opening "Honey, Honey."
Max Torrez easily convinces as Sky, the man Sophie's to marry.
Providing sturdy singing, dancing and seamless set-changing support include the multi-talents of AJ Rafael, Kevin Trinio Perdido, Ala Tiatia, Edelyn Okano, Dekontee Tucrkile, Steven Agdeppa and, Andrew Ge.
Top-notch technical acknowledgements deserved go to Anna Robinson for her straight forward, multi-level taverna courtyard set; Stephanie Nguyen for her combination Filipino/Greek outfits; Karyn Lawrence for her rippling water lighting effects; Christian Lee for his balance of vocal mics with those of the rocking band (Vince Reyes and Chris Spilsbury on guitars, Khris Kempis on bass, Craig Bunch on percussion, led by conductor Marc Macalintal on keyboard).
"Thank You for the Music," East West!
Say, "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do" to get tickets for MAMMA MIA!
You'll all end up "Dancing" Queens and Kings!