BWW Review: MAMMA MIA! Celebrates the Power of Family, Friendship and Love
Somewhere in the world tonight, performances of the hit musical MAMMA MIA! are onstage entertaining audiences. In fact, the show based on the music by Swedish pop group ABBA, has become so popular that the only continent where a regional or touring stage production has not occurred is Antarctica, and the show has set the record for premiering in more cities faster than any other musical in history. Not to mention, of course, it has spawned two movies and a Cher album! And it's easy to see why audiences continue to fill theaters to experience the fun, spectacle, great music, and overall happy atmosphere generated by this feel-good musical, now onstage at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center through October 20, 2019.
This sunny, funny, international sensation unfolds on a Greek island paradise, telling the story of a mother, a daughter, three possible dads, and one unforgettable trip down the aisle. Opening with "I Have A Dream" by young bride-to-be Sophie (Tianna Cohen who is bound for stage greatness), we learn how she wants nothing more than to have her father at her wedding. But there's a small problem: She has no idea which of mom's three former boyfriends might be the guy. So Sophie secretly invites them all to the festivities at her mother's Greek isle taverna, and mayhem ensues when all three show up and realize why they have been invited - and it's not to reunite with her mother Donna as they all hoped it would be! Nor do any of them know Donna bore a child nine months after being with each of them within a matter of weeks.
And with Sophie's friends in on the secret invitations, her mother's former Donna and the Dynamos fun-loving cohorts as well as her three possible Dads arriving, the wedding festivities soon erupt in a celebration of enduring love and friendship featuring non-stop laughs and explosive dance numbers, along with the magic of ABBA's hit songs including "Super Trouper," "Dancing Queen," "Knowing Me, Knowing You," "Take a Chance on Me," "Thank You for the Music," "Money, Money, Money," "The Winner Takes It All," "SOS" and, of course, "Mamma Mia!" that make this enchanting show a trip down the aisle filled with theatrical magic.
Directors for MAMMA MIA! at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, Keenon Hooks and Fred Helsel, with Fred Helsel as Producer, Keenon Hooks as Choreographer, and Mazie Rudolph as Musical Director, prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that this musical is just as much fun in a smaller theater thanks to the talented cast who really enjoy every moment they appear onstage, with a lively band that really enjoys performing the ABBA score. The overall enthusiasm displayed by all draw the audience in to the action, especially by the finales when everyone was up on their feet, singing and dancing along.
Leading the cast are Dana Weisman as Donna Sheridan and Tiana Cohen as Sophie Sheridan, both with powerhouse voices and dynamic stage presence. Weisman certainly commands the stage while belting "The Winner Takes it All." Michele McRae (at right in adjacent photo) and Ariella Fiore (at left) portray Donna's sidekicks Tanya and Rosie, with Andrew Allen as Sophie's fiancé Sky. Each deserves an entire paragraph about their incredible performances, especially Fiore who lets her curves speak volumes about who Rosie is and what she wants from Bill during "Take a Chance on Me" as did McRae's uninhibited "Does Your Mother Know?" duet with Matthew San Jose as Pepper, her latest sexy, young plaything.
Sophie's three possible fathers, Sam, the American architect portrayed by tall and suave Brandon Jeffords (at right in photo), Bill (Kelly Green as the Australian writer and adventurer at left), and the always cleverly creative Philip McBride as Harry (in center), a British banker and former headbanger who is hiding a major secret of his own. When the men arrive, Sophie convinces them not to tell Donna that she invited them, causing Donna to be incredibly surprised to see her three ex-lovers there at the same time. Sharing her confusion by singing the show's title song to the men, who stand frozen in place, causes Donna to leave in tears.Back in her room, she explains the situation to Tanya and Rosie who comfort and cheer her up by convincing Donna that she can still be the girl she once was with the energetic "Dancing Queen" which takes them (and, most likely, the entire audience) back to their carefree younger days when life was a lot less complicated.
Just as her mother has two female BFFs who play up the power and importance of close-knit female friendships supporting each other's life choices, Sophie's best friends Ali and Lisa (Kyle Green and Shelby Barry) join with her on the sexually charged "Honey, Honey," letting us see their youthful, idealistic hopes for the future. Michael Angel portrays Eddie, who, along with Pepper and the ensemble (Caitlyn Rose Massey, Tori Cusack, Georgia Caines, Kendal Green, Luke Smith, Mikey Burson, Jordan Schneider and Michael Dumas) assist Sophie and Sky during their rousing ode to sexual attraction during "Lay All Your Love on Me."
And when Sophie makes a life-changing decision at the altar, everything works out for the best for everyone after a comic series of events, leading to several "sequined" encores performed by the rocking 10-piece Summer Night City Taverna Band led by musical director Mazie Rudolph. Seth A Kamenow's Greek-infused scenic design allows for smooth and quick scene transitions by cast members during musical numbers, with his colorful lighting effects creating eye-catching background set enhancements. What seemed like hundreds of costumes designed by Ken Patton perfectly complimented each character throughout the production.
And of course, what would MAMMA MIA! be without the post-curtain call encores of the flashy ABBA disco selections "Dancing Queen" and "Waterloo" which got the entire audience up on its feet dancing and singing along with Donna and the Dynamos and Sophie's trio of fathers dressed in metallic body suits, which at first generated huge laughs from the audience! But given the overwhelming spirit of friendship, love and excitement, no doubt you will walk out of the theater feeling rejuvenated and ready to sing a few ABBA songs on your way home, just as I did.
Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center proudly presents MAMMA MIA! from September 14 - October 20, 2019 with performances Friday and Saturday at 8 pm and Sunday at 2 pm at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Avenue, Simi Valley, CA 93065. Additional performances will be at 8 pm on Thursday, October 17 and at 2 pm on Saturday, October 12 and 19, 2019 Tickets are Adults $28, Seniors 60 & Above and Students $24, and Children 12 & Under $20 and can be purchased online at www.simi-arts.org or by calling the box office at (805) 583-7900. Get yours quickly as performances are bound the start selling out.
Photo Credit: JON NEFTALI PHOTOGRAPHY