Review Roundup: MAMMA MIA at 5th Avenue Theatre
5th Avenue Theatre presents MAMMA MIA, which opened February 9th and runs through the 25th. The ABBA jukebox musical follows Sophie, a young woman determined to have her father walk her down the aisle, despite not knowing who he is. After reading her mother's diary, she narrows down her father's identity to three possible men, and, much to her mother's dismay, invites them all to the wedding.
The Cast of MAMMA MIA: Kendra Kassebaum (Donna Sheridan), Paolo Montalban (Sam Carmichael), Lisa Estridge (Tanya), Eliza Palasz (Sophie Sheridan), Sarah Rudinoff (Rosie), Jordan Iosua Taylor (Sky), Cobey Mandarino (Harry Bright), Matt Wolfe (Bill Austin), Travis Brown (Eddie/Ensemble), Kate E. Cook (Lisa/Ensemble), Alexandria Henderson (Ali/Ensemble), Jonathan Luke Stevens (Pepper/Ensemble), Rheanna Atendido (Ensemble), Kristin Burch (Ensemble), Alex Crozier (Ensemble), Clayton Cooper (Ensemble), Sarah Rose Davis (Ensemble), Aly Gutierrez (Ensemble), Nik Hagen (Ensemble), John Han (Ensemble), Jordan Jackson (Ensemble), Nate McVicker (Ensemble), Trina Mills (Ensemble), Annie Morro (Ensemble), Becca Orts (Ensemble), Richard Peacock (Ensemble), Chandler Thomas (Ensemble), and Carolyn Willems Van Dijk (Ensemble).
The Creative Team: Bill Berry (Director), Bob Richard (Choreographer), R.J. Tancioco (Music Director), Jason Sherwood (Scenic Designer), Mike Baldassari (Lighting Designer), Rose Pederson (Costume Designer), Joanna Lynne Staub (Sound Designer), Mary Pyanowski Jones (Hair and Wig Designer), and Jeffrey K. Hanson (Production Stage Manager).
Let's see what the critics had to say!
Christopher Frizzelle, The Stranger: Kendra Kassebaum has the unenviable role of Donna, the stressed-out mom trying to plan a wedding while running a hotel. Meryl Streep plays the part in the movie as neurotic and exhausted. But Kassebaum does something different. She makes the part a little weird, a little idiosyncratic. A 5th Avenue veteran whose talents seem to know no limits, Kassebaum was also in the 5th's productions of Ragtime, Assassins, Company, and ELF, and she was Glinda in the first national tour of Wicked. She knows what she's doing. She's un-look-away-from-able. There are so many moments where Donna is just standing there, singing an ABBA song. But Kassebaum doesn't just stand there. She does something unexpected with her face, or with the phrasing, or with her body. At one point she was on all fours growling like a feral animal, and I was rolling in the aisle ...Other 5th Avenue veterans Lisa Estridge and Sarah Rudinoff turn in fantastic performances as Donna's best friends. And Eliza Palasz makes her 5th Avenue debut as Sophie, bringing warmth, presence, and vocal chops to what's usually a forgettable role. The one weak link is Paolo Montalban as one of the three men who might be Sophie's father (the Pierce Brosnan character in the movie). Montalban's acting is hopelessly wooden; he seems to have fewer tools in his toolkit than his scene partners like Kassebaum. But the show is such a smashing success overall, one weak supporting performance doesn't matter.
Jay Irwin, BroadwayWorld: But as good as all of them were and that includes the high energy and achingly attractive ensemble (apparently this Greek island is only inhabited by REALLY pretty people) this show belongs to Kassebaum. Not only due to the fact that she's in a lead role but that she walks off with every moment she's in. We all know how good she is from her stunning turns in "Ragtime" or "Assassins" or "Come From Away" or "Wicked" just to name a few. And once again she outdoes herself by latching onto this role and taking it far beyond what anyone expects. Her voice is, as always, incredible but she managed to inhabit more emotion and heart into these pop songs than I have ever heard before. "Slipping Through My Fingers" is amazingly sweet, "The Winner Takes It All" manages a power and heartbreak like no other and her super comedically sexy "Mamma Mia" was worth the price of admission. I'll just say it. She was better than Meryl. Qualms aside, the show does take flight and hopefully once they settle in some of those qualms can be squelched. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the 5th Avenue Theatre's production of "Mamma Mia" a Dancing YAY. It's silly and fun and everything you want from an ABBA musical.
Dewey Mee, Daily Record News: Kendra Kassebaum, who was beyond brilliant in 5th Avenue's production of "Ragtime" last Fall, miraculously manages to rise above the material. Kassebaum sings every note of passion and regret in the power ballad "Winner Takes All" with pure conviction. There is some legitimate "stage heat" between Kassebaum and Paolo Montalban. Mr. Montalban has not aged at all since his memorable role as "Prince Christopher Charming" in Whitney Houston's acclaimed and groundbreaking TV production of "Cinderella" in 1997. He is as charming as ever, but his talents are ill-used here. His performance of "Knowing Me, Knowing You" is heartfelt and strong, but the song makes absolutely no sense within the show's context. All the men come off as rather silly and hapless "window dressing" for the ladies. Lisa Estridge has a whopper of a showstopper with a bunch of beach boys titled "Does Your Mother Know?" Sarah Rudinoff's big showstopper "Take A Chance On Me" is performed as a song of seduction with Harry.
Photo Courtesy of 5th Avenue Theatre.