It was Friday night and the lights went low as “Mamma Mia” opened at the Patchogue Theatre. The jukebox musical, set to the hits of Swedish pop sensation ABBA, was a hit for the sold-out audience, who smiled and sang along through the entire two-and-a-half-hour production. Long before “Hamilton,” Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ “Mamma Mia” broke box office records worldwide, having been seen by over 60 million.
Friday night’s crowd was ready to party, shimmying and occasionally singing along to all of the familiar tunes: “Dancing Queen,” “Super Trouper” and, of course, “Mamma Mia.”
From the opening overture, we were transported back in time. Adam Koch’s vision provides a beautiful, dream-like set of a pastel sky, island-inspired docks and iconic, white Greek buildings.
On that set, the cast, featuring several Broadway vets, brings the songs of ABBA to life with unparalleled chemistry and comedic timing. In her Gateway debut, Joan Hess shines as Donna, the taverna-owning mother of bride-to-be Sophie, played radiantly by Briana Rapa. As Donna’s sidekicks, Angie Schworer as Tanya and Kate Chapman as Rosie are absolutely hilarious. Scenes with the three — “Donna and the Dynamos” — drew the most raucous laughter from the audience.
Donna has just discovered that three former flings are on the Greek isle. Unbeknownst to her, Sophie invited the men to her wedding, determined to find out which of them is her father. Seeing Fred Inkley as Bill, David Engel as Harry and Patrick Cassidy as Sam again, upsets Donna. But her gal pals cheer her up by belting out “Dancing Queen” into a hair dryer, curling iron and purple vibrator. Hess is the perfect mix of sultry and you feel her heartache in “The Winner Takes It All.”
Rapa’s vocals are crystal clear; she shares a sweet moment with her potential dads in “Thank You for the Music.”
Inkley, Engel and Cassidy team up and hilarity ensues, but Cassidy’s soaring vocals thrill with Hess’ in moving numbers like “S.O.S.”
The cast also includes Mike Heslin as Sophie’s fiancé Sam, Sarah Faye Beard and Taylor Broadard as Sophie’s bubbly friends and Andy Tofa and DJ Petrosino as taverna help Pepper and Eddie.
Richard Hinds’ choreography nails the spirit of a generation, capturing the music in an exaggerated fashion that only screams ABBA. The cast performs the numbers with high energy, wearing beautiful designs by Winfield Murdock. The costumes aren’t dated but fresh, with the exception of a scene featuring ancient Grecian wardrobe and the very end of the show, an all-out disco celebration. Each scene is complemented by soft, neon lighting that matches the show’s drama. Mixed in among the well-known pop songs, the show has serious moments that address single mother Donna and Sophie, seeking paternal truth. These relatable experiences are tackled in a lighthearted way, cleverly written within the show’s text and cast delivery. Case in point: “Lay All Your Love On Me” comes after an emotional moment between Sophie and Sky, but the male ensemble dances around in wetsuits and giant flippers.
By the end, young and old danced out of their seats and sang along to the show’s finale. That included me: a Millennial more versed in the pop music of the early-2000s, all influenced by those who came before.
I knew every word, thanks to my mother, who blasted ABBA CDs most notably while cleaning the house on Saturday mornings. As she waved her arms and sang along, she was a teenager again.
“Mamma Mia” is loads of fun, no matter your age. It’s a fun escape and what live theater is all about.
Skip rushing to your car before the meter’s up — let loose at the end. Even Patrick Cassidy, in his Long Island debut, seemed impressed at how this crowd could keep up. If you’re lucky, you may get an encore of “Waterloo.”
Photo Caption: This talented trio provided countless laughs during “Mamma Mia” (left to right): Angie Schworer as Tanya, Joan Hess as Donna and Kate Chapman as Rosie.
Photo credit: Jeff Bellante