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Hamptons Life

Mar 11, 2019 9:48 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Review: 'Mamma Mia!' Is A Fun, Frothy Fusion Of Song And Dance

The Distance Between Sam (Tom Rosante) And Donna (Mary Sabo), From One Another's Perspective. BY DANE DUPUIS
Mar 11, 2019 12:47 PM

You know when you eat something you know you shouldn’t? Like a large sugar cone with two kinds of your favorite ice cream topped with whipped cream and sprinkles and bits of chopped up Snickers, and you can’t help yourself, it’s just so damn good for the moment, and what’s the problem?

That’s the infectious delight of Mamma Mia!, the ABBA infused pop musical currently staged under the vigorous hand of Michael Disher at the Southampton Cultural Center. Only here there are no fat-and-calorie-clogging fluids curdling in your blood stream, just pure, mindless glee invading your brainstem, and well, you find yourself smiling, and that my friend, is reason enough to go.

Director Disher is known to those who know and work with him as a worrywart who endlessly frets as he corrals (mostly amateur) actors and dancers and singers into opening night, but with the local talent available, he need not have agonized this time.

This is coming from someone who slid past the disco era paying no attention to the catchy tunes when the Swedish band ABBA ruled in the ’70s and early ’80s, and in truth, became aware of them only after their irresistible music provided the soundtrack for the film, “Muriel’s Wedding,” in 1994, complete with a hilarious scene involving one of Abba’s biggest hits, “Dancing Queen.”

The plot line of the play—if it can be called that—is straight out of an afternoon soap opera and known to most, but to the last person on earth who is unaware here goes: In the ’70s, a wild (Catholic) lass named Donna (Mary Sabo) got pregnant without a husband. Disowned by her mother, Donna stayed on some unknown Greek island where she raised her child, Sophie (Ava Bianchi). Father unknown. Now it’s 21 years later, Sophie is getting married on that Greek island and she wants her father to give her away. But who is he?

Reading her mother’s diary, Sophie learns that one of three men is almost certainly Dad. She invites all of them to her wedding: Harry, the stuffy-but-wealthy banker (Jack Seabury); Sam, the divorced architect whose plans she used for the taverna she runs (Tom Rosante); and Bill, the writer (Rich Gardini) whose Aunt Sophia left Donna the land upon which the taverna is built … and, as the logic goes, she would have left property only to family …

Add in a cast of friends of Donna and a chorus of locals and Sophie’s intended, a Brit named Sky (Sam Terry, with excellent accent) and 22 Abba songs, and that’s it. Improbable plot, lotsa music.

Catharine Johnson, who stitched together the songs into a plot of sorts, would not get away with it today because $99 DNA testing would “Presto!” irrefutably reveal the biological father. In this case, you the audience are not supposed to care, and neither does Sophie. In real life that’s not the way it is, but suspend reality for a couple of hours and just enjoy. Sixty million people worldwide and in 16 languages have done that so far, so who are we to quibble?

The entire cast of 18 bring a joie de vivre to the production that makes you want to get up and dance, but there are standouts:

Ms. Sabo as Donna (and Meryl Streep in the movie we remember) is simply stunning. She gave us a touching Belle last year in “Beauty and the Beast,” and here again shows off her dramatic skills along with a strong, clear voice. Singing “The Winner Takes It All,” she poignantly reminds us that at the center of this story was heartbreak two decades ago. Mr. Rosante, who played the hairy villain after her heart in “Beauty,” also infuses the merriment of the moment with the strong emotion behind his powerful tenor in his solo, “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” Maybe they ought to get together….

Ms. Bianchi, a senior at Hampton Bays High School, as a sylph-like Sophie shows off a voice that would not be surprising to have pop up on Broadway soon. The lissome Alyssa Kelly as the thrice-married Tanya does double-duty in this production, both choreographing the numerous dance numbers and executing some eye-popping moves herself. Not only is an airborne split a feat few ever manage—and here she does so with zip—the lady also acts. She is hilarious as the imbibing gold digger in lamé.

The set is simple (Greek arches, a platform, movable platforms, a brass bed, and a park bench) but since the focus is on the song-and-dance numbers, its sparseness melts away. Amanda Jones’s direction of the music must be praised for what she does with five players, herself included—bass, guitar and drums, piano—while she works two keyboards herself. It’s quite remarkable.

Audiences everywhere have loved this collaboration of ABBA songs and simplistic book. “Mamma Mia!” ran for more than 13 years on Broadway; it’s into its 20th year in London and still going strong. The “Mamma Mia!” movie was a commercial success in 2008; a redo last year fared less well but still took in $394.7 million worldwide. Yet critics have scratched their heads in wonder and given the stage production somewhat tepid reviews the world over.

Despite the nay-saying, the catchy tunes that made ABBA the most commercial pop group ever still have the ability to infuse the surrounding atmosphere and make you smile and clap and feeling like turning yourself into a Dancing Queen, if just for the moment.

Tickets are selling fast in Southampton. I’m not surprised.

Center Stage at Southampton Cultural Center’s “Mamma Mia!” runs through March 24 with performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

The cast features Mary Sabo, Ava Bianchi, Tom Rosante, Jack Seabury and Rich Gardini in the lead roles. Also featured are Linda Aydinian, Marco Barrila, Julie Crowley, Alyssa Kelly, James Kelly, Katrina Lovett, Michele Marks, Tina Marie Realmuto, Amanda Kyle-Summers, Kristin Teuber, Josephine Wallace, Kristin Whiting and Sam Terry.

Tickets are $30 (students $15). Dinner and Sunday brunch theater packages are available at Plaza Café, Claude’s, Edgewater and Fellingham’s. Purchase tickets and packages at scc-arts.org or call 631-287-4377.

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