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Broadway World

Melissa Giordano


The Gateway's latest offering is an absolutely thrilling production of the worldwide blockbuster hit Mamma Mia!. Running through August 5th at Long Island's Patchogue Theatre For The Performing Arts, this incarnation is excellently directed by Larry Raben. Indeed, this uplifting show, set to the fun music of ABBA, will leave you smiling and humming the score for days.

The story centers on Sophie and her mother Donna as they prepare for Sophie's wedding at the hotel that Donna owns on a Greek island. Twenty year old Sophie has never met her father, but found out it could be one of three men when she snuck a read of her mother's private journal. Sophie then, unbeknownst to Donna, invites the men to her wedding and laughter and twists ensue.

Immediately you can see that the talented and energetic cast is having a great time in this production.

Briana Rapa is adorable as Sophie. An outstanding voice and a youthful quality make her a natural for the role. Donna is effortlessly and beautifully portrayed by Joan Hess. Indeed an audience favorite is Ms. Hess's lead on the iconic title song and a heart tugging rendition of "The Winner Takes It All". Also a treat is Patrick Cassidy who portrays Sam, one of the men believed to be Sophie's father. It is especially entertaining to see Mr. Cassidy share the stage with David Engel and Fred Inkley who portray Harry and Bill, respectively (the other men believed to be Sophie's father). They appear like old buddies rather than strangers.

The entire cast is truly top-notch as is Mr. Raben's creative team.

Adam Koch's set is smart and effective. Beach walk-ways are on moveable platforms to indicate the outdoor scenes and a large structure descends from the rafters to indicate the indoor scenes. This is enhanced stunningly by Doug Harry's lighting and Winfield Murdock's lovely costumes. And special kudos to sensational band headed up by Keith Levenson as they perform the classics with panache. The whole production is really visually stunning.

And so, Mamma Mia! is certainly another hit for The Gateway in their very busy summer season. A stellar cast and fun music make for a thrilling night of theatre.



DC Metro Theater Arts

Kristen Weyer


Mamma Mia, here they go again! Gateway Playhouse has opened another success with the hit show Mamma Mia! This fun and energetic musical, with book by Catherine Johnson, is written around the music of Swedish band ABBA. With music and lyrics by Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, and occasionally Stig Anderson, this show features such classic hits as “Super Trouper”, “I Have a Dream”, and naturally “Mamma Mia”, among many others. Directed by Larry Raben, with wonderful choreography by Richard Hinds, Mamma Mia! is a delightful must-see! This romantic comedy of errors takes place on an idyllic island in Greece. Sophie (Briana Rapa) desperately wants her father to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. The problem? She doesn’t know who he is, and neither does her single mother Donna (Joan Hess). When Sophie secretly reads her mom’s old diary and learns she has three potential fathers, she surreptitiously invites all three men to her wedding, hoping to discover which one of them is her dad. Is it charming architect Sam (Patrick Cassidy)? Perhaps its author/adventurer Bill (Fred Inkley)? Or maybe even proper London banker Harry (David Engel)? When Donna discovers her ex-lovers’ arrival on the eve of her daughter’s nuptials, well…there is nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy as upheaval and hilarity ensue.

The cast of this production is amazing. Rapa’s lovely voice and adorable energy were the perfect compliments to her character, with the added bonus of believable chemistry between her and Mike Heslin as Sky. Their duet of “Lay All Your Love on Me” was beautifully harmonized.

Hess and Cassidy play off of one another extremely well. Whether in comedic or dramatic scenes, they portray their characters with convincing ease and aplomb, boasting strong vocals and authentic emotion. Cassidy’s solo “Knowing Me, Knowing You” is a brilliantly executed insight into Sam’s character, and Hess’ “The Winner Takes It All” may very well leave you breathless.

Inkley and Engel are marvelous as Bill and Harry, with wonderful voices and excellent comedic timing. Inkley’s facial expressions, and Engel’s dapper charm will leave you smiling long after it is over.

Donna’s best friends are flawlessly played by Angie Schworer as Tanya, and Kate Chapman as Rosie. Schworer shines in her number “Does Your Mother Know”, and Chapman’s delivery of “Take a Chance on Me” is hysterical.

The set by designer Adam Koch was perfection. Its rotating circular boardwalk seamlessly transported both actors and audience throughout the show. The floating structural architecture added both height and depth to the set, and its complete concealment when not in use sold the believability of varying locations. It was also enhanced by excellent lighting effects from designer Doug Harry. The classic and fun score was magnificently performed by the entire orchestra under direction from Keith Levenson. Get ready for a prodigiously entertaining evening with toe-tapping music and plenty of fun, go see Mamma Mia!



Long Island Advance

Tara Smith


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.”



Dan's Papers

Genevieve Horsburgh

Gateway’s Mamma Mia has arrived at the Patchogue Theatre and it will give you all the feels. Mamma Mia is full of love, laughter and a storyline written around the popular songs of ABBA. It’s a high-energy, colorful and comedic romp that will have you laughing out loud and singing and dancing along.

The music of ABBA is known and loved by millions, so it’s no wonder Mama Mia is one of the most successful musicals of all time, having played 5,773 shows over 14 years on Broadway by the time it closed in September 2015. Directed by Larry Raben with choreography by Richard Hinds, Gateway’s Mamma Mia stays true to the original, and the exceptional cast brings the story roaring to life.

Mamma Mia takes place on the Greek island of Kalokairi, where a wedding is set to take place between Sophie (Briana Rapa) and Sky (Mike Heslin). But one thing bothers Sophie—she doesn’t know who her father is. She has discovered her mother, Donna’s, diary and realizes her father could be one of three men from her mother’s past: Harry Bright, Bill Austin or Sam Carmichael. Sophie has secretly sent all three invitations to the wedding, in the hopes that once she meets them, she will instantly know who her father is.

Donna (Joan Hess) values three things: her daughter, her hotel business on the secluded Greek island and her independence, all of which she desperately holds onto as her only child, Sophie, plans to marry at the tender age of 20. Hess’s portrayal of Donna is flawless. She embraces the softer, more vulnerable side of Donna between flashes of temper when she realizes that three of her former lovers—one of which is Sophie’s father—have shown up the day before the wedding. The namesake number “Mamma Mia” is a jaw dropper—this reviewer never wanted it to end.

Donna’s two longtime best friends have also arrived for the wedding. Tanya (Angie Achworer) and Rosie (Kate Chapman) are forces to be reckoned with and they try to cheer Donna up by reminding her of her younger days as the lead singer of Donna and the Dynamos. When “Dancing Queen” began we felt the vibration of theater-goers tapping their feet while bopping their heads, as Donna and the Dynamos slayed the number. The trio of Hess, Achworer and Chapman have undeniable chemistry. Their performance of “Super Trooper” is loud, colorful and full of life.

Donna’s three ex-lover’s Harry Bright (David Engel), Bill Austin (Fred Inkley) and Sam Carmichael (Patrick Cassidy) agree to keep Sophie’s secret, but are then faced with Donna’s wrath. Cassidy brings a quiet strength to the character of Sam, who is hopelessly in love with the feisty Donna he fell in love with 20 years ago. The men quickly surmise that Sophie didn’t invite them just so her mom could see some old friends. All three believe themselves to be Sophie’s dad and all three offer to walk her down the aisle!

Mama Mia will have you riveted and the music will take you on an emotional journey throughout the performance. Donna’s heartfelt ballad, “Slipping Through My Fingers,” is lovely and sad, as she realizes her daughter is a grown woman. What a tearjerker! The love between mother and daughter is powerful, beautiful and everlasting.

Tanya’s playful and sexy number, “Does Your Mother Know,” is raunchy good fun! Rosie and Bill’s duet, “Take A Chance on Me,” is easily a favorite, eliciting belly laughs and cat calls from the audience as Kate Chapman pulls off the scene with comedic grace.

Donna and Sam’s duet, “S.O.S,” is heartbreaking, and our leading couple makes us feel the pain their long separation has wrought. Cassidy plays the perfect Sam—a man with regrets who now knows what he wants in life, with this fiery redhead by his side on a Greek island he considers paradise—and to have Sophie for a daughter would be the cherry on top.

So, who walks Sophie down the aisle in the end? Do Donna and Sam get back together? You’ll just have to go and find out!