Review: ‘Mamma Mia!’ with an Asian cast? Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!
ABBA fans will be glad to know that “Mamma Mia!” is alive and very well in the venerable East West Players’ warm, buoyant, enormously fun revival, which comes with a subtly clever Asian-Pacific Islander twist.
For the uninitiated — do any of you even exist? — the jukebox juggernaut inspired by Swedish pop sensation ABBA’s greatest hits ran nearly 14 years on Broadway and spawned the 2008 film and its sequel. The stage musical resourcefully wraps a catalog of peppy, 1970s-era earworms around the upcoming wedding of optimistic, 20-year-old Sophie (Grace Yoo), whose hard-working single mom, Donna (Joan Almedilla), runs a taverna on a Greek island.
Sophie, engaged to the equally sanguine Sky (Max Torrez), wants her father to walk her down the aisle. But thanks to the uncertain, tight-lipped Donna, Sophie has never known his identity. Aided by a peek at mom’s old diary, Sophie secretly sends wedding invites to American architect Sam (Alan Ariano), British banker Harry (Danny Bernardo) and Australian adventurer Bill (Michael Palma), each of whom former free spirit Donna slept with in summer 1979, around the time of Sophie’s conception.
Sophie’s hope: She’ll simply know her dad when she meets him. But that proves hardly the best-laid plan. (No one has ever accused Catherine Johnson’s bubbly book of being airtight.)
Director Snehal Desai (EWP’s producing artistic director) makes excellent use of the David Henry Hwang Theatre’s midsize stage as he nimbly moves his talented, all-Asian ensemble up, down and around the skillfully lighted (by Karyn Lawrence) and designed (by Anna Robinson) bilevel set. A movable staircase gets an impressive workout.
But Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ beloved music is the show’s raison d’etre and, as matched here with Desai’s fine cast of vocalists and Preston Mui’s inventive choreography, each number remains a highlight in its own right.
Standouts include renditions by Donna and her visiting old singing pals — wealthy divorcée Tanya (Anthea Neri) and the jauntier Rosie (Elvira Barjau) — of the droll “Chiquitita,” the iconic “Dancing Queen” and the evocative “Super Trouper”; Donna and Sophie’s touching “Slipping Through My Fingers”; Donna’s torchy “The Winner Takes It All” (Almedilla’s star turn); the female ensemble’s red fan-tastic “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)”; and Rosie and Bill’s amusing “Take a Chance on Me.”
And what “Mamma Mia!” show would be complete without a dance-in-the-aisles encore that includes ABBA’s infectiously giddy “Waterloo?” Like the rest of this charming, exuberant production, it doesn’t disappoint.
Where: David Henry Hwang Theatre at the Union Center of the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St., L.A.
When: 8 p.m. Friday (June 21 only), 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through June 23
Info: (213) 625-7000, eastwestplayers.org
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (including intermission)
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