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MAMMA MIA! at Kavinoky follows on the heels of THE PRODUCERS with high energy

THE BASICS: MAMMA MIA!, the 1999 juke-box musical (and later 2008 movie), follows bride-to-be Sophie as she tries find her biological father, with plot and dialog created to fit hit songs by the popular 1970s Swedish group ABBA including “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” and of course “Mamma Mia!”  Directed by Lynne Kurdziel-Formato, it runs through January 28, Thursday and Friday at 7:30, Saturday at 3:30 and 7:30, Sunday at 2 at the Kavinoky Theatre, 320 Porter Avenue (on the D’Youville College campus). (829-7668).

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  On a sunny Greek island, where her mother, Donna, (Debbie Pappas Sham) runs a small hotel, we meet 20-year-old Sophie (Arianne Davidow) on the eve of her wedding to Sky (William Hin). She would like her father to walk her down the aisle, but doesn’t know who he is. However, in her mother’s diary, she had read entries about one summer, 21 years ago, when mom had flings with three separate guys. So, Sophie had sent out wedding invitations to the three, forging her mother’s signature. Donna’s besties from the old days of her girl group “Donna and the Dynamos” arrive for the wedding – the wealthy Tanya (Lisa Ludwig), married and divorced three times, and their hippie friend Rosie (Loraine O’Donnell) – and the two try to convince Donna that she (and they) can be the girls they once were. Meanwhile, Sophie’s three possible dads also arrive, to the consternation of Donna: Sam the architect (Peter Palmisano), Harry the banker (Doug Weyand), and Bill the explorer (Matt Witten). Complications ensue, there is a lot of singing and dancing, and things work out well for everyone, although not in the way the characters might have planned.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: It’s great to have director Lynne Kurdziel-Formato back in town, last fall to direct a fabulous version of THE PRODUCERS, and now again at the Kavinoky to direct MAMMA MIA! It’s a musical which, according to several posters in the lobby, was, shall we say, not at the top of Ms. Kurdziel-Formato’s bucket list, but, she embraced it, and so we get a better regional performance than you might expect. It’s quite well done.

One small indication of quality in the “Who’s Who” section of the playbill illustrates how “professional” this production is, and that is the use of a Dance Captain (here Kelly Geiger-Cammarata). As defined by Actor’s Equity: “The Dance Captain is a member of the company who maintains the artistic standards of all choreography and/or musical staging in a production.” I would say that a Dance Captain is a bit like an assistant director, a den-mother, a psychiatrist, a stage manager, a teacher, a coach, and, yes, one hell of a dancer. But, however you define the role, I don’t recall seeing that credit in any local playbills, yet it’s SOP for Broadway shows, whether in New York or touring at Shea’s. It’s what they do in the bigs. If nothing else, in Buffalo, where due to economic restraints productions tend to be under-rehearsed, a Dance Captain can direct those extra impromptu rehearsals while the director is focused elsewhere.

And there’s a lot to focus on, with thirteen characters in the cast, along with ten in the ensemble (singing and dancing), and an eight-person band. That’s thirty-one moving parts, with very quick set changes, and, a Kurdziel-Formato trademark, lightning quick costume changes (kudos to Production Stage Manager Norm Sham and Costume Design by Jessica Wegzryn). The three brand-new LED screens are cleverly integrated into the set and provide changing backgrounds of the beach, sea, and sky alternating, as needed, with a quasi-disco lightshow during the big production numbers.

Although Buffalo doesn’t have a repertory theater, a number of the actors have appeared together in other productions recently, and that leads to an ease on stage that is appreciated.

Although Buffalo doesn’t have a repertory theater, a number of the actors have appeared together in other productions recently, and that leads to an ease on stage that is appreciated. For example, Bobby Cooke and Arin Lee Dandes were recently “Elephant and Piggie” at Theatre of Youth, along with ensemble members Alexandria Watts and Sara Marioles as the “Squirelles.” And the Kavinoky, whose executive director is Loraine O’Donnell, has recently seen Debbie Pappas Sham, Lisa Ludwig, Peter Palmisano, and Arianne Davidow on stage. So, it’s a group of seasoned professionals and talented ingenues, all well-choreographed and directed.

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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