Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Mamma Mia!American Stage
William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's reviews of The Cake, As You Like It and Wednesday's Child

Becca McCoy, Alison Burns, and Jennifer Byrne
Photo by Joey Clay Photography
Other than Ain't Misbehavin', jukebox musicals are hit and miss for me, depending on how I feel about the music being saluted. I'm also not crazy about grafting a plot onto a group of songs that were not written to fit the emotional situation. However, I can see why Mamma Mia! (music and lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson of ABBA fame, book by Catherine Johnson) is such an audience pleaser. Regional licensing became available a year ago, and American Stage has chosen Mamma Mia! for their "In the Park" production this season. Though the story is cheesy (but who doesn't like a large plate of crackers and cheese every now and again?), the music absolutely makes the audience want to get up and dance. Some musicals work well outdoors on the huge stage at Demens Landing Park and some don't. Mamma Mia! does.

The tunes that propel Mamma Mia! to the stratosphere were mostly a product of high-tech studio work, so casting does not pose a huge challenge. Still, the yearly outdoor production is seen by much larger audiences than those who see their indoor work, so much of the best talent from the Tampa Bay area usually form the cast of these shows. Park favorite Alison Burns returns for the star role of Donna. In fact, she teamed up with Jim Sorenson, who winningly plays Sam Carmichael, about five years ago as they played Janet and Brad in The Rocky Horror Show. Donna's daughter Sophie is played by a winsome Julia Rifino with a lovely little-girl voice. Cameron Hale Elliott is adorably handsome as her intended, Sky. The other two men who might be Sophie's father are Harry, played by Larry Alexander, and as Bill, played by Armando Acevedo. It's nice to have Mr. Alexander back on the boards—he's been away for awhile and he's been missed. Mr. Acevedo is tall dark and handsome, and he sparkles in his duet with Rosie, "Take a Chance On Me." Donna's two pals from the old days, Rosie and Tanya, are Becca McCoy, who is a major presence every time she is in a number, and Jennifer Bryne, who owns the stage in "Does Your Mother Know."

Donna's two handymen are Eddie, played by Matthew Alexander, and Pepper, played by Erick Ariel Sureda; both contribute to all the ensemble numbers and help Ms. Bryne with her showstopper. Sophie's two girlfriends are played by Holly Atwood and Kelly Plescia. The singing/dancing ensemble are energetic, although some of the dancing, choreography by Shain Stroff (also assistant director), could be a little sharper.

Producing Artistic Director Stephanie Gularte is at the helm of this frolic. Seated stage left, in front of the bass guitar and drummer, freeFall Theatre's resident musical director Michael Raabe is in charge. The technical elements in this production rise to great heights. Set design by Jerid Fox (also properties master) helps the audience feel the warm Mediterranean breezes, while the costumes by Jill Castle transported me back to the 1980s, even if it was partly against my will. Lighting by Mike Wood is colorful, enhancing the feel-good musical selections.

If Mamma Mia! is never going to be one of my favorite musicals, American Stage in the Park makes such a good case for it that I have already recommended it to a friend as an outing for his daughter, who is starting to love musicals and is already hooked on both movies based on the show.

Mamma Mia!, through May 12, 2019, at American Stage Theater Company, Demens Landing, St. Petersburg FL. For more information, visit

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Bill: Armanda Acevedo*
Harry: Larry Alexander*
Eddie: Matthew Alexander*
Lisa: Holly Atwood
Donna: Alison Burns*
Tanya: Jennifer Byrne*
Sky: Cameron Hale Elliott
Rosie: Becca McCoy
Ali: Kelly Plescia
Sophie: Julia Rifino
Sam: Jim Sorensen*
Pepper: Erick Ariel Sureda*
Female Ensemble: Bianca Chico, Renata Eastlick*, Kaylie Horowitz, Erin Leigh Knowles
Male Ensemble: Matt Acquard, Emanuel Carrero, Dylan Renfrow, Mark Wildman
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association

The Band: Musical Director/Keys 1: Michael Raabe
Keys 2/Keyboard Programming and Sequencing: Jeremy D. Silverman
Guitar: Paul Stoddart
Bass: Joe Grady or TJ Glowacki
Drums: Burt Rushing