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Mamma Mia

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Mamma Mia has been entertaining audiences since its premiere in London's West End in 1999. With a book by Catherine Johnson, it featured ABBA's music, principally written by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, who were actually involved in the theatrical production. Weaving ABBA's principal hits seamlessly into the storyline, the production tells the story of 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan (Flynn Hayward), who is preparing to marry her boyfriend, Sky (Clayton Jones). She lives on a Greek island with her mother, who owns a taverna. She would like her father to give her away, but the catch is that she doesn't know who he is. Her mother, Donna (Sophina Brown), has never shared that information. Finding a diary of her mother's, she sees the names of three men on dates that might coincide with her conception. She sends them an invitation to the wedding in Donna's name, and then the complications begin.

First to arrive for the wedding are Donna's two friends, Tanya (Janna Cardia) and  Rosie (Candi Milo), who formed a trio called Donna and the Dynamos in their earlier days. Tanya is wealthy, married and divorced multiple times, flirtatious, and, in this production, delivers some kitschy glam. Rosie is kooky and independent, a polar opposite of Tanya, in baggy, ill-fitting clothing and a pair of black spectacles.

Next arrive the men: Sam (Martin Kildare), an architect; Harry (Corky Loupe), a banker; and Bill (Michael Cavinder), an Australian adventurer. They are eager to be there, thinking that the invitation came from Donna and not Sophie. Furthermore, they aren't aware of the motivation for their inclusion. When Donna finds out that they have arrived, "Mamma Mia, here we go again."

The play is corny, cobbled together with songs, and a sit com in action. It has the feel of the old Annette Funicello-Frankie Avalon movies, and, in most circumstances, it shouldn't work in this much savvier time period, but it continues to pack in audiences who rise at the end of the show to dance along with the cast. Whether it is the nostalgia for ABBA's music or the ingenious way they carry the narrative is anybody's guess.

3-D Theatricals always has high production values, and  costumes by Alexandra Johnson, lighting by Jean-Yves Tessier, sound by Julie Ferrin, and set design by Stephen Gifford meet expectations. The look is bright, brassy, and the large stage allows for the cast's many production numbers.

Having said that, the cast seemed under-prepared for the opening night, with some awkward choreography (Dana Solimando) and musical numbers that could have used smoother direction by David F. M. Vaughn and more precise vocalizations. Allen Everman's musical direction and conducting give the show a Broadway feel.

Brown delivers the songs with gusto, but they seem to be directed to the audience and not her fellow cast members. Kildare is fine as the requisite handsome lead, but there is little chemistry between the two former lovers. Supporting players Loupe and Cavinder deliver yeoman work, but Milo and Candia are caricatured to a lesser effect.

Jones is appealing as the young bridegroom, and his fellow islanders (Ernie Figueroa, Noah Rivera) are enthusiastic as they perform some high spirited acrobatics. Sophie's friends (Tatiana Monique Alvaraz, Renna Nightingale) also provide the requisite youth and romance to counter the oldsters' reminiscences.

A new movie in theatres--Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again--proves there is still life in this longtime hit. Whether that will translate into a future theatrical venture or not, it is certain that Mamma Mia will continue to keep ABBA alive for future audiences.






Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.