East West Players MAMMA MIA! The Unabashedly Emotional, Feel-Good Disco Dance Party We Never Knew We Needed

Theatre review

PHOTO: Steven Lam | SouthPaadenan.com | The cast of East West Players’ production of Mamma Mia!, directed by Snehal Desai for East West Players in Los Angeles.

There is so much to love about Mamma Mia! at East West Players, it’s difficult to even know where to begin but one thing is sure, this show is a bona fide must-see in LA right now. Mamma Mia! is one of the most successful discography musicals ever and what makes it so irresistible is not merely the two dozen awesome ABBA hits but the way they are interwoven perfectly into this tender, heartfelt story of a parent/child relationship and the power of love and friendship in our life journey.

PHOTO: Steven Lam | SouthPasadenan.com | Grace Yoo as Sophie in East West Players’ production of Mamma Mia!, directed by Snehal Desai

It’s the eve of young Sophie’s wedding and we discover that upon reading her single mother’s diary, Sophie realizes there are three men, all old friends of her mother’s, who could possibly be her father and she has secretly invited all three to the wedding. Her mother, Donna, who was once part of a singing trio, “Donna and The Dynamos”, raised Sophie on a tiny, Greek island where she runs a small hotel and restaurant. Donna hasn’t laid eyes on these three old “beaux” in 21 years and each believes they have been invited by Donna. As The Dynamos, wedding guests and the three men, Sam, Harry, and Bill arrive, Donna’s stress level rises, reminiscing and pre-wedding celebrations begin while confusion and questions abound.

PHOTO: Steven Lam | SouthPasadenan.com | Jules Aurora, Grace Yoo, Nicole Santiago star in East West Players’ production of Mamma Mia!, directed by Snehal Desai

The emotion grabs you from the get go when the lovely Grace Yoo exquisitely sings the opening strains of “I have a dream, a song to sing”. There was something so simple and beautiful about this young, Asian woman singing those words, as part of this dynamic cast full of people of color, to a diverse, enthusiastic, opening night audience that just transcended. She also happens to be perfectly cast as Sophie and gives her the perfect, wide-eyed optimism and hope through which the entire show is seen.

PHOTO: Steven Lam | SouthPasadenan.com | Jules Aurora, Grace Yoo, Dekontee Tucrkile, AJ Rafael, Max Torrez, Steven Agdeppa, Nicole Santiago, Joan Almedilla, Elvira Barjau, Ala Tiatia, Edelyn Okano, Anthea Neri, Kevin Perdido, and Andrew Ge in East West Players’ production of Mamma Mia!, directed by Snehal Desai

The staggering performance of Joan Almedilla grounds the show as she beautifully captures Donna’s heartache and hardship in every gesture and every note she sings culminating in a gut-wrenching crescendo when she finally lets Sam have it in “Winner Takes It All.” Creating a sizzling chemistry with her is the dashing Alan Ariano, as her lost love, Sam, whose subtle performance gives clues that he’s come here seeking more than a wedding weekend.

PHOTO: Steven Lam | SouthPasadenan.com | Elvira Barjau, Joan Almedilla, and Anthea Neri star in East West Players’ production of Mamma Mia!, directed by Snehal Desai

Danny Bernardo is adorable as all get out as former best pal and one time lover, Harry, while Michael Palma brings a rakish wanderlust to the adventurous past beau, Bill. The Dynamos are played with unadulterated sauciness by the effervescent Elvira Barjau as “Take A Chance On Me” Rosie and the irrepressible Anthea Neri, clocking in as the diva we’ve been waiting for in her literally show-stopping, beach-romp number “Does Your Mother Know”. Flanking her on the beach are the ensemble of young, chiseled men rocking the dynamic Preston Mui choreography that seems to organically spring from every member of this ridiculously appealing cast.

PHOTO: Steven Lam | SouthPasadenan.com | Anthea Neri brings the house down surrounded by Greek beach boys, Ala Tiatia, Kevin Perdido, Nicole Santiago, AJ Rafael, Steven Agdeppa, Jules Aurora, and Andrew Ge in East West Players’ production of Mamma Mia!, directed by Snehal Desai.

Max Torres is an earnest and charming fiancé, Sky, with the very funny AJ Rafael as Pepper, Kevin Trinio Perdido as Eddie, Nicole Santiago as Ali, Jules Aurora as Lisa and Ala Tiatia as Father Alexandrios. There is no weak link in this tight ensemble, skillfully directed by Snehal Desai, creating an exhilarating, irreverent and utterly joyful show.

The joy is infectious, bursting off the stage and straight into your heart. The evening culminates with the ever hopeful “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do”, proving Mamma Mia! is indeed the unabashedly, feel-good, disco dance party we never knew we needed. And If you are not singing and dancing in the aisles by the off the charts, celebratory encore bows, you better check your pulse; leave your inhibitions and worries at the door because this is the party of the year!

Mamma Mia! Runs through Sunday, June 9, 2019 with 8pm shows from Thursday to Saturday, and 2pm matinee shows on Saturday and Sunday. Regular performance ticket prices range from $50 to $75. Mamma Mia! On stage now at the David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center of the Arts at 120 Judge John Aiso Street, Los Angeles, CA 90012 in Little Tokyo.

Tickets may be purchased online at eastwestplayers.org or by calling (213) 625-7000. At time of purchase please mention any wheelchair/accessible seating needs. Student, senior, and group discounts are available. Dates, details, and ticket prices are subject to change.

East West Players (EWP), the nation’s longest-running professional theater of color in the country and the largest producing organization of Asian American artistic work, was founded in 1965, at a time when Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) faced limited or no opportunities to see their experiences reflected outside of stereotypical and demeaning caricatures in the American landscape. EWP not only ensures that API stories are told, but works to increase access, inclusion, and representation in the economy.

For more information, please visit eastwestplayers.org

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