By JESSE SCOTT FOR THE FREE LANCE-STAR
More than 70,000 people saw a show at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts last year, making 2017 its most successful year to date.
After a record-breaking year, it appears things are off to a solid start for the theater here in 2018. Advanced sales for its latest production—“Mamma Mia!”—are already the highest grossing in the venue’s 20-year history. So, you may want to put a little pep in your step if you want a seat for the party.
“Mamma Mia!” owns the stage at Riverside through March 4, with shows on Wednesdays through Sundays.
“Believe it or not, it seems tickets are flying faster than we can print them for this one,” said Patrick A’Hearn, producing artistic director at Riverside. “People are now visiting us from across the area and country … and with [‘Mamma Mia!’], they’ve seen it on Broadway, they’ve seen the farewell tour and now they’re ready to visit us here.”
For those who see the words “Mamma Mia!” aren’t big ABBA fans and immediately think, “OMG, ABBA-thon, no thanks,” there is a lovable story to it, too. You don’t need to be a reincarnated Dancing Queen or ABBA diehard to dig the show.
The plot follows Sophie, a bride-to-be, and her quest to figure out who her father is before her wedding. The end goal is to have her dad walk her down the aisle on her big day. So, she invites three love interests from her mother Donna’s past to her wedding in the Greek isles, without letting her know. Naturally, hilarious drama ensues.
Anchoring the Riverside cast of 18 and portraying Donna is Betsy Padamonsky. Following the musical’s highly successful, 14-year run on Broadway, Padamonsky had the prized role of Donna in the show’s Broadway farewell tour.
“There is such heart in this show and such a beautiful spirit about it, you can’t help but love it and fall in love with it,” said Padamonsky. “The relationships are just fascinating as well.”
According to A’Hearn and Padamonsky, what sets the Riverside production apart from past versions is its focus on the story and the unique bonds within it.
“Our audiences have come to expect to be moved, touched or impacted by something that changes their minds on a certain topic,” said A’Hearn. “This story is brought to you in a very personal way and it’s much greater than just amazing voices and music.”
“This is a unique experience,” added Padamonsky. “We’re so close to the audience and it’s such a show that’s centered on the relationships … the closeness of friends, rekindled love and closure. You really get to share in these moments.”
Returning to Riverside and in the director’s seat is Penny Ayn Maas, who has become quite the directing mainstay. Her recent Riverside credits include “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Buddy—The Buddy Holly Story” and “The Music of Andrew Lloyd Webber,” among others. Maas is a full-time teacher at Texas Christian University and considers Riverside a home away from home.
“It’s like a family for me here,” said Maas. “[A’Hearn] and the whole team are so welcoming anytime I come into town. It is a place where you are allowed to have a vision and creative freedom.”
In addition to how Maas has amplified the narrative within the show, the Riverside production features a seven-piece orchestra—with two keyboardists, percussion, horns and more—as well as a stunning set. And yes, the set is just as vibrant as you’d expect for a “Mamma Mia!” experience.
“It’s just a beautiful set … a tavern, the interiors of where Donna lives, a dock, all in a true ocean setting,” said A’Hearn. “It’s all so colorful and the lighting is gorgeous.”
With so many elements coming together, all that is apparently missing is you.
“Come join us for the party,” said Padamonsky.