Sunday, May 12, 2019

Nonstop hits and fun in 'Mamma Mia!' at Hillbarn Theatre

Tanya (Christine Capsuto-Shulman, left), Donna (Merrill Peiffer) and Rosie (Jacquie McCarley) sing "Dancing Queen."

When it comes to exhilarating fun, it’s hard to beat Hillbarn Theatre’s production of “Mamma Mia!”

This musical, with its well known, toe-tapping songs by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of ABBA fame, just keeps bubbling along.

With Dan Demers’ sure-handed direction and a likeable, energetic cast, everything adds up to pure enjoyment.

It even has an interesting book by Catherine Johnson.

It starts when 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan (Sofia Costantini) is about to be married to Sky (Matt Ono) in 1999 and wants her dad to walk her down the aisle. There’s a problem: She doesn’t know who he is.

Her single mom, Donna (Merrill Peiffer), who owns a taverna on a Greek island, won’t talk about him. However, by reading Donna’s diary from about the time she would have been conceived, Sophie discovers three candidates for her dad.

Dad candidates Bill (Lawrence Long, left) Sam (Randy Allen) and Harry (Brandon Savage) arrive on the island.
Assuming she’ll know him right away, she invites the three to the island, unbeknownst to Donna. When Bill Austin (Lawrence Long), Sam Carmichael (Randy Allen) and Harry Bright (Brandon Savage) arrive, she’s furious.

In the meantime, she has invited two longtime friends, Tanya (Christine Capsuto-Shulman) and Rosie (Jacquie McCarley), to the island, too. The three of them were once a disco girls group.

Thus the stage is set for one hit tune after another: “Money, Money, Money,” “Thank You for the Music,” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!” “One of Us,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” the title song and more.

Another hit is “Dancing Queen,” sung by Donna, Tanya and Rosie as they reprise their disco act. This scene also displays the talents of costume designer Y. Sharon Peng, who has created an array of outfits for the show plus the hair, makeup and props.

Then there’s the creative choreography by Zoë Swenson-Graham. Just one example is “Lay All Your Love on Me,” in which the younger men dance in wet suits and flippers.

Although everyone in the cast is commendable, Capsuto-Shulman as the oft-married, sexy, flirtatious Tanya is an audience favorite. When the company came out dancing for the curtain call on opening night, the short wrap skirt to her glittery costume fell off, so she blithely picked it up and tossed it into the audience.

Matt Ono is Sky; Sofia Costantini is Sophie.
Costantini as Sophie not only sings well but has an expressive face that registers her character’s emotions without a need to speak.

Kudos also go to Paulino Deleal for the functional set, to Grant Huberty for the sound design and to Rick Reynolds for musical direction. The musical accompaniment is recorded.

Running about two and a half hours with one intermission, “Mamma Mia!” will continue at Hillbarn Theater, 1285 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, through May 26.

For tickets and information, call (650) 349-6411 or visit

Photos by Mark and Tracy Photography