Australia has a love affair with the music of ABBA. We just can’t get enough of it. The stage productions of Muriel’s Wedding, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and of course Mamma Mia! all feature largely the same songs from these composers. Audiences, largely motivated by memories of how these songs reflect key moments in their own lives, flock to hear these songs again and again.
However, the magic of Mamma Mia! is the wit with which the familiar songs have been interpolated into the sentimental and remarkably contemporary storyline focussing on a young woman’s curiosity about the father she has never met, which motivates her to invite three possible candidates to her wedding and has the audience chuckling with delight as they recognise the cues heralding which song best suits the situation.
Director, Gary Young is perfectly aware of this, and even though his fresh new staging of the show is at its best when the stage is given over to Tom Hodgson’s energetic choreography, he also keeps the storyline moving along neatly with a series of well-staged intimate vignettes.
Hodgson’s tightly drilled choreography provides the energetic young cast with plenty of opportunity to bust out their best party moves, and it doesn’t really matter that many of the lyrics are obscured by the clever musical arrangements. Most of the audience know these lyrics by heart anyway.
But having reviewed this production in the smaller Canberra Theatre, watching it from the dress circle of the much larger Capitol Theatre, it was noticeable that on opening night much of the spoken dialogue was difficult to hear because the sound levels dipped between the songs and dialogue. No such trouble hearing the overture and entr’acte though. Both were played at ear-splitting level guaranteed to rupture a few hearing aids.
Although a little dwarfed in the Capitol Theatre, Linda Bewick’s versatile setting still looks as pretty as a picture, and Suzy Strout’s colourful costumes are perfect for a Greek island holiday. Gavan Swift has taken advantage of the bigger theatre to re-jig his lighting design to now include a spectacular rock-concert-style light show to begin the second act.
The playing of the comedy has now broadened with actors “being funny” rather than being funny as a result of the situations. Moves that previously looked like responses to the moment now look like direction. However none of this seemed to worry the Sydney opening night audience who were there for the music.
The attractive cast give it their all. Sarah Morrison and Stephen Mahy charm as the young prospective newly-weds, Sophie and Sky, and Natalie O’Donnell, who played Sophie in the original Australian production of Mamma Mia!, is now Sophie’s stressed-out mother-of-the-bride, Donna, who has her best moment in the dramatic eleven o’clock number, The Winner Takes It All.
Alicia Gardiner and Jayde Westaby play Donna’s best friends, Rosie and Tanya, with Westaby practically running away with the show as the glamorous cougar who takes on the cheeky Pepper (Sam Hooper) in the marvellously staged number, Does Your Mother Know. Ian Stenlake, Phillip Lowe and Josef Ber are a handsome trio of prospective fathers, each with a fine singing voice, and sufficient charisma to keep you wondering which of them is really Sophie’s errant dad.
But in the end it doesn’t really matter because the show ends with an irresistible mega-mix guaranteed to have you dancing in the aisles and humming ABBA songs for the next week.
Capitol Theatre, 13 Campbell Street, Haymarket (Sydney)
Performance: Thursday 15 February 2018 – 7.00pm
Season continues to 6 May 2018
Following its Sydney season, Mamma Mia! continues to Perth (15 May – 17 June); Melbourne (from 10 July); and Adelaide (from October). For more information, visit: www.mammamiathemusical.com.au for details.
Image: Alicia Gardiner, Natalie O’Donnell and Jayde Westaby in Mamma Mia! – photo by James Morgan
Review: Bill Stephens OAM