Review by Bronwyn Cook
Mamma Mia…here we go again! Making its third decade appearance, Mamma Mia! The Musical is back after its 2001-2005, 2009-2010 and 2017-2018 productions.
Whilst the world sure has changed since we last saw these dancing queens, what has not changed is our never-ending love for the Swedish pop supergroup. And in return, ABBA have delighted fans all around the world with a new album, Voyage AND a concert residency in London featuring the band as virtual avatars. Which, if you believe the rumours will be heading to Australia in the future.
Until then, we have the ever delightful and entertaining Mamma Mia! The Musical, brought to the stage by a completely Australian creative team, led by Helpmann Award winning Director Gary Young and produced in Australia by Michael Coppel, Louise Withers & Linda Bewick.
In case you haven’t seen the show (or the movie) before, here is a quick introduction to the storyline. On the eve of her wedding, Sophie Sheridan (Sarah Krndija) is reflecting on a bold choice she made months before…to invite her three possible Dads to her wedding, unbeknownst to her mother Donna (Elise McCann). Donna has never told Sophie who her father is, and it was only by Sophie discovering her mothers diary that she was able to learn of their identities. Arriving for her wedding to Sky (Lewis Francis) are Sophie’s best friends Ali (Nina Carmen) and Lisa (Kadesa Honeyhill) as well as Donna’s best friends Rosie (Bianca Bruce) and Tanya (Deone Zanotto). Followed quickly by the unsuspecting potential fathers of the bride, Sam (Martin Crewes), Harry (Drew Livingston) and Bill (Tim Wright).
Once everyone is on the little Greek island on which the show is set, the dance of father discovery, choice reflection and life decisions begins – all set against 22 of ABBAs most well known iconic tracks.
Whilst the catalyst for the show is Sophie’s wedding, this really is Donna’s story. McCann is wonderfully cast in this role and perfectly bridges the love she has for Sophie against the turmoil of seeing her three ex-lovers again after 21 years. Any professional singer will tell you that ABBA songs are damn hard to sing due to their vocal complexity and range, but none of the eleven (including three songs in a row) tracks caused McCann any difficulty and she was superb in combining her acting, singing and facial expressions to convey the vast range of emotions Donna was feeling.
Krndija as Sophie is sparkling, portraying the correct amount of innocence, energy and yearning to know who she is. A couple of the notes in “Thank You for the Music” got the better of her, but that will come with vocal maturity and experience. Like I said, ABBA is deceptively hard to sing.
Carmen, Honeyhill and Francis as well as Jordan Tomljenovic as Pepper and Etuate Lutui as Eddie round out the younger principal cast and are all super fun and enjoyable to watch what they bring to their characters, with Tomljenovic getting a couple of scene stealer moments.
Crewes, Livingston and Wright fill the diametrically opposed roles of Sophie’s potential fathers perfectly. Bravo to the casting team on those ones! Their characters of Sam, Harry and Bill make a charming trio as they play the game of ‘who is the father’, ‘who am I’ and ‘who do I want to be’. Crewes was a particular standout, especially during “SOS” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You”.
Bruce as the vivacious Rosie was a hoot, especially during her big number “Take a Chance on Me”, displaying fantastic comedic timing and chops. But, and the audience agreed with me on this, it was Zanotto as husband-collecting, high-spirited Tanya that very nearly stole the show. The extended round of applause for her absolutely flawless and extreme energy “Does Your Mother Know” was note and choreography perfect.
The set design from Linda Bewick was relatively simple, anchored by a taverna that was transformed with small set pieces, beautifully lit by designer Gavan Swift – with cues and tones that took us seamlessly through the transition of each day and night.
Whilst the storyline and songs have remained the same since 1999, I noticed a few tweaks here and there, and of course every actor brings their own unique take to their roles. There is an hilarious addition to the already entertaining “Lay All Your Love on Me” and I felt like “Under Attack” had been re-imagined to include vibes from Moulin Rouge and Beetlejuice.
The greatest joy in the show though is the encore. Three classics – “Mamma Mia”, “Dancing Queen” and “Waterloo” – back to back with the entire company brings the audience to their feet, celebrating in the pure joy that is the undeniable timelessness that is ABBA.
Mamma Mia! The Musical is like the sun after a cloudy day. For 2 and a half hours, you can leave your world worries at the door, travel to Greece and immerse yourself in the comfortable, familiar, glitter ball comfort that is ABBA, delivered by an outstanding cast.
No matter if you are an OG ABBA fan, if you discovered them through Muriels Wedding or Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, the two Mamma Mia movies, or even Cher, or even you’ve never experienced the pop perfection that is the magic of Benny, Bjorn, Anni-Frid and Agnetha – you simply cannot go wrong with Mamma Mia! The Musical.
As always…thank you for the music.
Mamma Mia! The Musical is now playing at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne.
For tickets and more information: https://mammamiathemusical.com.au/