Theatre Review: Mamma Mia!

Sophie is determined to have her father walk her down the isle but there’s three men who could be her father. She invites all three to her wedding without her mother’s knowledge, setting in motion a feel-good, comedy-romance set to the music of ABBA!

Here we go again is a prophetic song lyric as ABBA fever hits Adelaide for the third time in the guise of the stage musical Mamma Mia!

This updated version brings the cast into the modern age, as did the film adaptation, but maintains the storyline of an independent woman who finds love, and her romantically-inclined daughter who finds independence from tradition.

The stageplay first toured Australia almost two decades ago with Natalie O’Donnell as Sophie, a young woman about to be married but who longs to meet her father, potentially one of three men. She invites all three to her wedding, reconnecting her mother with her past. O’Donnell comes full circle, playing the free-spirited mother, Donna, in this production, alongside Sarah Morrison as Sophie. Both are stellar with O’Donnell, in particular, showing just why she’s a star.

In fact, it’s the women who shine in this production for their characterisations, with Alicia Gardiner and Jayde Westaby making a fine comedy duo as Donna’s best friends and former singing mates, Rosie and Tanya. As the three potential dads, Ian Stenlake (Sam), Phillip Lowe (Harry) and Josef Ber (Bill) are fun caricatures. The clipped, over-pronunciation of Ps and Ts by some of the cast, most notably Stephen Mahy as fiancé Sky, distracts from an otherwise fine presence on stage.

The play features 22 reworked ABBA songs written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, with Stig Anderson. The book is by Catherine Johnson although some placenames are localised, a common trick for a quick laugh that makes no geographical sense to a story set on a Greek island.

Tom Hodgson’s choreography is almost as big an attraction as the songs themselves. It’s sharp and precise, and is executed magnificently by the ensemble. A definite highlight. Director Gary Young opts for a fair bit of farcical comedy which doesn’t always work in the first Act but the smiles turn to laughs more regularly after intermission when the story and action really find its stride.

It’s a small set for 24 cast members but they make it work, aided by Suzy Strout’s colourful costumes which add to the sense of celebration. It can be difficult to know where to look when most of the cast are on stage however.

Mamma Mia! is an enduring feel-good musical primarily because of the hit-list of ABBA songs and the three-song encore that gets the audience on their feet. 2018 has been a great year for ABBA fans with a film sequel to Mamma Mia! and an announcement that ABBA is reforming to release their first new songs in 35 years. They’re a super troupe and we’ll no doubt be thanking them for the music for many more decades to come.

Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Twitter: @StrtegicRetweet

Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Season: 9 October – 18 November 2018
Duration: 2.5 hours
Tickets: $55.95 – $110

Cover image credit: David James McCarthy

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