Mamma Mia The Musical

Posted on: 10 July 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

Even those who are not big fans of Abba should take a chance on this musical.

You don't have to be a big fan of 70s supergroup Abba to enjoy this new musical.

For, contrary to some popular misconceptions, Mamma Mia! is not about the Swedish foursome nor is it a nostalgic retrospective on the decade that, as the saying goes, taste forgot.

The reality is more Four Weddings and a Funeral meets Shirley Valentine with a toe-tapping disco beat. Set in the present on a tiny Greek island, 20-year-old Sophie (Lisa Stokke), the daughter of English ex-pat and former girl power lead singer Donna (Siobhan McCarthy), is about to be married.

Sophie's white-wedding dream is for her father to walk her down the aisle. The problem is that neither Sophie nor her mother knows just exactly who said father is. By sneaking a peek at her mother's diary from her fancy-free days, Sophie narrows it down to three men and invites them all to the big day, thinking that instinctively she'll know who's lent her her genes.

The plot is as skimpy as some of the bikinis sported by the lithe young women of the chorus, but ingenuous nonetheless. Catherine Johnson's book manages to tailor a reasonably coherent story around Abba's collection of greatest hits.

No fewer than 22 songs - minus the Eurovision winning Waterloo which is conspicuous by its absence - are incorporated into the action, in often quite surprising ways.

Chiquitita, for instance, is sung to Donna by her old bandmembers as she weeps over the re-appearance of her past lovers while potentialad Sam (Hilton McRae) explains the complications of divorce to Sophie with Knowing Me, Knowing You.

The biggest strength of Johnson's script, as rendered by director Phyllida Lloyd, is that it doesn't take itself too seriously and caters instead to the audience’s obvious desire to guess just how and when the next classic song will surface. The performers join in on the game quite happily and appear to have great fun with the music and with Anthony Van Laast's kitsch choreography, which incorporates plenty of crooning into hairdryers, hairbrushes and snorkels.

Of the performers, McCarthy is strong-voiced and assured as the aging but still boisterous and beautiful Donna, and her sidekick Dynamos, butterball Jenny Galloway and Patsy Stone-lookalike Louise Plowright, provide plenty of laughs. The men fare less well with McRae, in particular, proving incapable of carrying his weight musically. Of the younger generation, Stokke is bright and bushy-tailed but the rest make little impact - which, to be fair, is as much of product of the script as anything.

All in all, though, the most memorable part of the evening is the score. Who knew that these dance floor favourites would adapt so well to the stage. But oh - they do, they do, they do, they do, they do. Go ahead - I'm sorry I can't help myself - take a chance on it.

T Paddock What's on stage


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