Review: Mamma Mia! an ‘infectiously goofy, endearing’ ABBA legacy

ABBA songs are indestructible. You could fire them into the sun and they would come up smiling.

Mamma Mia! is a cheerful jukebox musical built around the Swedish pop group’s most enduring and catchy songs.

Since it launched in London’s West End in 1999 it has become a global juggernaut, selling million of tickets on worldwide tours and being adapted into a hit film starring Meryl Streep in 2008.

It is easy to see why this infectiously goofy, endearing and funny show has been such a universal hit.

Showbiz’s Christchurch production of the musical at the Isaac Theatre Royal is suitably bright, colourful and sun-kissed.

And at the heart of the show are those fiendish pop songs that cannot fail to make you smile.

Sure, the tunes are gleefully and knowingly crowbarred into place around the plot, but they grin at you in a way that is hard to resist.

The story involves Sophie Sheridan (Emily Burns) preparing for her wedding to boyfriend Sky (Ben Freeth) at her mother’s taverna on an idyllic Greek island. Sophie uses the opportunity to invite three men from her mother’s past to the wedding, believing that one of them must be her father. But which one?

The Greek location is evoked with a colourful, multi-layered set backed with a large LED screen that reflects the mood of each scene with an ever-changing sky. The versatile screen conjures a red sunset for passionate scenes, a rising moon for the romantic finale and a rising sun for the hopeful day of the wedding.

The costumes are similarly colourful, adding flair to the tightly choreographed and energetic group dance numbers.

Juliet Reynolds Midgley is a standout as the central mother figure, Donna, excelling in the quieter and more emotional songs in the second act. Matt Pike as one of Donna’s former lovers, Sam, is also impressive, particularly in his second act rendition of Knowing Me, Knowing You.

But there were moments in the louder songs when the lead vocals for some performers felt lost in the mix. I don’t know if this was a technical issue or about the strength of the vocals, but it meant that some of the numbers lacked the required oomph to really get the party started. It may be something that is resolved as the cast settle in to their run.

But when the large cast all sang as a single chorus, the songs really took off.

Mamma Mia! is an entertaining, raucously populist and infectiously funny night of musical theatre.

It is like one of those Quattro Formaggio pizzas – enjoyable but very, very cheesy.

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