Theatreview Mamma Mia! Review: UNBRIDLED APPEAL

Showbiz delivers a top-notch production of this super musical, with all of the lavish production values that are the hallmark of their shows: a large and impressive set, rock concert lighting, stylish costumes, and an ensemble so taught, trim and tanned it looks they are genetically engineered especially for this season!

Mamma Mia! is a testament to the enduring power of the music of Abba. As a musical, it is functional at best, with a story line skimpier than that of the onstage costumes serving only as a vehicle to get us from one mega hit to the next. However, no one in the audience seems to care remotely. The liberal doses cheeky English humour with more than its share of risqué jokes, and the rom-com style plot, with its obvious dénouement, go down a treat with the appreciative and enthusiastic opening night crowd.

The music, which is what it’s all really about, is expertly realised under the baton of Richard Marrett. The nine-piece band skilfully performs the intricate and clever music with energy and finesse. The off stage vocal ensemble add intensity to the work of the onstage ensemble, which given the physicality of their role in the show, is a smart move. One small gripe here though: frequently the volume of the off stage singers drowns out the onstage soloist, however I’m sure these opening night teething problems will sort themselves as the season progresses.

Despite the saccharine pop reputation of Abba, it never fails to impress me how complex and demanding their songs are, and in places this is evident with some of the performers struggling with the large vocal ranges and stylistic challenges required to sing them. However, the audience are more than happy to clap and sing along, and the energetic and committed performances from the entire cast gloss over any moments where the songs may seem to suffer.

Sarah Kelly in the role of Rosie is a firm audience favourite with a performance that has us in stitches. Her comic timing, warmth and earthiness are a treat. Kelly’s characterisation mirrors the excellent (albeit brief) performance of Laura Hasson as Ali at the opening of the show.

Emily Burns as Sophie, and Ben Freeth as Sky have excellent onstage chemistry, and perform with a confidence and assurance beyond their years. Burns, in particular, has that indefinable quality that demands you watch her wherever she is on stage.

Matt Pike as Sam and Juliet Reynolds Midgley as Donna deliver the stand out performances of the night – Abba is in safe hands here. Their duet of ‘S.O.S’ is one of the most musically satisfying moments of the night. Reynolds Midgley also finds the fleeting moments of emotional truth in the show with her performances of ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’, and ‘The Winner Takes It All’.

However where Mamma Mia! shines is in the full cast numbers. Director and choreographer Stephen Robertson knows how to fill a stage with nuclear level energy that blasts through the footlights and hits the audience full force. The unbridled appeal of this show lies in numbers like ‘Voulez-Vous’, ‘Does Your Mother Know’ and ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’. The male ensemble’s scuba ballet (not a phrase I ever imagined typing) is hands down one of the funniest things I’ve seen on a stage. Judging by the applause I’m not alone in my appreciation here.

The extended curtain call / encore has much of the crowd on their feet, which is not a usual position for Christchurch audiences. I predict a sell-out season for Showbiz if tonight is anything to go by. If you are a fan of Abba and / or large scale, pleasure filled entertainment, say “I Do, I Do, I Do” to this season of Mamma Mia!

Reviewed by Naomi van den Broek, Theatreview, 1 Apr 2016

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