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Mamma Mia! review

Mamma Mia, the jukebox musical showcasing and celebrating the music of ABBA, arrives at Leeds Grand Theatre this Summer as part of its first national tour.

Set on a dreamlike Greek island, Mamma Mia follows Sophie’s plight to discover the identity of her absent father. Determined to be walked down the aisle on her wedding day, the girl secretly invites three strong contenders from her mother’s diary. A romantic farce ensues as Sophie battles with her mother to uncover the truth before the big day.

As a musical, Mamma Mia has the distinct advantage of showcasing chart-topping numbers by one of the world’s most successful and popular bands. Hits such as Voulez-Vous, Thank You For The Music, Waterloo and Dancing Queen are anthems anchored in the public consciousness. They’re also floor fillers at wedding parties – a plotline coincidence? – instantly provoking a warming nostalgia whenever played. But does this musical live up to ABBA’s enduring legacy? The short answer is yes.

One of Mamma Mia’s greatest strengths is its bravura musical arrangement by Martin
Koch, offering an expanded adaptation of the original ABBA hits whilst also retaining the distinctive studio sound. Synth and conga drums are particularly prominent in the mix, ensuring numbers have a period wall-of-sound feel, whilst a dynamic bass gives the whole production a bold disco flavour. A delightful addition is the inclusion of a vocoder – essentially a robot-like harmonizer – which roots its musical influences firmly in the late Seventies. In a nifty bridging motif, the distinctive xylophone phrase from Mamma Mia tensely underscores the whole production like a ticking clock, building through dramatic scenes before bursting into song.

The book manages to transition from drama to musical interlude reasonably seamlessly, punctuating scenes with a brisk pace. Some numbers do feel a little shoehorned in and the direction acknowledges this with some tongue-in-cheek performances, ensuring the show doesn’t take itself too seriously. Quite rightly, Mamma Mia is all about song and dance, with a plot serving as an entertaining vehicle to get from one number to the next.

Lucy May Barker as Sophie Sheridan in Mamma Mia! Photograph: Brinkhoff M+Âgenburg.

A large cast showcases extraordinary talent in song, dance and drama. Lucy May Barker and Phillip Ryan make a cute pair as Sophie and Sky, providing some genuine onstage chemistry in addition to combining a romantic vocal harmony. As much as Sophie’s character anchors the show, the story is geared towards the history of the mature cast; Emma Clifford is hilarious as the saucy and sexy Tanya, whilst Gillian Hardie delivers some irresistible knockabout slapstick in a bubbly performance as Rosie. In a superb leading performance, Helen Hobson demonstrates an outstanding vocal range as Donna, coupled with genuine pathos in her dramatic scenes to bring some welcome gravitas to the story. Of the contending fathers, Jon Boydon showcases a strong solo befitting a leading man whilst Jamie Hogarth and Christopher Hollis provide plenty of strut and swagger to lighten up the production no end.

A specific note should go to the superlative ensemble in this production, who drive forward the penetrating choral, harmonic soundscape of ABBA. There is a broad, bold richness to the chorus who ensure that the roof is fully raised in every ensemble piece.

Staging is purposefully simplistic yet effective, mirroring the Greek flag with whites and pastel blues, allowing the flamboyant and outrageous costumes to pull full focus. Opening up the space also allows the energetic choreography to take centre stage: A sequence with a troop of men in wetsuits is incredibly funny, in addition to a boisterous routine set to Voulez-Vous which is innovatively cross-cut between a stag and hen do. In a showstopping number, Louis Stockil performs a mind-blowingly athletic routine to Does Your Mother Know – a definite highlight where music, dance and comedy combine in perfect harmony.

Irresistibly kitsch, camp and colourful, Mamma Mia fulfils every expectation as a truly uplifting, fun-filled jukebox musical. Each number hits home with a palpable disco drive, accompanied with lustrous choreography and non-stop spectacle. Climaxing with an explosive encore which is straight out of Top of the Pops 1974, Mamma Mia triumphs as a celebration of a much-loved band and much-missed era of popular music. Losing none of its original energy in this dynamic touring version, Mamma Mia is truly the place to go when you’re feeling down. Take a chance; go see.

Cast: Lucy May Barker, Fia Houston-Hamilton, Blaise Colangelo, Emma Clifford, Gillian Hardie, Helen Hobson, Phillip Ryan, Louis Stockil, Brad Veitch, Jamie Hogarth, Christopher Hollis, Jon Boydon, Peter Saul Blewden. Director: Phyllida Lloyd Writer: Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus Theatre: Leeds Grand Theatre Duration: 140 minutes Dates: Tuesday May 30th to Saturday 8th July.

Samuel Payne
Samuel Paynehttp://samuelpayne.weebly.com
Reviewer of Theatre in the North, including releases of classic film and television.

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