By Conor O’Neill
Over 65 million people have saw this piece of musical theatre. And it’s easy to understand why. ABBA at the height of their powers in the mid 1970s changed music for the better, and their music resonates as much today as it did in their prime. Set a story to what’s basically a greatest hits parade and you’re bound to be on to a winner.
Many of these types of jukebox-shows have forgettable storylines and are simply there to fill theatres and provide the audience with a trip down a collective musical memory lane but Mamma Mia! steers away from such flippancy and actually does have an engaging and well thought out plot. But, of course, the talents of Bjorn and Benny, who in collaboration with original producer Judy Craymer Stig Anderson and some songs by brought this show to global recognition at its London debut way back in 1999.
So what’s it all about? Well, first off this show is mainly about women; strong, independent women. Donna (Sara Poyzer) runs a taverna on a Greek island and her daughter Sophie (Jena Pandya) is to marry her sweetheart Sky (Toby Miles) in three months. Trouble is she doesn’t know who her father is. A quick stumble through some 20-year-old diaries of her mum’s and she has the likelihood narrowed down to three gents.
Sophie secretly sends all three ‘possible fathers’ invites to the upcoming nuptials with the hope of finding her real dad between the three. Enter Sam (Richard Standing) the architech, Harry (Daniel Crowder) former punk rocker turned banker, and Bill (Phil Corbitt) the intrepid explorer and travel writer. All three due to dates and diary entries are possibly the man to give Sophie away on her big day. This all adds up to a delightful game of ‘Guess Who’, one which the unsuspecting Donna in none too happy about.
But there are other big characters thrown into the mix; apart from the secret invites, Donna herself has invited two of her best friends, and former bandmates, over for the big occasion too. Tanya (Helen Anker) a multiple divorcee and one hell of a sassy hellraiser and Rosie (Nicky Swift), a between jobs free-spirited type. The three once performed as Donna and The Dynamos. This grouping gives some of the best musical numbers of the night including Money, Money, Money and Dancing Queen.
The ABBA hits run from start to finish, some solos, some duets, some with the whole 21-strong ensemble. What the viewer can expect is all musical bases to be covered.
The hits pour like the wine in the taverna. 22 ABBA songs, most of them hits, a few like Our Last Summer and Slipping Through My Fingers are new to my ears but all have that touch of ABBA gold. From the esoteric to the floor-fillers like Knowing Me Knowing You, Take A Chance On Me, Super Trooper, S.O.S and of course The Winner Takes It All are sure to have anyone with a pulse bouncing quite happily in their seats.
Director Phyllida and choreographer Anthony Van Laast keep things simple. Yes, this may be a big West End production but the two operate on the less is more philosophy. Of course, there is the full ensemble legs everywhere and dancers swinging to-and-fro with abandon but some of the scenes require a more subtle approach.
One scene which did leave me none the wiser was Sophie’s dream. Having never watched the film or saw this musical before this scene did leaving me scratching my head a little but that’s soon forgotten when another big number is belted out and the story moves on,
Big tunes need a big band, Unfortunately the programme doesn’t list the names or number of the musicians down in the pit but under the supervision of supervisor Martin Koch the entire GOH is swinging for the two hours running time of the show.
Will Sophie discover who’s daddy, will Donna fold under the pressure of the situation, will old love be rekindled?
If you want to find out and have a glorious night of ABBA tracks as a backdrop to this riveting, funny and moving tale simply visit http://www.goh.co.uk for times and prices or simply phone the box office on 02890 241919
Mamma Mia! run at the Grand opera House up to and including November 26, 2022.
You’ll be mad to miss this bit of pop bliss!