Mamma Mia! (Tour) – Musical Theatre Review

On the Greek island of Kalokairi, 20 year old Sophie is getting ready to marry her fiancé Sky, and she wants her father to walk her down the aisle. There’s only one problem… She doesn’t know who he is and her incredibly independent mother Donna denies knowing either. After reading her mother’s diary, Sophie narrows it down to three men and invites them to her wedding. Thus runs Mamma Mia! the incredibly successful musical filled with ABBA classics.

When I first saw Mamma Mia! in 1999 (gulp!) I must say, I was not particularly overwhelmed. I adored ABBA (thanks Dad…) but found the story itself a little beige and not that exciting. I couldn’t understand how I wasn’t enjoying a musical that was showcasing all my favourite songs. Since then of course, Mamma Mia! has become an institution, helped by the incredibly successful film version starring Meryl Streep which brought the lyrical gems of Benny and Bjorn to a younger generation. Following the disappointment from my teen experience of the musical, it’s probably not much of a surprise I approached the current tour of Mamma Mia! with a little trepidation…

But times are always a-changing. Perhaps because of my age, or perhaps because I simply let the cheese pleasantly sweep me along this time, I’m pleased to report I had a good time. Alright, the book is still a bit… lacking. It’s a notoriously slow start, and frankly the segues into pretty much every song are tenuous (if occasionally mildly amusing) at best. But the production! The choreography here is big, bold and thrilling to watch, and brought lovingly to life by an exceptionally exuberant ensemble. Whether faked or real, there is a palpable sense that the ensemble are having a brilliant time with the material. The set is simple, but functional, and this is the first time in years I have seen an ensemble help set and strike the scenery with enthusiasm, wit and character. It really does help add to the positive atmosphere and the cast ooze energy in the big numbers.

Lucy May Barker is great as the innocent Sophie trying to find her father, and Fia Houston-Hamilton and Blaise Colangelo both make brilliant friends, helped along with some classic Nineties lad-ette banter. Indeed, the mere fact that the Nineties is now so far away (gulp!) makes the whole musical somehow better. There’s now two levels of nostalgia at play and it works well. It’s not just the white lycra and platform boots that give us a laugh these days - the costumes on the young ensemble are equally ridiculous to modern eyes. Cowboy hat and tasselled trousers anyone? Orange shirt left artfully undone? It’s the squirmingly awkward realisation that THIS is now vintage that helps hammer some of the (few and far between) themes home.

Sophie’s independent mother Donna is played deftly by Helen Hobson, who keeps us in safe hands throughout, and Emma Clifford as Tanya and Gillian Hardie as Rose are great comic relief. Amusing performances too from the potential Dad line up (Jon Boydon as Sam, Jamie Hogarth as Harry and Christopher Hollis as Bill) and a simply stunning dance solo-extravaganza from the cheeky Pepper, played by the watchable Louis Stockil. However, this always was, and always will be, a grand opportunity for women performers, and the cheering and whoops from a mostly female audience are testament to that. You can be as cynical as you like, but I dare you not to at least crack a wry smile at the hundreds of women singing along to Dancing Queen as if it was written about them. Perhaps Mamma Mia! is simply a musical growing old disgracefully (and loving every single minute of it…!)

Mamma Mia!
Milton Keynes Theatre
2nd May –20th May 2017

Then continuing on tour. Details at -

www.mamma-mia.com

© Carly Halse - Reviewed on Wednesday 3rd May, 2017.

Author's review: 
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