Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Mamma Mia ***1/2

Mamma Mia
Music by Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus, Book by Catherine Johnson
Where and When: Her Majesty’s, from Feb 13
Reviewer: Kate Herbert
Stars: ***1/2

Mamma Mia! is back and the stars are Benny and Bjorn’s songs from the phenomenally successful ABBA. Every song is a potential Eurovision winner. ABBA’s lyrics tell stories about love, loss and lifestyle so they lend themselves readily to musical theatre.

The narrative, by Catherine Johnson, is tissue-thin. Former wild girl, Donna (Anne Wood), runs a taverna on a Greek island. Her daughter, Sophie (Suzie Mathers) is marrying Sky (David Somerville), at the delicate age of 20; too early according to her 70s feminist mother.

High jinks begin when Sophie, unbeknown to her single mother, invites mum's three ex-lovers (Michael Cormick, Robert Grubb, Peter Hardy) to her wedding, hoping one of them is her unacknowledged dad.

The massive chorus numbers are electrifying including Voulez Vous, a sassy, sexy dance party with writhing bodies and Gimme Gimme Gimme, which features the seductive, youthful chorus. Under Attack is a quirky dream sequence with chorus wearing fluoro snorkels and flippers.

The dialogue is cheesy and awkward, lacking the necessary comic flair, making characters look two-dimensional. It works best when threaded into songs or underscored by music. The songs more successfully reveal characters’ inner lives and relationships.

Donna and her pals, Tanya (Jennifer Vuletic) and Rosie (Lara Mulcahy) are a treat reprising their past glories as Donna and the Dynamos, singing Super Trouper wearing white lycra and platform boots. And their encore of Dancing Queen is genuine ABBA.

Wood’s rendition of The Winner Takes it All is impassioned as is Mamma Mia, which accompanies her melt down when she sees her lover, Sam, after 20 years. Vuletic is an Amazonian temptress singing Does Your Mother Know surrounded by athletic boys, and Mulcahy rouses the quiet audience to clap along in her hilarious version of Take a Chance on Me.

Mathers brings a simple charm to Sophie with her warm, bright voice. Michael Cormick is absolutely delicious as Sam with his thrilling, rich and powerful voice. He even looks good in orange lycra!

The audience was strangely subdued for an opening night – no celebrities whooping and clapping. But the show escalates to a big musical finish with I Do I Do I Do and Dancing Queen. Then the crowd finally leapt to its feet in the finale, Waterloo, when Wood asked, “Do you want to dance?”

By Kate Herbert

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