Mamma Mia! has played in dozens of countries since its original West End production but appears to have lost none of its allure, with this new version – produced in Australia by Michael Coppel, Louise Withers and Linda Bewick – having its festive official opening in Adelaide last night at the end of an 11-month tour.
Featuring a storyline cleverly woven around ABBA members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’s brilliant music, it centres on young bride-to-be Sophie (Sarah Morrison), who lives on a Greek island with her mother, Donna (Natalie O’Donnell).
As she prepares for her wedding, Sophie decides to invite the three men who could possibly be her father. Surprisingly, they all show up and decide to take their possible fatherhood seriously.
Donna is not impressed by seeing her three lovers after 21 years, but Sophie is thrilled. Needless to say, things become more complicated as the performance progresses but there is plenty of light relief to weigh up the heavier moments.
Ian Stenlake, who plays Sam (one of the dad candidates), is excellent at portraying a range of emotions, as is Natalie O’Donnell as Donna. In a neat twist, O’Donnell is coming full circle, having played Sophie in the original production.
The dances are exuberant and fun, while the deceptively simple songs are used to show depth of feeling and despair as well as uninhibited joy and cheekiness. All the famous ABBA songs get an airing, including “Dancing Queen”, “Money, Money, Money” and, of course, “Mamma Mia”.
One of the best moments is when Donna and her friends Rosie (Alicia Gardiner) and Tanya (Jayde Westaby), who both have wonderful comic timing, perform “Super Trouper” as their band Donna and the Dynamos.
The stage design is pared back and only changes from exterior to interior a few times, but it works well; you don’t need many props to show these characters’ inner lives. The musical has been praised for its strong female characters and many of the songs are written from a woman’s perspective, from the playful “Dancing Queen” to more mature, emotional numbers such as “The Winner Takes It All”.
Mamma Mia! is a delight to watch for audiences of all ages and will no doubt introduce a new generation to infectious ABBA songs.
Mamma Mia! The Musical is playing at the Festival Theatre until November 18.
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