Review: Mamma Mia. (touring) Curve.

With its highly recognisable soundtrack penned by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, audiences know that they are in for an ABBA-fuelled treat when they see Donna Sheridan, complete with her handy drill, stepping out of the famous blue door. With no less than 24 songs from the ABBA back catalogue, this jukebox musical pays homage to the Swedish-born super-group who changed the face of music with their individual sound. Let’s put it this way, if you’ve ever darted to a dance floor to proclaim to be a Dancing Queen, young and sweet, only seventeeeeeeen, then you are probably going to love this musical.

Having never seen the musical, but having a full enjoyment of the 2008 film starring Meryl Streep, I was interested to see the similarities and differences. I’m happy to report that the film is pretty much true to the original musical, although some of the supernumerary numbers have been cut. It’s hard not to compare musical to film and it takes a while to really settle into the overexaggerated style of acting however Mamma Mia is not supposed to be realism – it’s an unashamed escape from reality to a little Greek Island where a Winner Takes it All and Your Mother Doesn’t Know That You’re Out. Mother and daughter team Donna (Sara Poyzer) and Sophie (Jena Pandya) have lived on the Island for over 20 years, with Sophie’s dad being nothing more than an ejaculation…until three potential dads turn up to attend Sophie’s wedding to Sky (Toby Miles) and chaos ensues.

The audience is treated to a medley of Abba songs that has the toe tapping even before the curtain is raised. The set is simple against a vivid blue background and as Pandya softly sings “I Have a Dream” in the hopes of finding her father, the expectant stage just waits to burst into life. It doesn’t have a long wait as Sophie’s perky bridesmaids Ali (Jasmine Shen) and Lisa (Mariella Mazzilli) arrive to perform “Honey Honey” with Pandya. The chemistry between the three is clear, and the physical movement has the audience laughing in no time. This is definitely a musical that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Following the arrival of Donna’s friends Rosie (Nicky Swift) and Tanya (Helen Anker), the parallel of the younger trio with their whole lives ahead of them, and the more experienced trio is more pronounced than in the movie. Once the three dads arrive on the island, all of whom have had a night of … with Donna 21 years ago, it’s made immediately clear that all have completely different outlooks on life. Bill Austin (Phill Corbitt) is a globe-trotting lone wolf, Harry “Headbanger” Bright (Daniel Crowder) has settled into blue collar life and Sam Carmichael is a love-starved divorcee who has been pining for Donna for 21 years…but who is Sophie’s dad?

While Sophie wants to discover her past, Donna is trying to avoid it…at one point by hiding under the bed clothes as her friends sing “Chiquitita” to her. Swift and Anker are both excellent as a comedic duo – their voices compliment each other very well and the harmonies in Chiquitita are flawless… as is their crazy frolicking and shimmying in order to make Donna smile. We could all do with friends like Rosie and Tanya. Another highlight for this reviewer is “Take a Chance on Me” performed by Swift and Corbitt, which is hilariously choreographed. In fact, whenever Swift and Anker take the stage, the laughs are bound to follow. Anker performing “Does Your Mother Know” alongside Pepper (James Willoughby-Moore) is a real crowd pleaser and the audience just love it, especially Willoughby-Moore’s impressive and unexpected break-dancing moves. Willoughby-Moore really endears himself to the audience with his naïve optimism.

There are heart-warming and heart-breaking solos from Poyzer with “The Winner Takes It All” really giving her an opportunity to showcase her powerhouse voice and the softer “Slipping Through my Fingers” her depth. However, it is when the full ensemble is on the stage that the production hits its heights. “Gimme Gimme Gimme” and “Vouez-Vous” towards the end of Act 1, are a real step up in terms of choreography (Anthony Van Laast CBE) and the stage is electric. I particularly enjoy the split stage effects of dazzling choreography and strong lighting design (Howard Harrison) against the slo-mo in shadow, allowing Sophie to have private one on one conversations with her dads. The stage feels chaotic and spinny towards the end of the Act with a strong bass adding to the sense of confusion. Music, choreography and lighting all work incredibly well together here to create Sophie’s inner turmoil.

Mamma Mia is the ultimate feel-good musical, but there are times where I feel the performance tonight is a little lacklustre, which is confirmed for me by the finale which is absolutely full of energy, vibrancy and joy – it seems to me that this level of p’zazz is never reached fully during the telling of the story.

Mamma Mia is cheeky, cheerful and sexy – it’s guaranteed to have the audience clapping along and on their feet by the finale. Playing until Saturday 24 September, there’s no reason not to shimmy on down to Curve theatre in Leicester and say I do I do I do I do I do I dooooo to Mamma Mia.

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