Everyone is familiar with the ‘Mamma Mia!’ films but not everyone has seen the stage show upon which they’re based; I’m lucky enough to have seen it many times, the first time being the London premier in 1999 when I was blown away by the production, the songs and the energy of the cast.
Based around the songs of Swedish pop legends ABBA, ‘Mamma Mia!’ is now a box-office worldwide musical phenomenon. The feel-good musical is presently playing in both the West End and Broadway and has countless touring versions performing world-wide.
The show was originally conceived by English producer, Judy Craymer and written by Catherine Johnson, with director Phyllida Lloyd, these being the collaborative creative force behind what was to become an unprecedented commercial success; it premiered in London and features songs written by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. It is an infectious mixture of classic pop songs, skintight Lycra outfits and unashamed positivity; it was a runaway success, baffling the creator’s own rather modest anticipations. The score contains all the favourite ABBA numbers including Dancing Queen, SOS, The Winner Takes it All, Money, Money, Money and Super Trouper.
The plot revolves around Sophie who is preparing for her wedding to fiancée Sky, which is taking place on a sunny Greek Island. But she has a problem, she doesn’t know who her father is. Whilst leafing through her mother’s diary, she discovers that it could be one of three men. She decides to tackle the problem and invites all three men to her wedding ceremony, hoping that she’ll make a connection with whoever is her father and will ask him to walk her down the aisle.
When the big day approaches and all the guests arrive, Sophie’s mother, Donna is shocked to see her former lovers there; she thought she would never see them again. Sophie in the meantime can’t decide who her biological father is from the three ‘dads’. Confusion, farcical misunderstandings and a lot of singing ensues as Sophie tries to figure it all out, whilst all the while struggling with her niggling uncertainties about the wedding itself.
ABBA’s wonderful catalogue of smash hit songs feature in this enjoyable production with one hit after another which thrilled the audience along with the witty and engaging story that is all very ’90’s, a mother, a daughter, and three possible dads with a fairy-tale ending.
The show is fun with a capital F; it moves along at a pace and keeps the suspense going throughout without flagging. The audience, like me, were probably playing the ‘guess the next song’ game as the plot and dialogue progressed whilst during the intermission, they were probably working out which songs hadn’t been featured up to then.
With a deceptively simple set which represents the setting of the Greek Island where the story is set, it comprised of two large white structures which were revolved by the cast at times to represent the exterior and interior of the hotel which the main character, Donna has renovated; furniture such as tables and chairs and beds were added as needed. The lighting was used cleverly to depict sunny days in Greece and wonderful evening sunsets.
This backdrop enabled the cast to showcase their spectacular energy and excitement of the music through dance and song. One little known fact is that the costumes for the Super Trouper sequence are made up of over 400 metres of Lycra: three sparkling white shiny costumes for the three older talented ladies of the piece.
You don’t need to have been a 70’s child to enjoy the show and have a great time; the audience was a mixture of delighted musical fans aged from teenagers to pensioners. They were itching to sing along with the music from the word go and hands were swaying in the air to all the slowies and clapping to the upbeat tempo songs throughout.
Overflowing with nostalgia, mainly due to the costumes and plentiful laughs, the cast seemed to enjoy the show as much as the audience which all added to the production as a whole, a really fun night out. The whole audience were on their feet singing, dancing and clapping and asking for more, as the show closed, a well-deserved reaction to a tremendous show; the over-the-top colourful tight Lycra costumes sported by the main characters at the end of the show, both male and female delighted the audience as they shouted for ‘More.’
Sara Poyzer shines as Donna Sheridan; she has a powerful voice and her renditions of The Winner Takes it All and Slipping Through My Fingers were especially well received by the audience.
The show’s script is very funny throughout and special mention must be made of cast member James Willoughby Moore as Pepper who brought the house down with his comedic mannerisms and antics and Nicki Swift as Rosie who was also especially funny and saucy in her role. The whole cast are wonderful, they bring energy to the show and look as though they are really enjoying themselves rather than just going through their paces.
The show is directed by Phyllida Lloyd, choreography is by Anthony van Laast, production design is by Mark Thompson and lighting design by Howard Harrison, the Mamma Mia! Book is by Catherine Johnson.
The production showcases the musical genius of Benny Andersson & Bjorn Ulvaeus who found theatrical fame through their musical talent, never knowing they would be famous all over again due to the success of the show and having the pleasure of re-living their hit songs successes. The quality of their work stands up to all comparisons and the theatrical setting gives new meanings to some very familiar lyrics. The most telling moment of all is the beautiful ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ in which the mother/daughter relationship at the heart of the show reaches its conclusion; many tears were shed by most of the audience along with me, during this beautiful rendition.
This show is entertaining, uplifting, inspirational and a whole lot of fun and the chemistry of the cast shines throughout; for theatre lovers wanting something that is witty, lively and engaging, this is the perfect show; you’ll know all the songs, you’ recognise the storyline, but don’t be concerned if you’ll like it or not, because I can guarantee you’ll love it.
The show is at Liverpool Empire until April 9th 2022. https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/mamma-mia/liverpool-empire/
Reviewer: Anne Pritchard
Reviewed: 30th March 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★