Here we go again… again

Mamma Mia! (Savoyards)

Iona Performing Arts Centre

24 September – 8 October

Especially since in recent years it became available for amateur licensing, I’ve now seen “Mamma Mia!” many times. This makes it a difficult musical to review, but never to watch. As Savoyards’ production shows, the audience favourite is full of familiar songs and infectious sing-along energy to get everyone’s toes tapping.

The story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs is crafted into a now well-known tale of love, laughter and friendship centred around a young woman’s search for her birth father. On the eve of her wedding, Sophie (Stephanie Lee-Steere) tells the audience how she has set upon a quest to discover the identity of her father by inviting three men from her free-spirited single-mother Donna’s (Vanessa Wainwright) past back to the Greek island paradise they last visited 20 years ago… on the eve of Sophie’s wedding to Sky (Matthew Bennett). Sophie assumes that she will feel an immediate connection to Sam (Andrew Dark), Bill (Andrew McCarthur) or Harry (Steven Norris) so that whichever of them is her father can then walk her down the aisle, however, things don’t go exactly to plan, especially as the men are reunited with Donna. The result is a light-hearted musical comedy celebration of love, laughter and friendship that is pure entertainment in its every element. 

Wainwright is splendid as ‘feminist icon’ Donna, the former lead singer of the 1970s pop group Donna and the Dynamos, with best friends Tanya (Natalie Lennox ) and Rosie (Jacqueline Atherton), conveying an assurance of self-sufficiency that is belied by her bumbling body language around her confident and composed past love Sam. Vocally, she takes us on quite the journey too. Her vibrato sounds give us a gutsy ‘Mamma Mia’ in response to seeing her ex-lovers, she makes ‘Slipping Though My Fingers’ a beautiful insight into Donna’s emotions at dressing Sophie for her wedding and her ‘Winner Takes It All’ spit back at Sam is heartbreaking. She is supported by a large ensemble of varying energy levels, with notable standouts coming from the support players of Carly Wilson as Sophie’s bubbly best friend Ali, along with Lisa (Kayleigh Bancroft) who have travelled to the island for the wedding and an underused Michael Chazikantis as Sky’s friend Eddie, deliverer of many well-timed comic one-liners.

A brilliant band under the musical direction of Nicky Griffith brings vitality to the ABBA tunes. It is just unfortunate that some opening night moments are affected by sound concerns, with microphone issues detracting from numbers like ‘Does Your Mother Know’, which sees Sky’s flirty friend Pepper (Joshua Brandon) attempts to woo the much-older, thrice divorced Tanya in a fun and flirty ‘Does Your Mother Know’. Similarly, Act One’s highlight ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ is shaky in its start before evolving into its usual flipper fun.

Desney Toia-Sinapati’s choreography features as one of the show’s standout aspects throughout. Donna and the Dynamos’ hen party performance of ‘Super Trouper’ is a triumph of shapely simplicity in its in-unison sways and outstretched points, while big ensemble numbers like ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’ explode with well-timed focal point entrances and exits to allow each of Sophie’s dads to take centre-stage for their in-turn realisations about their potential parentage.  

A lot of the show’s comedy comes from its small moments, such as the reactions of Father Alexandrios (James Riley), the minister officiating Sophie’s wedding, as things start to go awry. This attention to detail features from the beginning when its title track features pop-up appearance of a Greek chorus of sorts in ensemble emphasis of its iconic chorus. Even the out-of-place Act Two opener ‘Under Attack’, which sees Sophie having a nightmare, involving her three possible fathers all fighting for the right to walk her down the aisle, emerges with its own surprises. Comedy comes also from the cheeky free-spirited flirtation of Atherton’s warmly endearing Rosie, which cresendos into overt wedding day proposition of Bill in ‘Take a Chance on Me’’.

“Mamma Mia!” is everything you expect it to be and in Savoyards’ hands, its trip down the aisle…. again is one that is full of upbeat fun. And with three weeks of shows, there is still time to join the group in Greece to experience to its joy first-hand, though tickets are selling fast!

Photo c/o – Sharyn Hall