Reviewed by Lucy Ross
Theatre in Sydney is back! And with it, we have another huge scale production from Packemin Productions with a return season of Mamma Mia! at Riverside Theatres.
Mamma Mia! is a jukebox musical featuring the music of ABBA with book written by playwright Catherine Johnson, set in the fictional small Greek Island of Kalokari.
We are well and truly transported to this world with the help of the spectacular set design by Joshua McIntosh and lively costuming of Audrey Currie.
The story follows 20-year-old Sophie played by Courtney Bell, who is planning to get married but still doesn’t know who her father is. Unbeknownst to her mother Donna, portrayed by Louise Butler, Sophie has narrowed her options down to three men – Sam Carmichael (Scott Irwin), Bill Austin (Mark Simpson) & Harry Bright (Nat Jobe). All three are invited to the wedding in secret, with hope that Sophie will ascertain who her father is and have one of them give her away. However, not unlike the Greek comedy classics… it doesn’t turn out to be that simple.
Chaos ensues as their presence becomes known by Donna and the men realise the purpose of their invitations.
Packemin is notorious for delivering high quality productions with a huge high energy ensemble – and Mamma Mia! was no exception. The choreography by Sally Dashwood was precise and sharp, and delivered brilliantly by the ensemble cast. Vocals were strong and solid, and the band were powerful – a credit to music director Peter Hayward.
The principal cast were incredibly impressive – most having professional credits and many other musicals under their belt.
Courtney Bell as Sophie had such a pure tone to her voice and delivered the character with charm and honesty.
The potential fathers all served their roles very well, all ensuring they delivered contrasting and dynamic performances. Irwin as Sam, remaining stoic and authentic, Simpson as Bill, being bumbling and adventurous, and Jobe as Harry, had the energy of a dog being let off a corporate leash.
You cannot help but love Donna’s gal pals Tanya & Rosie, played by Debora Krizak and Rachael Gillfeather respectively. The chemistry and comic timing in their performances was an absolute joy to watch and refreshing in amongst all the drama.
However, the absolute standout performance of the evening was Louise Butler as Donna. She absolutely bared her soul on stage and showed us all the emotional colours of the rainbow of being a single mother. Her rendition of ‘The Winner Takes It All’ deservedly brought the house down, with her superb acting and powerhouse vocals.
Yes, Mamma Mia! is a jukebox musical - and with that comes all your favourite ABBA hits, which are, at times, squeezed into the storyline rather precariously.
But this show has so much heart – the famous songs are not used as gimmicks, they are genuinely inserted to try and tell the story.
With so much uncertainty in the performing arts industry over the past two years, it is fantastic to see a company like Packemin Productions still standing strong. The resilience and determination to still produce shows of this quality and scale during this time is nothing short of amazing and deserves congratulations.
Now is the time we all need to be supporting theatre communities like Packemin so they can continue to deliver us fabulous shows as they have done since 2010.
Book yourself a ticket to Mamma Mia! before it closes on 26th February as your way of saying “Thank you for the music”.
Image Credit: Grant Leslie