Review by Lucy Ross
After three years and two postponements, it is such a delight that we can finally see Willoughby’s production of Mamma Mia!
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 impressive professional level set by Joshua McIntosh and lively costuming of Racheal Adams.
The story follows 20-year-old Sophie played by Stephanie Edmonds, who is planning to get married but still doesn’t know who her father is. Unbeknownst to her mother Donna, portrayed by Karen Oliver, Sophie has narrowed her options down to three men – Sam Carmichael (Geoff Stone), Bill Austin (Scott Kimpton) & Harry Bright (Clive Hobson). 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.
Willoughby Theatre Company is notorious for delivering high quality big scale productions and Mamma Mia! is no exception.
Be prepared for flying sets and glitter cannons to liven up your theatre experience.
There were one or two technical hiccups and often times the backstage singers were not in time with the onstage singers. But it is valuable to keep in mind that this was their opening night and these things can certainly be tightened up as the run goes along.
The principal cast were fairly strong across the board. Stephanie Edmonds as Sophie had a unique interpretation of her character and her delivery was often charming and quirky. Karen Oliver as Donna delivered an impressive vocal performance, almost blowing the roof off with ‘The Winner Takes It All’. The potential fathers served their roles well, all delivering contrasting performances. Stone as Sam, remained stoic and authentic, Kimpton as Bill is your recognizable Aussie bloke and Hobson as Harry, a bumbling Englishman with a colourful past.
You cannot help but love Donna’s friends Tanya and Rosie, played by Janina Hamerlok and Tisha Kelemen respectively. Each time one or both of these performers entered the stage they absolutely stole the show. Their joy for performing naturally shone through with every line spoken or sung, an energy that naturally draws the eye. Additionally, they certainly have a solid grasp of their comedy which was an absolute joy to watch amongst the chaos of the other plotlines.
The ensemble danced well and enthusiastically with the choreography given, many of them clearly loving every second they spent on stage which was fabulous to watch.
For future productions, it would be wise for the company to consider the representation of LGBTQIA+ themes and their portrayal for the audience. Seeing more diverse casts and more openly LGBTQIA+ characters included in ensembles is important and fantastic to see. However, it is equally important that we are not seeing stereotypical or tokenistic portrayals as we move into a more inclusive times in life and in theatre.
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.
Unlike other productions, Willoughby also chooses to give a nod or two to the original composers as a way of saying “Thank you for the music” which was truly a delight.
If you love ABBA, a lively song and dance or a modern day Greek comedy – you won’t want to miss this one!
Image Credit: Grant Leslie