Review By Regan Baker
“What do you mean you haven’t seen Mamma Mia? What rock have you been living under?”
For someone who has seen as many musicals as I have it has been quite the shock to those close to me to discover that somehow, Mamma Mia has yet to make the list. Well I am happy to report that tonight is the night that all changes as I venture down the M1 to the seemingly-always-being-renovated Star Casino for the blue carpet premiere of this world-wide box office hit. Having now played to an audience of over sixty-million ABBA and musical loving fans across the globe this feel good musical is well and truly set to take the Gold Coast by storm.
Presented and produced by Matt Ward Entertainment (Wicked at HOTA - 2019, Rent at QPAC - 2018), Mamma Mia (for those like myself who do not the story) unfolds to twenty-two of ABBA’s greatest hits and tells of twenty-year-old Sophie who dreams of the perfect wedding. There is just one small catch; Sophie has no idea who her father is, and her mother refuses to acknowledge that she needs one. So, Sophie does what any desperate-for-information child would do and sneaks a peak at her mother’s old diary, discovering the names of three possible candidates. In the hopes of creating that perfect day she secretly invites all three to the wedding, assuming that she will feel an immediate connection to one of the men so that he can walk her down the aisle.
Let’s start off by talking about the elephant in the room and what is probably going to be an incredibly unpopular opinion. The script integration of ABBA’s music into the story of Mamma Mia is not great. This obviously has nothing to do with last night’s performance (which was amazing, and more on that shortly), but I struggled to understand the relevance of half of the songs in terms of progressing the story forward. It very much felt like two separate performances; a spoken dialogue which told the story as mentioned above, and a musical performance of ABBA’s songs to just loosely stitch each scene together. Kind of like, “Oh – Donna mentions being poor in this scene, lets sing Money Money Money, that makes sense.” Although it didn’t. Not really.
Now that I have gotten that off my chest, let’s get onto the good stuff! Director Tim Hill and Casting Consultant Cessalee Stovall have brought together a stellar team of predominantly Gold Coast based singers, dancers and performers to solidify a statement of the talent produced here in the sunshine state. Madeline Grice shone as Sophie Sheridan and while originally training as a dancer she took a side step into singing and acting after suffering a sidelining injury. Her combination of vocal and acting performances were truly something else and brought layers of energy and emotion to the stage. In similar fashion, Jayde Westaby in the leading role of Donna Sheridan delivered a powerhouse vocal performance landing every tough note to the showering praise of the audience. Radio Presenter Emily Jade O’Keefe and triple threat dynamo Leah Howard dominated their roles as Tanya and Rosie, Donna’s best friends and former band members.
Sean Mulligan, Sandro Colarelli and James Shaw as Sam, Bill and Harry respectively deserve as much credit as the three leading ladies for their uniquely humorous interpretations of their characters. Sitting opposite Madeline Grice as the man of the hour, up and coming Gold Coast actor and social media influencer, Lakota Johnson was a delight to watch and oozed natural chemistry with his counterpart. While I have only mentioned eight of the twenty-two strong cast by name, the entire ensemble is to be commended on the strength of their performances, both vocally and in dance.
Choreographer Joseph Simons arranged a vast number of technically challenging dance numbers, which were executed with ease by the incredibly fit and talented young stars. The female ensemble were elegant and beautiful in their flowing movement around the stage, while the ab-fest of the male ensemble performed leaps and flips that showed immense skill. The costumes by Jess Hansen were stunning and for a smaller production of the show displayed no restraint in ensuring glitz and glamour were the number one focus. From sparkly purple show-stopping numbers, to the simple whites and creams that suit the Greek island setting of the story, all of her work showed selective thought. The duo of set designer Adam Gardnir and lighting designer Wesley Bluff created an amazing environment for the events of Mamma Mia to unfold within and allowed the focus to remain on the actors while still providing a pleasing backdrop.
I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting when I first signed up to attend Mamma Mia, but overall I was pleasantly surprised! While yes, I had a small issue with the overall integration of Abba’s music into the story itself I’m willing to overlook that fact as this is unlike most other musicals that are out there, or that I have ever seen. Mamma Mia isn’t just about the story; it’s about the party. It’s a celebration of some of the greatest 70’s music ever produced and backed by a cast of incredibly talent actors and singers who created an atmosphere to be revered. Mamma Mia plays at The Star until July 11, so get in quick while tickets last!
Images Supplied by the Production