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Mamma Mia! The Musical

  • Theatre, Musicals
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
The cast of Mamma Mia! The Musical on stage.
Photograph: David Hooley

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

This theatrical mainstay is a sunny, sparkly spectacle that will have you dancing in your seat

It’s hard to believe that it’s only been five years since Mamma Mia! The Musical last voulez vous-ed its way to Melbourne – but it seems fitting for it to return once again to the magnificent Princess Theatre, where it was the last production to tread the boards before the historic venue underwent an extensive refurbishment to accommodate the juggernaut that was Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

A lot has changed since the heady days of 2018. Still, it’s safe to say that post-pandemic audiences are craving a joyous, uplifting theatre experience – even a sense of comfort and familiarity, if you will. And this is precisely what Mamma Mia! The Musical delivers. Here we go again.

Director Gary Young has the insanely fun job of bringing Catherine Johnson’s book to life, which tells the now-beloved story of Donna Sheridan (Elise McCann) and her daughter Sophie (Sarah Krndija) as they prepare for Sophie’s upcoming wedding to the sweet and devoted Sky (a charming, if slightly underused Lewis Francis). Throw in a picturesque Greek Island setting, three potential fathers showing up unannounced, and dot, dot, dot – well, you know how the story goes.

Woven not-so-subtly through this – dare we say – paper-thin plot are the real stars of the show: the 22 featured ABBA songs, with words and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, of course. The line-up of bangers reads like a roll call of the band’s biggest hits: ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Super Trouper’, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ and ‘SOS’. Squeezing them all in at a run time of just two hours and 30 minutes is a feat in and of itself.

Nailing many of these is local actor Krndija, who, as the headstrong Sophie, shines in particular during ‘I Have A Dream’ and ‘Under Attack’ (this ABBA superfan also couldn’t help but notice Krndija’s uncanny resemblance to British actor Lily James, who plays a young Donna in the just-as-iconic Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again). While there was the slightest hint of opening night nerves in her voice, it didn’t help that some sound issues during Act One made it harder for audience members in the back to hear the vocals. 

Donna and her Dynamos are truly that: electric, engaging and raring to party. McCann is the heart and soul of the production, effortlessly balancing the high-octane energy (and high kicks!) of ‘Money, Money, Money’ with the emotional twists and turns of ‘The Winner Takes It All’. The delightful Bianca Bruce as Rosie and Deone Zanotto as Tanya are both excellent, but it’s Zanotto who almost steals the whole damn show during ‘Does Your Mother Know’, a sizzling number that resulted in an extended round of applause bordering on a standing ovation (and just about taking it out of the cast who were gulping for air as they held their poses).

Of the men – Harry Bright (Drew Livingston), Sam Carmichael (Martin Crewes) and Bill Austin (Tim Wright) – it’s Livington who fares best in the comedy stakes. At the same time, Crewes brings a sincere gravitas to his role as the regretful Sam, eventually winning over Donna (and the audience) by the show’s end. 

If you missed out on a European summer, Linda Bewick’s light, bright set design will transport you directly to the Greek Isles. The white-washed taverna with blue-shuttered windows and a full-size olive tree provide an idyllic and functional backdrop, and the cast makes good use of the multiple entry points. The choreography by Tom Hodgson is fast-paced, at times frenetic, and full of acrobatics (‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ is a hilarious riot thanks to the flipper ballet sequence). Costume designer Suzy Strout’s playful, patterned creations pop under Gavan Swift’s lighting direction. Strout knows her way around a bedazzled jumpsuit and knee-high platform boot, too – it wouldn’t be an ABBA-inspired production without them.

We’re at a time when it almost feels like ABBA is experiencing a Renaissance moment: a remixed version of ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)’ has returned to dance music charts, the cutting-edge ABBA Voyage experience opened to sold-out crowds in London, and the band reunited in 2021 for the first time in 40 years to release a brand new album. And I can also personally attest to lines still snaking outside the ABBA Museum in Stockholm, ten years after its opening.

So it’s no shock that Mamma Mia! The Musical is back. No, there’s nothing particularly new or groundbreaking about this 2023 iteration – if you’re expecting a modernised plot twist or surprise villain arc, prepare to be disappointed – but when the original material still (almost surprisingly) holds up this well and continues to resonate with the audience, there’s really no need to mess with the formula. Get ready to dance and jive, because you’re in for the time of your life.

Want more? Check out the best theatre and musicals to see this month in Melbourne.

Leah Glynn
Written by
Leah Glynn


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