Not everyone likes musical theatre. However, it remains such a staple in mainstream theatre, with several established theatre houses opting to put on big extravaganzas hoping to draw in the masses. Whilst this is all well and good in the West End of London’s theatre heartland, with their array of stars and big set designs, once on tour these theatrical musical hits become a watered down version of original best sellers. Yet, despite these misgivings, shows such as these provide a wonderful evening at a theatre.
Mamma Mia is a prime example of this. It’s a blockbuster of a musical. A jukebox musical that at its heart has a simple affectionate story all interwoven by the music of 1970s super hit group ABBA. It’s proved to be a phenomenon taking billions at the box office and creating a franchise that producers can only dream about. Currently on tour at Manchester Palace Theatre, it has proved to be a hit with the audiences and this is why.
Even before anything happens there is an expectation that we are going to be in for a high exuberant evening. The “buzz” is palatable and the fluorescent set of magento inspired colours definitely gives it a feel of the mediterranean. It also helps that Manchester has been gripped in a heatwave, swathed in sunshine for the past few weeks, that the mood is eerily in synch with the production’s setting.
The formula to Mamma Mia works splendidly well. I love the intro of medley of ABBA tunes before the curtain has even risen. It knows that this production will attract fans and this little teasing of the soul is a wonderfully indicative of the playfulness to the musical.
The plot has a simple hook. We meet Sophie, who on the eve of her wedding to Sky has invited three men – unbeknown to her mother Donna – one of whom she believes could well be her father. The ensuing romp tells of her attempts to work out which one of them is her real dad interlaced with some wonderfully choreographed, sing along numbers from Abba’s back catalogue.
And Abba’s music is definitely the star here.
It hits the proverbial high notes captivating the audience with its singing, dancing and all round fun mood in numbers such as ‘Honey Honey’, ‘Dancing Queen’ and an absolutely great cast performance of ‘Money Money Money’.
As much as I want to crow about how great the music was and how this is a feel good night of fun, it would be easy to overlook the flaws. Yet, what really allows this production to shine are its two principal players, with Lucy May Barker as an effervescent and playful Sophie and Shona White blowing everyone’s socks off with her version of Donna.
Indeed, it is White’s performance that act as a backbone to this version of Mamma Mia, being whimsical and comical at times but also going for the gut in some heart melting moments, no more typified that in ‘Winner Takes It All’ that amounts to more than just a standard karaoke version of an ABBA classic. White delivers that with gusto and full of emotion, and as an audience we are caught on it’s bait – hook, line and sinker!
Verdict: Stupendous singalong to a classic bit of musical theatre. Mamma Mia hits all the right notes, good songs, great choreography and has everyone in the audience singing along. Feel good hit of the summer!