Mamma Mia! The Musical – Theatre Review

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I am not going to lie; I am not much of a fan of ABBA. Bold statement, I know. But I just wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to their music. This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy their songs, I just don’t actively listen to them. But there are so many incredible tunes that ABBA have written over their long, amazing career that there are bound to be some hits that even I will know the words to. This was evident when I attended Mamma Mia! The Musical.

Way back in 2018, Mamma Mia! The Musical was the last musical production at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre. Fast forward to October 2023 and it seems fitting that the first musical back at this gorgeous theatre is also Mamma Mia! The Musical. This time, with a whole new cast.

Starring Sarah Krndija as the young Sophie Sheridan, living on a beautiful Greek Island with her single mother, Donna, played by Elise McCann. Sophie has found love, got engaged, and is preparing for her big day. Though, she feels something is missing. After stumbling across her mother’s diary, Sophie discovers her mum had three lovers around the time she was born. So, Sophie hatches a plan to invite all three gentlemen to her wedding. Here’s the kicker, Sophie doesn’t tell her mother and doesn’t tell either man that they could be her father. What could possibly go wrong?

With the Australian production directed by Gary Young, original music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, and original book by Catherine Johnson, Mamma Mia! The Musical is a jukebox musical consisting of 22 of ABBA’s biggest hits. Opening with a long overture that consisted of a sort of mashup, it wasn’t long before the show swung into ‘Honey Honey’, performed by Krndija’s Sophie and ensemble cast members Nina Carmen and Kadesa Honeyhill as friends Ali and Lisa respectively. Having never seen the stage production before, this gave me insight into how ABBA’s songs would work within the show, and I was already impressed.

The first major number is arguably one of ABBA’s biggest ever hits, ‘Money, Money, Money’. Performed by Elise McCann’s Donna and in some synergy of the opening songs, Donna is flanked by her own two besties with Rosie and Tanya, excellently portrayed by Bianca Bruce and Deone Zanotto respectively. We are also introduced to Sophie’s fiancé Sky, played by Lewis Francis, as well as the entire ensemble cast. Not only does this number showcase McCann’s killer vocals, but it also gives us a taste of the amazing choreography by Tom Hodgson. With so many bodies moving around on stage, the execution is flawless, not only a credit to Hodgson’s movement direction, but a credit to the whole cast for moving so effortlessly.

The arrival of Sophie’s potential fathers is accompanied by a rendition of ‘Thank you for the Music’. Sung ever so eloquently by Drew Livingston, Tim Wright, and Martin Crewes as Harry Bright, Bill Austin, and Sam Carmichael. Livingston even shows off some of his skills on the acoustic guitar. We also get a feel for each of their personalities.

Harry is perky and cheerful noted by the colourful guitar he plays, Bill appears to be free spirited which is easily displayed by the rucksack he arrives with, while Sam is serious yet endearing. More importantly, the trio form an instant bond with Sophie and they don’t even know why they were really invited. Keep in mind, this is only the fourth number of the entire show and these characters have already shown deep connections with each other.

There are many more hits that Mamma Mia! The Musical has to offer; from the title track ‘Mamma Mia!’, ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Gimmie! Gimmie! Gimmie! (A Man After Midnight)’, and ‘SOS’ just to name a few. One notable mention is the performance of ‘Does Your Mother Know’ that sees one of Sky’s young friends, Pepper, portrayed by Jordan Tomljenovic, and Donna’s friend, Tanya. This sexy and sassy number sees Pepper and Tanya in a sort of dance off. Tomljenovic is incredible with the jumps and flips that he pulls off and Zanotto is sexy as hell with her amazing salsa style dancing complimented by her stunning physique.

‘Take a Chance on Me’ is yet another iconic ABBA number that is flawlessly performed by this talented cast. This time by the sassy Bianca Bruce’s Rosie and Tim Wright’s Bill. Making full use of the incredible set, designed by Linda Bewick, Rosie makes her intentions with Bill abundantly clear. Not only is the vocal performance from Bruce phenomenal, but she is also absolutely hilarious. Not an easy task to achieve when you have to sing such a popular song, but Bruce fiercely and confidently knocks it out of the park.

‘Super Trouper’ where Elise McCann, Bianca Bruce, and Deone Zanotto blend their voices to become the superhero trio Donna and the Dynamos is also such a wonderful and heart-warming moment. The three harmonise their voices so beautifully and genuinely look like they’re having fun, much like the lyrics of the song suggest.

All three gentlemen are wonderful in their respective roles. Martin CrewesSam has a stunning solo in the second act with a performance of ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’. And whilst the other two don’t have their solo moments, they each shined whenever they were on stage. I found myself adoring their portrayal of these three men being thrown into the deep end. The acceptance and willingness to love unconditionally in these characters is inspiring. A massive bravo to Livingston, Wright, and Crewes.

There are only two things that I can find fault with. One being that Lewis Francis as Sky doesn’t really get much of a chance to showcase his talents. Aside from a number in the first act with ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’, we don’t get much of a chance to see Francis in action. And even then, he is flanked by the whole male ensemble. Who are all fantastic by the way! The entire cast in this show are brilliant and I wish I could name them all!

The other issue I had was quite a major one, the lighting. Not so much during the show itself, although there were the odd moments the backdrop lighting was off and flickering ever so slightly. But I have to call out the return to the theatre after intermission. The lights go dark and all the sudden I felt like I was at a rave. The lights were flashing and pointing spotlights around the entire audience. This went on for what felt like an eternity. I even found myself ducking my head and closing my eyes waiting for it to end. I don’t recall seeing a photosensitivity warning before entering the theatre, but this was way too much. Whilst I don’t have any photosensitive conditions, even I felt the effects of this. I wouldn’t miss it if they completely cut it all together.

If I can forgive the lighting after intermission, Mamma Mia! The Musical is a well-rounded, fantastic tribute to the incredible hits of ABBA’s extensive discography married with a beautiful story of romantic love, friendship love, and familial love. The whole cast and creative team have put together a wonderful production and I am thankful that I finally got the chance to experience it. Actually, I can’t believe it took me this long to catch it. And as someone that is not that big a fan of ABBA, their songs have been living rent free in my head since seeing the show.

I cannot sign this off without giving a shoutout to costume designer, Suzy Strout. Whilst the set looked like Greece, it was the costumes that brought it to life. Even just for the encore alone, Strout’s work is fantastic. So much colour and all of the frills! It really makes the encore number so much fun! This also ignited a bit of wanderlust in me with a desire to visit both Greece and Sweden (for the ABBA things).

As you can probably tell, I had an absolute blast watching this show. Mamma Mia! The Musical is fun, exciting, endearing, hilarious and full of love. Perhaps the show has even converted me into an ABBA fan? Who knows! One thing is for sure, I have not stopped listening to the music since I attended and I shamelessly would see Mamma Mia! The Musical again.

Mamma Mia! The Musical is currently playing in Melbourne at the Princess Theatre until December 10, 2023.
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Photography by Grant Alexander.

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