Mamma Mia! Review

Alan Bird
Alan Bird

The show features Abba songs which are cleverly integrated into the story written by Catherine Johnson. Young Sophie who lives with her mother on a small Greek island is about to be married to Sky and wishes for her father to walk her down the aisle. However, she has a problem, who is her father? Her mother does not want to tell her and so Sophie reads her mother's diary and discovers the name of three men who could possibly be her dad. Sophie secretly invites all three men to the wedding. The fun starts when the three men arrive on the island and discover why they have been invited.

The show bounds along with endless energy and enthusiasm. The mixture of Abba songs, camp dance routines, platform boots and Lycra costumes based around a soppy romance comedy script creates a delightful evening of sheer fun and pleasure. This is pop music set to pop culture, pure unapologetic seventies tackiness that makes for a great evening's entertainment.

Mamma Mia! is energetic, funny and entertaining and appeals to all ages. No doubt one of the reasons the show is a success is because it does not try to be anything other than popular entertainment, and the production has the confidence to recognise this fact and does not take itself too seriously. For example, songs, such as "Chiquitita", "Take A Chance On Me", "Does Your Mother Know" are ingeniously slipped into the story line, and the audience bursts into favourable applause each time it happens.

Vivien Parry who plays Donna is the indubitable star of the show, her powerful singing voice is superb for the Abba songs that she belts out. Her co-stars Lara Mulcahy and Kim Ismay, who play Donna's old friends Rosie & Tanya , both give great comic performances, as well as having strong singing voices. These three women create a great comic trio and completely dominate the show.

Choreographer Anthony van Laast's dance arrangement for Sophie's dream sequence is both daring and ridiculous and as a result is an hilarious success.

Mamma Mia! is no longer just a West End hit, it is now playing in many countries making it a worldwide success. It seems that Mamma Mia! just goes on and on, and deservedly so.

At long last, a musical based on ABBA's songs! That's what I thought as soon as I heard the show was opening. Being a teenager in the 70s I grew up with ABBA, and I had all their records in my collection. So I will try and give an unbalanced view of the show as best I can!!

The show opened yesterday, 6th April, exactly 25 years to the day that ABBA won the Eurovision Song contest in 1974 with 'Waterloo', which strangely enough, is one of the few songs that does not feature in the show. The songs were written by the male members of ABBA, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, and in fact Bjorn helped to produce this musical. The story is by Catherine Johnson, who had the most difficult task of writing a script to compliment over 20 of ABBA's songs.

The story concerns Donna, who owns a small hotel on a tiny Greek Island. It is the eve of her daughter's wedding and unbeknown to Donna, Sophie her daughter has invited three of her mother's former lovers to the wedding, all of whom had an affair with her mother 21 years ago. Sophie is trying to find out who her dad is, so she secretly invited these men because she had read in her mother's diary that her mother had slept with each of them over a period of 15 days One of these men is Sophie's father, but which one? This basic story is all that is needed for the songs to be slotted in at the opportune moments.

This show is extremely tacky and anyone who completely detests ABBA should stay well away! However, fans of ABBA will be blown away and taken on a nostalgic trip down memory lane with a breathtaking rollercoaster ride of their favourite ABBA songs. This is held together with a sugary story that makes the evening exactly what it is, a lot of fun, fun, fun! This is not attempting to be a Sondheim musical, or anything of the sort, it is just a vehicle in which to celebrate all those superb ABBA songs and in this the musical works perfectly.

Siobhan McCarthy as the mother 'Donna', is outstanding. She has a powerful voice that belts out the ABBA songs in true ABBA style. Mind you, Siobhan is a very experienced performer. Her credits include the title role in "Evita" at the Prince Edward theatre, 'Mary Magdalen' in "Jesus Christ Superstar", ' Fantine' in Les Miserables", ''Svetlana' in the original production of "Chess" and many more. She has recently played 'Mrs Johnston' in "Blood Brothers" at the Phoenix Theatre. There is also a great performance from the prolific Jenny Galloway as 'Rosie', and Louise Plowright as ' Tanya'. These two bring lots of humour to the show, particularly the lovely, cuddly, scary Jenny Galloway. I have seen Jenny on the London stage many times in the last couple of years, playing all kinds of different roles and she has been impressive in each of them. Lisa Stokke as ' Sophie', and Andrew Langtree as her fiance 'Sky', perform adequately. Both have come from Paul McCartney's Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, with Lisa making her West End debut. Andrew recently made his West End debut in the lead role of Nick in "Fame" at the Prince of Wales Theatre.

So has the show received a critical panning from the popular press as was expected? Well, the notices have not been that bad. NICHOLAS DE JONGH of the EVENING STANDARD says, "Thank you for the music...shame about the musical". BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE of THE TIMES says, " With so much fun in the theatrical air, the rest of us might as well indulge them." SHERIDEN MORLEY on TELETEXT really enjoyed the show saying, "After a shaky start, Mamma Mia soars" and goes on to say, "It's a genuinely touching and comic book allied to some of the greatest and most theatrical pop songs ever written." KATE BASSETT of THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Unfortunately, Johnson's dialogue often sounds like a banal soap opera" and goes onto say, "The cast are clearly having a hoot, almost raising their eyebrows when they have to break into lyrics that are barely relevant." THE FINANCIAL TIMES says, "You shouldn't take Mamma Mia! seriously: which is precisely why it proves to be one of the few good musicals on the London stage today."

This show is strictly for people who like ABBA songs and like to have a 'good time'. Don't go to the show expecting any gripping story line, just go with the mind of enjoying the songs, reminiscing and having a lot of fun.

This musical is a must for all ABBA fans!!

(Darren Dalglish)

Mamma Mia! Tickets are now on sale.

Note: The cast has changed many times since these reviews

Originally published on

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