A musical theatre landmark, Mamma Mia! celebrates more than 40 years of musical history from one the most successful acts of the 1970s, Abba.
The songs of Swedish pop stars Bjorn Ulvæus, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad (their initials gave the group its name) span generations — and since the opening of the musical in 1999, it's hard to imagine ever turning the volume down.
The story, written by playwright Catherine Johnson, follows the adventures of a young bride-to-be determined to have her father at her wedding. There's one small hitch. The 20-year old, raised singlehandedly by her entrepreneurial mum on a small Greek island, has potentially three fathers — with no idea who might be the sperm donor.
Sophie (Sammie Campbell) might be the star of the traditional coming-of-age story but the play really wins hearts by focusing on her mother Donna (Jackie Clarke) who has run a taverna on her own for 20-odd years. It's a heart-warming story that revels in the strength of women, mother-daughter relationships, friendships and, of course, music of the ages.
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Under the direction of Russell Dixon, this is easily one of the most sophisticated musicals produced by Auckland Music Theatre and Amici Productions. The cast, including the indomitable Clarke in the lead, are unstoppable while Charlotte Nightingale and Emma Leon as Donna's friends, Tanya and Emma are hilarious, rebellious and downright inspiring.
Sophie's potential fathers are scripted as slightly more wooden characters but Steven O'Reilly, Anthony Cotton and David Mackie offer rich and individualised performances that allow the story to have a level of depth that a lot of musicals lack.
Campbell and her fiance Sky (Jonathan James) make a sweet couple, though their chemistry fluctuates and at times their story gets overshadowed by the bigger narrative. Campbell, in particular, has a powerful voice and her versatility is obvious, so there'll be no surprises when we see her name as the lead in future productions. The ensemble is excellent with notable performances by Eric Ripley, Cole Johnston, Kristal Snow and Maria Va'a.
But the highlight of the production is its cohesiveness. The choreography is nothing short of phenomenal and Destiny Anderson is a superstar. The composition demonstrates innovation, thoughtfulness and unrivalled energy — it's not over-complicated and serves the music and the story while still inviting the audience to join the fun.
Christopher Moore, as musical director, is a virtuoso and together the production has both vision and stamina; the backing vocal singers adding to an already layered production. It would be remiss not to mention Lesley Burkes-Harding's spectacularly snazzy outfits and John Harding's set which transports us to a Greek island with its pastel palette, overhanging flowers, rusty iron gates and old doorways.
For those who have seen Mamma Mia! many times, this is a superior production — and for those who haven't it will be an experience to remember.
What: Mamma Mia!
Where & when: Bruce Mason Centre; until Saturday, April 14
Reviewer: Dione Joseph