Theatre Review: Mamma Mia at The Alhambra Theatre

FIRST inspired by the theatricality of Abba’s “The Winner Takes It All”, Judy Cramer, the show’s creator and producer, envisioned Mamma Mia on a stage over 35 years-ago. After securing Bjorn Ulvaeus’ and Benny Andersson’s blessings, Cramer recruited writer, Catherine Johnson, briefing her to interweave Abba hits to create a story without altering lyrics or awkwardly shoe-horning songs.

The result? Twenty-year-old Sophie (Emma Mullen) is soon to marry ex-stock trader Sky (Toby Miles), with friends young and old jetting out to Greece for the wedding. What her mum, Donna (Sharon Sexton), doesn’t realise it that Sophie has secretly invited all of her ex-flings in an attempt to uncover her father’s identity. Using the contrasting moods of Abba’s songs, Johnson writes a cross-generational love story with three strong lead female characters, much like the show’s female team (Cramer, Johnson and Director, Phyllida Lloyd).

Opening with ear-piercing girly screeches, Johnson sets up the situation and premise through Sophie sharing her plan with the audience, resulting in a feel-good, light and breezy whodunnit. From the arrival of Sophie’s hen party and Donna’s best friends and old flames to the hen/stag dos and ceremony, Johnson packs the show with Abba’s back-catalogue, perfectly matching her brief by cleverly and seamlessly intertwining songs, including “Money, Money, Money”, “Thank You for the Music”, “Lay All Your Love on Me” and “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)”.

While some cast members’ vocal range is somewhat lacking, whole ensemble numbers like “Voulez-vous” are lively and fun to watch. Sexton is undoubtedly the strongest singer, although inconsistent but impresses in “Slipping Through My Fingers” and gives a powerhouse emotionally wrought performance of “The Winner Takes It All”, directly contrasting with earlier more farcical numbers like “Take a Chance on Me”. Donna’s friends Rosie (Nicky Swift) and Tanya (Helen Anker) perform an amusing rendition of “Chiquitita”.

Songs are interspersed with dialogue and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast with a memorable surreal psychedelic nightmare sequence to open act two, a highly camp wet-suit and flipper stag dance and a fun version of “Super Trouper”, including silver flared spandex jumpsuits. It is ultimately Van Laast’s lively whole ensemble routines that carry the show.

The success of the 2008 film, its subsequent sequel and this “Book Musical’s” numerous global manifestations, are testimony to the talent of the team behind Mamma Mia. Unfortunately, this touring production lacks smooth set changes and an unanimously strong cast with some wooden performances missing charisma and a tendency to over-sing and act. That said, some supporting cast warm into their parts, ensuring the delivery of a preposterously feel-good ending, including the obligatory “Mamma Mia” whole ensemble clap-along.

Mamma Mia is at The Alhambra until November 23 November.

Leo Owen