There are a lot of them about at the moment. What one might define as “catalogue musicals”, based on the work of one or other particular song-writing group or band. The story might be the biography of that ensemble, or it might be harnassed to a completely new senario.
That’s the case with Mamma Mia!, a musical which uses the lyrics and music of ABBA and has now been with us for the better part of two decades. Most people probably know it from the film version of 2008; this touring production by the orginal director Phyllida Lloyd has a simple, pared-down set by Mark Thompson cleverly lit by Howard Harrison.
We ae faced by two stories, one mirroring the other in many respects. Lucy May Barker’s Sophie is about to be married to Phillip Ryan’s Sky. She’s the daughter of a single mother Donna (Helen Hobson) and, as she confides to her friends Ali (Fia Houston-Hamilton) and Lisa (Blaise Colangelo), wants her father to walk her down the aisle. The problem is that he could be one of three different men.
There’s British banker Harry (Jamie Hogarth), US architect Sam (Alex Bourne” and Australian explorer and writer Bill (Chrisopher Hollis). Unknown to her mother and to her fiancé, she has invited all three to the wedding, hoping thereby to solve the mystery. The differences between their personalities is well brought out right from their initial, slightly bewildered, exchanges.
Donna has invited two close women friends; all three were the Donna and the Dynamos group. Tanya (Emma Clifford” is a wealthy divorcée, svelte and sharp-tongued. Rosie (Gillian Hardie) is plumply happy-go-lucky, man-free but not necessarily happy with it. Richard Weedon’s’s musical direction is enthusiastic, as is Anthony Van Laast’s choreography – this gives athletic as well as humorous opportunities to the boys of the ensemble.
You can’t have a modern musical without microphones, and the trick is to keep the balance between clarity of words and their underlining accompaniments. On the official opening night of this latest tour, that took some time to establish itself, so that Barker’s “I have a dream” lost some of its impact first time round. “Money! Money! Money” and “Under attack” worked much better.
Four star rating.
Mamma Mia! continues at the Theatre Royal, Norwich until 25 March with matinées on 2, 4, 7, 9, 11, 16, 18, 21, 23 and 25 March.