Above – Elise McCann and company. Cover – Kadessa Honeyhill, Sarah Krndija, Nina Carmen. Photos – Getty Images, James D Morgan.

Mamma Mia – here we go again!

The jukebox ABBA musical is back in Melbourne once more at the Princess Theatre and fans are still flocking. With pop hits so good and that prove the test of time, it’s a reliable show that keeps on giving great vibes. Audiences still bask in the ABBA glow, singing along to every song and probably mouthing the script as well. It’s escapist entertainment with catchy tunes and colourful visuals to take us away from the realities of life.

Despite a flimsy-as-paper plot (book by Catherine Johnson), Mamma Mia! is fun from go to woah, as there’s never more than a few minutes wait before the next song gushes out. The story – set in a tavern on a fictional Greek Island, involves an upcoming wedding, a woman trying to find her birth father amongst three possibilities and plenty of reminiscing and island shenanigans. It’s all pretty clean warm-fuzzies with small amounts of tension and the performers have heaps of fun with proceedings, especially the finale medley decked out in ABBA costumes to the hilt.

Elise McCann as mother Donna leads the exuberant cast and is a standout, bringing dynamic range to the unrelenting nature of Money, Money, the inner wild child of Dancing Queen and the bittersweetness of seeing a child grow up in Slipping Through My Fingers.

Super Trouper with her besties Tanya (Deone Zanotto) and Rosie (Bianca Bruce) momentarily revives her old band, Donna and the Dynamos and ramps up the retro meter.

Zanotto plays up the cougar role, flirting with the young hotel staff, while Bruce is the more down to earth, homey one. Most of the characters are dialed up to stereotypes, but this is musical theatre after all. Everyone is there for the tunes, not realist drama.

Up-and-comer Sarah Krndija plays the main role of Sophie with a youthful sincerity and a warm smile. She really shines alongside McCann as a mother/daughter duo. As a central character, she does a lot of heavy lifting throughout the show and, overall, pulls off both the acting and the vocals, with a few dips. Her dads – Martin Crewes, Drew Livingston, Tim Wright – have the middle-aged bloke thing down pat, not as effusive as the women or as perky as the ensemble, but good for the requirements of the roles. They really come out of their shells in the confetti-laced ABBA impersonation finale.

The general cast all have a great time with bouncy, snorkel-accented dancing in Lay All Your Love on Me and the busy nightmare sequence of Under Attack which spirals into slightly spooky territory with large swirling groups of ensemble dancing. As tourists, wedding guests and tavern staff in brightly printed beach wear and the occasional mermaid tail, they punctuate and enliven the two-level set. Like everything in Mamma Mia!, the set too is broad and versatile, hiding away the ever-important musicians in the shapeshifting, multi-level patio/hotel room/beach front restaurant.

Sentimental, sugar-coated and fun, Mamma Mia! exists to bring joy to ABBA fans and those who want to leave their worries at the door. Thank you for the music … and some light-heartedness in these turbulent times.

Event details

Michael Coppel, Louise Withers & Linda Bewick present
Mamma Mia! The Musical 
music and lyrics Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus | book Catherine Johnson

Director Gary Young

Venue: Princess Theatre | Melbourne VIC
Dates: 4 October – 10 December 2023
Bookings: mammamiathemusical.com.au

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