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Wednesday, 18 October 2017

REVIEW: Mamma Mia! at Sunderland Empire


Abba Hits The Spot

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Mamma Mia!
Sunderland Empire
Until Saturday 11th November 2017


Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
Mamma Mia is definitely one of the better jukebox musicals. Using the popular and timeless hits that Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus wrote for Abba around a love story works. This is in no small measure helped by the narrative nature of their songs as the band rose to fame, got married and then divorced. This gives the writer of the book Catherine Johnson the chance to run through the full range of emotions. Catalysed by the bands resurgence in popularity, Mamma Miahas now been seen by a staggering 10% of the UK population.


Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
For those who haven’t seen the film adaptation starring Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Julie Walters, the show is set on the Greek Island of Kalokairi. 20 year old Sophie (Lucy May Barker) is busy planning her wedding to her fiancé Sky (Phillip Ryan) but, not unusually, she want to be taken down the isle by her father. The big issue is that she doesn’t know who that is. To make matters more complicated, her mother Donna’s diary states that she had intimate relations with 3 men at the time of her conception. In a bid to find out who her real father is she invites all 3 men to the island for her wedding but she doesn’t tell her Mother (Helen Hobson).


Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
Much of the humour comes from the differing personalities of the various protagonists. For example we have the potential fathers: Sam Carmichael (performed in this show by understudy Peter Saul Blewden) is an architect, Bill Austin (Christopher Hollis) is an Australian writer and explorer, and Harry Bright (Jamie Hogarth) is a British banker. You also have the mother’s former bandmates - the rich Tania (Emaa Clifford) and the down to Earth Rosie (Gillian Hardie).  Each grouping is a source of a number of light hearted moments. But the big questions remain - Will Sophie’s wedding go off without a hitch? Will her mother be happy when she has discovered who has been invited? And who is her father?
 

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
The popularity of the show comes from the instantly recognisable songs, even if the song has changed format from a disco hit to a slower acoustic number. The big hits are there: Super Trouper, Thank You For The Music and Dancing Queen. The encore includes the big numbers that don’t fit the story such as Waterloo. There are a few of the more obscure tracks in there too. Some of the final hits such as Under Attack and One of Us plus the album track Our Last Summer get a play too.  One of the highlights was Helen Hobson’s show stopping and emotional delivery of The Winner Takes It All.  Musical director Richard Weeden kept a tight ship leading the band through the hits.
 

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg


Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
Mention must also be made of the great ensemble that dance and sing through the show. Choreographer Anthony Van Laast has worked some clever routines to fit in with the Abba hits.



Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
We’d seen this show in the West End and we are pleased to report that we couldn’t spot any differences between that production and this tour. The set and the lighting for both seemed identical. The 2 revolving parts of the set may seem simple enough but they do help the action to flow as the scenes move from outside the tavern to inside the bedrooms.


Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
The show is one of the better jukebox musicals. An interesting twist on the classic love story coupled with a great cast singing popular hits - it is easy to see why it has enjoyed such a long run on Broadway and in the West End. Abba fans should try to catch the show in Sunderland before it finishes its run.

Review by Stephen Oliver
 

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Photo: Brinkhoff/Moegenburg
On The Web:
Website:   www.mamma-mia.com


Tickets:
Tickets available in person at the Box Office on High Street West, from the Ticket Centre on 0844 871 3022* or online from our affiliates AtgTickets*

*Calls cost up to 7p per minute plus your standard network charge. Booking fees may apply to telephone and online bookings 

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