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Emma Clifford as Tanya, Sara Poyzer as Donna and Jacqueline Braun as fun-loving Rosie. Pictures: Brinkhoff/Mögenburg

Mamma Mia!

Birmingham Hippodrome


WHAT can you say! This is a musical that takes the feel-good factor to new heights. It’s bright, lively, fast paced, funny, cheeky, a little naughty – but nice - and, by the way, did I mention the music.

Anyone who left without an Abba song dancing around in their head needs to have their pulse checked. They were one of the most successful groups of all time, conquering the world; their music is infectious and Mamma Mia! provides not only a solid musical but, for most, an industrial strength nostalgia fix, all rolled into one.

The book by Catherine Johnson, is a class apart from your average jukebox musical with the songs cleverly worked into the script, so much so you could believe they were actually written for the show.

The story is simple. Sophie, played with bags of innocent charm by Lucy May Barker, is about to be married and wants her dad at the wedding. Nothing unusual there except mum Donna, a delightful performance by Sara Poyzer, who runs a taverna on a remote Greek island, was, how should we say . . . test driving men, three to be precise, all in a couple of weeks 21 years ago. Sophie is 20 . . . so you hardly need to be Einstein to work out the implications.

So Sophie, unbeknown to mum, invites all three to her wedding. Cue romantic chaos.

We have candidate number one, Richard Standing’s solid, dependable Sam, three dadsan architect who left Donna to return home to get married - but there is more to that sorry story than that as we are to discover.

Then we have Christopher Hollis’s back packing Aussie writer and adventurer, who eschews marriage, children, relationships and indeed anything that won’t fit in a rucksack. His life is about to change forever.

Christopher Hollis as Bill, Richard Standing as Sam and Tim Walton as Harry, three dads together.

Finally, dad applicant number three is banker Harry, played with an air of repressed rebellion by Tim Walton who has a past and then some.

As if that wasn’t enough Donna was once the lead singer in Donna and the Dynamos, and backing group the Dynamos arrive in the shape of best friends Tanya and Rosie.

Tanya is a rich woman, with three ex-husbands behind her, two facts which are not unrelated and Emma Clifford does a fine job of bringing her to sparkling, elegant life. As for Rosie . . . Dutch star Jacqueline Braun is a larger than life, explosion of fun.

And you can’t have a wedding without a groom, in this case Sky, played by Phillip Ryan, and bridesmaids, played by lively pair Micha Richardson as Ali and Blaise Colangelo as Lisa.

There is good support too from the tavern staff Sam Robinson as Eddie and Luis Stockil as Pepper and a fine ensemble marshalled by some excellent chorography from Anthony Van Laast – including a boy’s dance in snorkels and flippers.

But let’s be honest, this is a show that is all about the music and incidentally reminds you of just what good songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus are, everything from pop and disco to more serious ballads, with The Winner Takes it All voted not only their best song but best break up song of all time. And after a stunning version by Donna it was easy to see why. A real show stopper.

Mind you it was two hours and twenty minutes into the music, well into the second act, that a switch was flicked in the audience, the switch being Take a chance on Me sophie and skyfrom the glorious fun machine that was Jacqueline’s Rosie. Suddenly the audience were clapping, swaying and joining in. Strange. There had been individuals singing along here and there but the audience seemed more enthralled and appreciative than involved up to that point.

Once started there was no stopping them though and considering any DJ worth his salt knows you could even get people on their feet to Abba tracks in a mortuary; the finale was a gimme, Donna and the Dynamos, and the three dads in Abba inspired costumes led it with a medley ending with Dancing Queen and, the song that started it all, Eurovision winner, Waterloo. Everyone on their feet, smiles, cheers all round and happily singing along.

Lucy May Barker as Sophie and Phillip Ryan as Sky

To its eternal credit Mamma Mia! shuns the Jukebox Musical format of shoehorning in as many songs, often only snatches, as possible, going instead for a sort of greatest hits line up with each song given full reign, with the likes of Super Trouper, Dancing Queen, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Thank You for the Music, Money, Money, Money, Voulez-Vous, SOS and, of course, the title track.

And all that was to the music of an impressive seven-piece band under musical director Richard Weeden.

If there was a fault it was that the sound balance between band and singers, Donna in the lower registers for example, was a bit of a battle at times, and the vocal sliders could have been pushed up a notch.

The set, designed by Mark Thompson, was minimal, not unusual for a touring production, effective and functional, two white walls with blue doors, Santorini style, which could be spun, reversed and angles changed to create a village square, tavern, bedrooms, harbour, or whatever was needed.

It meant there was no pause between scenes which meant a cracking pace for the entire show – the 100th on tour incidentally. The evening just flew by. Great singing, a great cast brimming with infectious enthusiasm, great songs and a great show - funny, feel-good and gold standard magical entertainment. The hottest show in town with guaranteed sunshine all summer. To 03-09-16

Roger Clarke



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