‘Mamma Mia’ was dynamo.
Returning to Redcliffe Entertainment Centre with their super-trouper production of ‘Mamma Mia’, Redcliffe Musical Theatre has celebrated musical theatre to the acclaim of a very appreciative arts community. When their 2020 production of the ABBA-inspired show was cut short due to COVID-19, it was no surprise the feel-good hit would make its way back into their 2021 playbill.
Essentially a jukebox musical that accumulates the most notorious songs by the infamous Swedish pop group, ABBA, ‘Mamma Mia’ has been abuzz in the community theatre scene for a while now; especially since its Australian tour in 2016. The show takes audiences on a much-needed holiday to the Greek Islands, where we meet Sophie – a bride to be in search of her father. In her quest for identity, three men from her mother’s past are brought back to a place they visited 20 years ago.
‘Mamma Mia’ is a celebration of love, laughter, family and friendship. Writer, Catherine Johnson, has crafted a heart-warming tale that is infused with the magic of ABBA’s timeless songs. It’s a perfect choice for Redcliffe Musical Theatre; a group known for their family-friendly entertainment.
Director, Madeleine Johns, has managed an incredibly large cast well and filled the world of ‘Mamma Mia’ – in every nook and cranny! Scene changes moved mechanically, with cast members often changing sets both in and out of character. The show spectacularly never lost momentum and the leading cast were full of dynamics and energy.
While it was clear that the production was very inclusive – with ensemble members well outnumbering the typical amount one would expect in this show – at times the largeness of the cast pulled focus from the main action. This saw audiences become attuned to the background action, missing crucial plot points happening in the foreground. An example of this was a particular scene where Sophie’s potential fathers are finding out they may be her dad, and a free-for-all hen’s party rioted in the background. The seriousness of the foreground moment was lost to the comics of a girl drunkenly dancing on a table and another swilling drinks at party members’ in a bar fight. Subplots like this made people laugh for the wrong reasons and could have probably gone without.
Set design by Jonathan Johns impressively awakened the Greek culture onstage with postcard-envy vibes. Whitewashed sets were adorned with bright blue roofs, windows and trimmings, and red vines and flowers cascaded along the building edges as a detailed finishing touch. When audiences were transported to the seaside dock, Jonathan Johns joined forces with the lighting design team, Chris Walker and Madeleine Johns, to create a starry filled night sky backdrop, complete with a wooden wharf and tug-powered motorised boat. As elaborate and magnificent as these particular sets were, there could have been more exploration into the bedroom scenes, which were slightly minimalistic in comparison; where action played in front of a black curtain and set pieces were lined across the stage. It was quite juxtaposing when compared to the comprehensive design of the other scenes.
Musical Direction by Helen Drew brought the fresh and buoyant sounds of ABBA to life. Instrumentation filled the theatre to the rafters and the band vamped and followed performers, never missing a beat during the course of the production. In turn, audiences immersed themselves in the show, often singing out loud to the lively atmosphere.
Choreography by Meredith Johns and Giulia Bortolanza was aplenty, with many numbers utilising the various ensemble members. Again, in some scenes, there was a lot of action happening on stage, which restricted the overall movement of featured dancers. Regardless, routines made a visual impact and showcased many of the cast’s incredible abilities. Highlights included the boy vs. girl ‘West Side Story’ battle in “Does Your Mother Know” and the all-ensemble Act 1 finale of “Voulez Vous”.
The leading cast of ‘Mamma Mia’ returned to the stage with confidence and zest in their performances. Easily stealing the show were Donna’s best friends – Melanie Fuller as the rich and sophisticated, Tanya, and June Tretheway as the comical and kooky, Rosie. Both had finetuned their characterisations and were picture perfect in their casting. Fuller walked the stage like a professional, and exuded confidence when performing her track, “Does Your Mother Know?”. Equally, Tretheway was also a laugh-a-minute as she climbed not only the set pieces but her love interest in her solo “Take A Chance on Me”. Even the nuances the duo both had in “Chiquitita” added extra dynamics to their characters, especially as they fought to help Donna and be the better best friend.
As Donna, the central character to the musical, Meg Kiddle had the look and vocal chops which matched the role, made famous by Meryl Streep, to a tee. Her rendition of “The Winner Takes It All” was positively spine-chilling and made for a wonderful still moment, among the chaotic action of the show. At times, Kiddle could have further explored the vulnerability and wildness of Donna, to add another layer to her portrayal of the complex and strong-willed single mother.
As the three father figures, Ian Moore, David O’Keeffe and James Reid portrayed completely different personalities but were equally loveable. Moore, who jumped into the role of Sam last minute, brought to life a very honest and confident character within the chaos. O’Keeffe was flamboyant and charming as head-banger Harry, and Reid was down-to-earth as the Aussie travel writer, Bill. Moore’s duets with Kiddle were a particular highlight, especially “S.O.S”, with the two demonstrating much vocal chemistry.
Also leading the action was Georgia Burnett as the determined, adventurous spirit that is Sophie. Burnett shined brightly throughout her performance and is clearly a young star on the rise. She played her character with honest emotion to deliver an independent woman, with a hint of naivety when it comes to marriage. A delicate moment displayed by Burnett was during “Slipping Through My Fingers” where she excitedly got ready for her wedding day, even practising her walk down the aisle. Burnett also displayed effortless vocal ability.
As Sophie’s fiance-to-be, Sky, Matt Leigh was subtle in his performance, but not unforgettable. He matched Burnett well and the chemistry between the two was undeniable. A highlight of the entire production was “Lay Your Love On Me”, where Leigh led a flipper-packed male ensemble.
Connor Chadwick bounded onstage with his energetic performance and athletic dance moves as the flirtatious and charming best friend, Pepper. Playing to the audience, he was easily a crowd favourite and a joy to watch. While Chadwick was larger than life in every moment, there could have been more grounding in his performance, particularly to ensure he wasn’t the only one breaking the fourth wall.
In a large ensemble, it may be hard to stand out, but there were some particular members who gave it their all with their high-energy and captivating performances. Special nods must go to Rory Argyles, Eli Ball, Sienna Randall, Jade Plaistow, and Terry Skinner for wholeheartedly absorbing their roles in the ‘Mamma Mia’ world.
All in all, it felt good to be back in a 100-percent capacity, sold-out theatre. There’s something about ABBA’s music that evokes nostalgic memories of dancing in crowded places and singing at the top of your lungs. Redcliffe Musical Theatre’s production returned to the stage with vigour and it was hard to not let the toe-tapping take over. If this is what theatre will be like in 2021, then “gimme gimme gimme” more of it!
‘Mamma Mia’ performs until Sunday, 24 January at Redcliffe Entertainment Centre. For more information about Redcliffe Musical Theatre, visit their website.