‘Mamma Mia’ was voulez-vous.
Inviting dancing queens on a musical adventure to the soundtrack of ABBA, Savoyards Musical Theatre has presented the delightfully upbeat show, ‘Mamma Mia’, as their final production of the year.
With a book by British playwright Catherine Johnson, this jukebox musical is based on popular songs by the Swedish pop group ABBA, with music and lyrics by band members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. The musical’s title even derives from the band’s 1975 number-one single ‘Mamma Mia’.
First performed more than 20 years ago, the coming-of-age hit transports audiences to a small Greek island, where Sophie dreams of her ideal wedding, in which her father would give her away in marriage. The only problem though is that she doesn’t know who he is and resolves to take matters into her own hands since her mother Donna won’t discuss the past. Through her mother’s diaries, she finds three potential fathers – Sam, Bill and Harry – and secretly invites them all to her wedding. But finding out who her dad is may be slightly more difficult than planned, especially when all three men show up on the island.
‘Mamma Mia’ has proven to be a popular choice among community theatre groups, due to its fun and upbeat score and range of characters for young and old performers. As such, this is a perfect choice for Savoyards Musical Theatre; a group renowned for their large team of volunteers and endearing community spirit.
The set, designed by Justin Tubb-Hearne and realised by an extensive scenery and set construction team, brought to life the iconic stylings of houses along the Greek Islands; with their blue accented features, vine-lined walls, dome archways, sculpted edges and rooms vertically positioned on top of one another. The swirl clouds of the backdrop also added to the Mediterranean feel. Tubb-Hearne’s concept allowed for many playing spaces, which made the staging interesting and dynamic. In all fairness, this set was a director’s dream as the design utilised levels in its construction, with archways stretching to the ceiling of the theatre, boardwalks creating elevated platforms and staircases that led to mezzanine levels; all of which created imaginative zones for action. It would have been nice if the diversity of spaces were utilised more in the blocking by Artistic Director Johanna Toia. Not only would this have enhanced the intricacies found within Tubb-Hearne’s design, but it would have allowed the action to flow tightly within the space and transition smoothly around the set components. Instead, many of the scenes were played downstage centre, in a line, and it just felt like a missed opportunity. Transitions also lagged and general movement around the space could have been better planned. Toia did well, however, to manage a large cast of just under 50 actors, dancers and singers.
Choreography by Desney Toia-Sinapati allowed the ensemble of dancers to shine with their tight routines. A particular highlight was the opening to Act Two in “Under Attack”, where dancers crawled and magically appeared from underneath Sophie’s bed. This was met with audible gasps from the audience; indicating a true depiction of what a nightmare might actually look like. Toia-Sinapati also utilised the ensemble in a variety of ways. Another great moment was the incorporation of Sirtaki, also known as Zorba, dancing in “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme”. In this particular song, when almost the entire cast was onstage, the dancing swirled around the space. Due to the larger ensemble, however, there were moments where ensemble actors pulled focus. For example, it was uncertain why the ensemble of older Greek women would be listening in on the private conversation Sophie was having with her fathers’ when the rest of the ensemble was frozen in movement. It distracted from a significant plot point and more consistency among the action, or even reducing the ensemble size in scenes, could have tightened the action further.
Music Director, Nicky Griffith, led a small and efficient band who brought the music of ABBA to life. Unfortunately, the fullness of the sound was not realised. The sound design was not mixed evenly which meant there were uneven volumes between the cast, microphones and band. During many of the group numbers, ensemble backing vocals overpowered the lead cast. As a result, the sound didn’t quite come together. More specifically, Donna’s microphone volume was lower than the rest, so audience members missed some of her comedic moments, which drives some of the banter within the show.
Lighting design by Chloe Harrison and Allan Nutley provided a wide range of specials and colours across the set, which added to the sentiment of the scenes and the fun of the show. The use of Mediterranean colours within the backdrop highlighted the feel of a Greek island, especially with sunset yellows and ocean blues.
The leading ladies of Donna and Sophie, played by Vanessa Wainwright and Stephanie Lee-Steere respectively, had wonderful chemistry. Wainwright was fiery and free-spirited as the single mother and gave a strong vocal and goosebump-provoking performance during “The Winner Takes It All”. Lee-Steere was endearing as the trusting and confused daughter and is sure to inspire younger aspiring musical theatre performers.
Andrew Dark was the charming, American, Sam, and met any expectations as the “one who got away”. Dark’s performance of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” was heartfelt and strong.
Steve Norris was delightfully humorous as headbanger Harry Bright and a standout within the show. Norris brought much comedy to the flamboyant tendencies of the character and had audience members giggling over his quirky mannerisms.
Natalie Lennox as the wealthy divorcee Tanya, who is also Donna’s best friend, was all parts sophisticated and added much to the character. Lennox’s chemistry with Pepper, played by Joshua Brandon, was cheeky and compelling. Their performance of “Does Your Mother Know?” had the audience in hysterics, especially with Brandon’s inconspicuous use of the cocktail shaker, which provided adult-rated humour.
Matthew Bennett as Sky delivered an earnest portrayal and was natural in delivery. Kudos where it’s due, as this marks Bennett’s second time on stage.
Finally, Andrew Macarthur as Bill and Jacqueline Atherton as Rosie worked well together, adding humour during “Take A Chance On Me”.
Whilst there were some missed opportunities that could have enhanced the overall experience and tightness of Savoyards Musical Theatre’s ‘Mamma Mia’, there is no doubt this show will get audiences on their feet and have ABBA fans singing their hearts out. With its feel-good storyline, ‘Mamma Mia’ is sure to remain a popular choice within our theatre community. So, thanks for the music, Savs!
‘Mamma Mia’ performs until Saturday, 8 October 2022 at Iona Performing Arts Centre, Wynnum. For more information visit Savoyard Musical Theatre’s website.
Photography by Sharyn Hall