Review: Mamma Mia!
Te Auaha’s Musical Theatre cohort for 2023 is bringing Mamma Mia! to our shores this September, and we are all better for it. A spellbinding, fabulous version of Catherine Johnson/ABBA’s jukebox musical knocked my absolute socks off last night, and I’m seriously considering going back to see it again.
You might have seen the 2008 movie and its 2018 sequel, and the plot here is mostly the same. 20 year old Sophie is getting married on the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi, and she’s invited her three potential fathers to join her and her mother, Donna, for the wedding. Hijinks occur, the wedding falls apart, but through the power of rad tunes from the 1970s, all things come right in the end.
Okay, I’m biased. This is one of my favourite musicals, and I’ve seen it on stage before, but Te Auaha’s done very, very well here. The entire show zings with an energy that’s rare in even professional theatre, and is wholly joyful and engrossing for its duration.
Leigh Evans’ strong directorial hand guides over a show that could be very disparate without the appropriate guidance, and is much better for it. I especially like the choice to crosscast a couple of the characters!
Her choreography, especially, is phenomenal, with a 25+ person cast creating gorgeous, elaborate stage pictures as they dance through different styles – some pop dance, some waltzing, movement with rags and beach towels. Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ underscore through-line is retro and deeply catchy, and you will be singing along when you leave.
The performances in Mamma Mia! are excellent, with a level of vocal control that I’m very impressed by from early-20s performers. Both Sophie (Lily Moore) and Donna (Rachel McSweeney) are deeply charming, carrying emotional weight far beyond their years and moved me desperately. McSweeney especially has incredible vocal strength, best showcased in The Winner Takes It All, where she finds an extremely palpable grief.
The potential dads, Sam (Isaac Andrews), Bill (River Santner) and Harry (Josh Franken) are all wholly likeable in their own right; driven performers with their own character motivations, who are distinctive and delightful. Rosie (Aneika Webster) and Tanya (Abby Roff) hold their own in their hero songs respectively; Take a Chance on Me and Does Your Mother Know, with both getting some of the biggest cheers of the night.
Mamma Mia! has an excellent gap-less ensemble, who fill out the background with a presence that is deeply necessary and would be missed if they weren’t there. I’d also like to make mention of the entire production team, who anchor this ridiculous (positive) narrative well into a world of its own – but especially Michael Trigg’s lighting design, which is genuinely stunning and utilises the Te Auaha lighting rig to its very best.
There are a few little inconsistencies within the performances, mostly in the realm of accents, but in all fairness – accents are insanely challenging, even outside of an academic setting. Never do these inconsistencies ruin the enjoyment of the overall show, and in some moments, add to the charm.
Mamma Mia! is a fabulously glittery night out, and an absolute must see.
Show contains haze, strobe and sexual references.