Savoyards delivered an ABBA-solutely entertaining night out with their production of Mamma Mia!, directed by Johanna Toia and featuring 50 community theatre performers at the Iona Performing Arts Centre.
A jukebox musical featuring 22 of ABBA’s greatest hits, Mamma Mia! was originally conceived by Judy Craymer and written by British playwright Catherine Johnson. Opening in 1999 (and on Broadway in 2001), Mamma Mia! has played in more than 50 countries to over 60 million people, and a film adaptation starring Amanda Seyfried and Meryl Streep as Sophie and Donna was released in 2008.
Twenty-year-old Sophie has grown up without knowing her father, raised by her mother Donna on an idyllic Greek island. But now, as Sophie prepares for her wedding, she finds her mother’s diary and realises that there are three men who might be her father – so she invites them all to the wedding! Sophie thinks she’ll know her father as soon as she sees him, but things might be a bit more complicated than she expected…
In the Savoyards production, Stephanie Lee-Steere played Sophie with sweetness and naiveté, and impressive vocals. Vanessa Wainwright played a small-but-mighty Donna, although her powerful voice was restrained throughout the performance except for The Winner Takes It All. It was unclear why Sophie and Donna were both played with strong American accents.
Donna and the Dynamos – played by Vanessa Wainwright, Natalie Lennox, and Jacqueline Atherton – were a highlight, bringing a joyful silliness to their depiction of a decades-long friendship. The core cast was rounded out by Sophie’s three possible fathers – globetrotting adventurer Bill (played by Andrew McArthur), aloof architect Sam (Andrew Dark), and headbanger-turned-banker Harry (Steve Norris). Joshua Brandon was also a comedic standout in the role of Pepper.
The back-to-back ABBA hits were performed live by a band of 10 musicians, with music direction by Nicky Griffith. There were a few minor issues with the sound, although it wasn’t clear whether this was a technical issue with the microphones or the mixing.
The large ensemble performed highly effective crowd scenes, choreographed by Desney Toia-Sinapati, which interacted with the set, and a smaller team of dancers performed more technical choreography, including the memorable nightmare routine to Under Attack which opened the second act.
A wheeled boat opened and closed the work, establishing the setting, and set design by Justin Tubb-Hearne included multiple levels and a number of entry and exit points. Lighting design by Chloe Harrison and Allan Nutley created sunny island days and dreamy sunsets against the painted backdrop (scenic artwork by Tenille Flower and Glen Anderson), as well as spotlighting the work’s more dramatic moments. Colourful costuming designed by Kim Heslewood and wigs, hair, and makeup designed by Lynne Swain added to the island atmosphere and gave further depth to the busy crowd scenes.
Savoyards always deliver a highly polished community theatre production, and Mamma Mia! was no exception; there was the distinct sense that the performers onstage were enjoying themselves in this colourful, feel-good musical about love and family, and this made it even more enjoyable to watch.
Mamma Mia! will play at Iona Performing Arts Centre, Lindum, from 21 September – 8 October 2022.