If there’s anyone we should thank for the music, it’s ABBA. One of the best-selling bands of all time, this iconic Swedish quartet made a grand Arrival on the scene in 1974 with the Eurovision-winning Waterloo and went on to dominate pop music for the next decade. Disbanding in ’82 with a smorgasbord of songs (and many millions of dollars) under their belt, their star has never dimmed. (Songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus even went on to write original musical Chess). Forty years on, they embarked on a new Voyage, with a chart-topping comeback album and a virtual arena residency featuring concerts performed by their holographic ‘ABBAtars’.
So, who better to form the basis of a jukebox musical? Produced by Judy Craymer, Mamma Mia! premiered in London in 1999 and went on to become the sixth longest-running show in West End history. Its movie adaptation, directed by Phyllida Lloyd and starring Meryl Streep, smashed box office records and, for a decade, was the highest grossing film to be directed by a woman. Now, this beloved show is taking off on a massive UK and International Tour to remind us all why we should Take a Chance and Have a Dream.
Written by Catherine Johnson, and helmed by Lloyd, Mamma Mia! is set on the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi. 20-year-old Sophie (Jess Michelmore) is soon to marry fiancée Sky (Christopher Foley). She is determined to have her dad walk her down the aisle, but her fiercely independent mother Donna (Sara Poyzer) has never revealed his identity. So Sophie does some snooping, whittles the potential candidates down to three, and invites them to the island in secret. The players in this particular paternity lottery are Harry Bright (Neal Craig), Bill Austin (Phil Corbitt) and Sam Carmichael (Richard Standing), who each captured Donna’s heart one Last Summer many years before.
The plot is as light and frothy as the waves lapping the island shore, and the lead-ins to each ditty tenuous at best – “I’m old enough to be your mother!” Tanya (Sarah Earnshaw) says to lovestruck Pepper (Jaden Osheneye): cue Does Your Mother Know – but who cares? Benny and Björn’s songs are so iconic that they’re ironclad – and all you need to do is sing along. And I defy you not to start doing just that when the title track’s opening marimba kicks in, and the show really kicks off.
Fun is the Name of the Game here, and there’s more than enough to go round: Rosie (Nicky Swift) and Tanya cheering up bestie Donna with a one-two punch of Chiquitita and Dancing Queen; Sky and his mates’ laddish rendition of Lay All Your Love On Me; a rowdy reception that culminates in a plea to Gimme Gimme Gimme (A Man After Midnight). It also makes time for the smaller moments between characters: Donna singing The Winner Takes It All to Sam, the one that got away (Poyzer and Standing, a couple offstage as well as on, bring a genuine chemistry to their interactions). And rhe way Poyzer performs Slipping Through My Fingers as she tearfully does her daughter’s hair one last time brought a tear to mine.
The show’s celebration of love beyond the heteronormative was progressive for its time – though it would benefit from some updating (it’s 2023, yet Harry’s husband remains resolutely offstage). Even so, the musical is defiantly inclusive and crafts a world for itself that – save for the need to scrape for Money Money Money – is positively utopian. In Mamma Mia!, anything is possible: old flames reignite, new love blooms, and the only obstacles to ever after are just a song away from solving. For all its fluff and fabulousness, its subversive quality is perhaps its most enduring: giving its older women characters focus and agency, and the space to be sexy, messy, and fun.
Mamma Mia – you’ll want to go again! This is a show for every Dancing Queen and Chiquitita who ever had a dream. If you’re thinking ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme a ticket’, you might want to act soon – because they’re selling out faster than you can say Voulez-Vous! It might not be the most polished gem in the West End’s crown – but when it’s good, it’s gold.