Thursday, December 14, 2017

A VERY KRANSKY CHRISTMAS



 

A Very Kransky Christmas.

Created and performed by Annie Lee, Christine Johnston and Carolyn Johns. Queensland Performin Arts centre. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre centre. December 13. 2017.


Reviewed by Peter Wilkins


They’re kooky, clever and just a little bit crazy. They are The Kransky Sisters, Mourne (Annie Lee), Eve (Christine Johnston) and half-sister Dawn (Carolyn Johns). For one night only this oddball, screwball and on the ball trio brought their zany brand of droll comedy and magical music arrangement to the Canberra Theatre’s Playhouse for a night of Yuletide fun and laughter. A Very Kransky Christmas dishes up an unique serve of comedy and Christmas songs. From the opening   video of their travels through the country past roadkill, general stores serving kangaroo and the Big Merino, and the Big Yabby, the audience was in gales of laughter.
And then they shuffle on to the stage, relics of Gothic fairy tales from the forests of Eastern Europe. Mourne acts as storyteller, relating the saga of family life in the remote town of Esk in South East Queensland. A running dialogue between Mourne and Eve reveals the sorry dysfunction of their family life, interspersing the narrative with songs from Abba to The Carpenters, Simon and Garfunkel and Johnny Cash, all skilfully segued from the stories of recipes, eggs with hair warmers and departed pets. Droll monotone turns to superb song and when they sing angels listen. Half sibling victim, Dawn, obscured from my view by a large person in L row before me and from the audience by the large tuba she plays remains mute throughout the storytelling, but provides her deep harmony during the songs. Mourne accompanies on keyboard and Eve shines with keyboard and the musical saw played hauntingly with a long bow.
Gradually popular songs give way to traditional Christmas carols and the sisters introduce their treasure trove of bones of dear departed dead animals, a tray with a faded picture of a young queen and another with an unknown handsome soldier, for whom they are all desperately searching. Slowly the stories come to an end although the dismissive treatment of poor, disregarded Dawn continues as the sisters search for an unsuspecting audience member to join in their Christmas celebration. At the Canberra performance, it is tax officer, Iain and retiree, Tony who are led on to the stage to be dressed a la Kransky and handed a tambourine to accompany themselves on the Twelve Days of Christmas.  Entering into the spirit of the celebration, Iain and Tony prove irresistible to the suppressed Mourne and Eve, but manage to escape to the safety of their seats.

For so long the hidden lily of the trio, Dawn blossoms with a mock old school jazz funk dance to the delight of the applauding audience, who didn’t want the loopy sisters to leave.  They are converts to Mourne’s parting words “May all us odd socks come together in the washing machine of life.” A Very Kransky Christmas is more than a fun Festive Season frolic in story and song. Their unique brand of comedy contains a message of tolerance and acceptance and a salute to all that is odd, different and strange. Laughter and applause pay homage to the joy and celebration of the Christmas spirit in a show that works its magic to the very end. This is a one night stand that left the audience wanting more.

 

  

 

MAMMA MIA

Mamma Mia. Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, some songs with Stig Anderson. Book by Catherine Johnson. Originally conceived by Judy Craymer. Additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch. Directed by Gary Young. Choreographed by Tom Hodgson. Musical supervisor Stephen Amos. Presented by Michael Coppel, Louise Withers and Linda Bewick. Canberra Theatre Centre. Premiere Nov 30.  Nov 24 – Dec  17. Bookings www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.

Big opening night for Mamma Mia. Strong feeling of generations in the audience – families and mothers and daughters. Blue carpet, lots of glitz and glamour and free bubbly. 
Down in E row we nearly went deaf during the overture so loud was the music.
When it fortunately subsided the show revealed itself to be a most agreeable way to spend a pre Christmas evening, with the music of ABBA and the story of Donna (Natalie O’Donnell) and the three not altogether wise men, Harry (Phillip Lowe) Sam (Ian Stenlake) and Bill (Joseph Ber), one of whom is the father of her daughter, Suzanne (Sarah Morrison). But which one? Shenanigans all round for the unfolding of a mostly happy tale on a Greek island where Suzanne is about to marry the handsome Sky (Stephen Mahy). But she has cunningly invited her mother’s three old lovers in the hope of tracking down her paternity.
And that is it, really. What glues it all together is the sunniness of Swedish ABBA’s infatuation with characters further south who rejoice in names like Chiquita and Fernando. Suzanne, Donna and the three blokes, not to mention Donna’s old singing mates Rosie (Alicia Gardiner) and Tanya (Jayde Westaby), are also in love with the sunny south and all the performances are full of an on-holiday energy. Linda Bewick ‘s set and Suzy Strout’s striking costumes warmly reflect this.
One of the best things about Mamma Mia is the object lesson in how to design lighting using all the new fangled movers and gobos. It’s the gobos or patterns that are particularly well handled on a white Greek taverna set and every local director and LX designer should take note. The key is to soften the focus on the patterns and if they have to move it should be done subtlety. (Unless it is in a disco style number.)  Just watch what this show does with Gavan Swift’s lighting design and learn.
The same goes for scene changes.  There isn’t a single set change that holds the show up. They are smooth, they are funny, they advance the show. Sophisticated resources might be a help but it’s more a case of integration and ‘dancing’ the changes. Again, learn.
There’s only a few more days to catch this one before it goes round Australia. Never mind ABBA - who can resist a musical where one of the props is a set of bagpipes?


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

COPPELIA

Julius Szacsvay (Franz) - Tessa Karle -Swanhilda(masquerading as Coppelia the doll)  - Jessica Tonkin (Dr. Coppelius)

Photo: Greg Primmer

Music by Leo Delibes
Original Choreography by Marius Petipa and Enrico Cecchetti
Reproduced by Jackie Hallahan
Designed by Thompson Quan Wing
Presented by Dance Development Centre
Gungahlin College Community Theatre 5th and 6th December, 2017

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Having directed a full production of “Coppelia” for the Canberra Youth Ballet and the Canberra Youth Orchestra many years ago in the Canberra Theatre, it was a no-brainer that when the Dance Development Centre announced that it had included a modified version of this ballet in its 2017 end- of- year program, the opportunity to renew acquaintance with this ballet would prove irresistible.

For her version of "Coppelia", which comprised the first half of the program, Jackie Hallahan, worked with the original Petipa and Cecchetti choreography, cleverly compressing the full-evening ballet into three short scenes, neatly retaining the important dances, and enough of the storyline, for the ballet to make sense.

In the first scene the audience was introduced to Swanhilda  (Tessa Karle)  and her friends,(Jade Allen, Amelie Coleman, Charlotte Fisk, and Lauren Morfoot). They also met Dr Coppelius, (Jessica Tonkin) who, wisely, relied on the choreography for her characterisation.

The highlight of this scene was a lovely pas de deux, which was superbly danced by 16 year- old Tessa Karle as Swanhilda, and guest artist, Julius Szacsvay as Franz. Szacsvay, who teaches in the Sydney studios of DDC, stepped in at short notice when an injury forced the original Franz to withdraw. Szacsvay, who’s danced professionally with the Australian Ballet and Ballet Basel, proved an attentive, accomplished partner, who danced his solos with winning élan.

At the end of this scene, attracted by the pretty “Coppelia" doll in the window, Swanhilda and her friends decide to break into Dr Coppelius’ toy shop in search of his masterpiece, the doll, Coppelia ( Georgette Wood) .

The second scene takes place inside the toyshop where the girls discover several mechanical dolls, a Balinese doll (Gwynneth Wise), a Spanish doll  (Isobelle France) , a Scottish doll (Madeleine Wells) and a Rag doll (Stephanie Robertson), as well as Dr. Coppelius’s prize Coppelia doll. While her girl-friends amuse themselves setting off the various dolls, Coppelia decides to surprise her friends by swapping clothes with the doll and pretending to be Swanilda.

Dr Coppelius returns unexpectedly, and, trapped in her disguise, Swanhilda convinces him that his Coppelia doll has come to life. He discovers her deception, and Swanhilda and her friends escape, leaving Dr. Coppelius heart-broken.

The final scene is a wedding scene, which commences with the triumphal wedding procession for Swanhilda and Franz. Beautifully staged, this scene took advantage of the opportunities for junior members to take part in the pretty ensemble dances, all of which were meticulously rehearsed and confidently danced.

Again the grand pas de deux, impeccably performed by Tessa Karle and Julius Szacsvay, proved the highlight.  Karle shows remarkable promise for one so young. Besides possessing a beautifully honed classical technique, she has the remarkable ability to draw your eyes to her, even when dancing anonymously in an ensemble, as experienced later in the program. 

A stylish, versatile setting, designed by Thompson Quan Wing, together with appropriately pretty costumes, and an excellent recording of the lovely Delibes music, added professional gloss to a charming production, which proved a delightful showcase for DDC’s current crop of immaculately groomed dancers.

The second half of the program consisted of three short ensemble works, each of which confirmed the excellent impression made by “Coppelia”.

"A Tribute to West Side Story"

Photo: Greg Primmer

Renee Hallahan drew inspiration from a suite of dances from Leonard Bernstein’s “West Side Story” to create an exhilarating short work for the full-time students, entitled, “A Tribute to West Side Story”.  Commencing in pretty frocks, and then incorporating a lightning quick costume change into jeans and tops, the work was joyously performed by the dancers who revelled in the opportunity to display their impeccable classical dance techniques in this cleverly conceived contemporary work.

"The Reapers Dance"

Photo: Greg Primmer

Staying with Delibes, Jackie Hallahan and Tara Chapman devised a lovely work for the part-time students, entitled “The Reapers Dance”. Performed in elegant mauve costumes, “The Reapers Dance” was prettily performed by the young dancers, who included two young men, who impressed with their elegant demeanour.

"Vertical Flight"

Photo: Greg Primmer 

The climax of the program was an exciting work created by Paul Knobloch to the driving music of Ezio Bosso and the Ezio Bosso Trio.  Entitled “Vertical Flight”, and performed by the full-time students, “Vertical Flight” was performed in black unitards which featured a wide red stripe on each side.  Knobloch made ingenious use of these stripes to create and resolve a succession of constantly changing images. Dazzlingly executed by the young dancers, this work would do a professional dance company proud, and proved a stunning finale for an evening of impressive dance.



PETER AND THE WOLF



National Capital Orchestra
Conducted by Leonard Weiss
John Smiles, Flute
Elizabeth Alford, Harp
Christian Renggli, Cello
Charles Hudson, Narrator
Albert Hall Saturday 9 December

Reviewed by Len Power

How do you capture the attention of young to very young children at a classical music concert?  The National Capital Orchestra gave it a valiant try with their concert that included children’s favourite, Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’.

With the orchestra set up on the floor of the auditorium of the Albert Hall, children were invited to get up close and personal with the orchestra by sitting on the floor between the front row of the audience and the players.  Conductor, Leonard Weiss, had a few tricks up his sleeve to engage his young audience and did it very well.

The first item, Rossini’s ‘Overture to the Barber of Seville’, competed with a fair amount of noise as the children settled down.  Some children were captivated by the music and sat quietly, taking it all in.  Others, of course, had no idea why they were there and behaved predictably.

National Capital Orchestra with Charles Hudson narrating 'Peter and the Wolf'
When the item finished, Leonard Weiss offered the opportunity for one of the children to conduct a short section of the overture.  Young Henrietta was selected and she strode confidently to the podium as if she did this every day.  It must have been a thrill for her to feel the power of the orchestra under her direction.
John Smiles (flute), Elizabeth Alford (harp) and conductor, Leonard Weiss
The next item was the second movement of Mozart’s ‘Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra’ with soloists, John Smiles (flute) and Elizabeth Alford (harp).  The children were invited to ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ at the really nice bits and did so enthusiastically.  Overheard behind me was a young lady who loudly asked about the harp player, ‘How does she know which string to play?’
Christian Renggli (cello)
Christian Renggli on cello then joined the orchestra to perform Honegger’s ‘Cello Concerto’.  It looked a bit of a challenge for Renggli to play with children right at his feet, but he gave a fine, edgy performance of this fascinating work with the orchestra.

The final item and the big attraction for children was Prokofiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ which was well-played by the orchestra.  As the narrator, actor/singer Charles Hudson really engaged the children with his fine voice and well-chosen physical movements for each of the characters.
Charles Hudson (Narrator, 'Peter and the Wolf')
Attending a concert such as this at an early age might just be the spark that inspires a young person to develop a love of fine music for the rest of their life.  That hope makes it all worthwhile.

Photos by Peter Hislop

This review was first published in the Canberra City News digital edition of 10 December.

Len Power’s reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7’s ‘On Stage’ program on Mondays from 3.30pm and ‘Artcetera’ from 9.00am Saturdays.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Muriel's Wedding - The Musical






Muriel’s Wedding - The Musical, based on the movie by PJ Hogan.  Book by PJ Hogan; Music and Lyrics by Kate Miller-Heidke & Keir Nuttall, with songs by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus & Stig Anderson originally written for ABBA.

Sydney Theatre Company with Global Creatures Production at Roslyn Packer Theatre, November 6  - January 27, 2017/18.

Directed by Simon Phillips
Technical Director – Richard Martin; Musical Director (orchestrations, arrangements & additional music) – Isaac Hayward; Resident Director / Choreographer – Ellen Simpson

Music Supervisor – Guy Simpson; Sound Designer – Michael Waters; Lighting Designer – Trent Suidgeest; Set & Costume Designer – Gabriela Tylesova; Choreographer – Andrew Hallsworth


Cast
Muriel Heslop – Maggie McKenna; Rhonda Epinstall – Madeleine Jones; Bill Heslop – Gary Sweet; Betty Heslop – Justine Clark; Deidre Chambers – Helen Dallimore


Brice Nobes – Ben Bennett; Joanie Heslop – Briallen Clarke; Nicole Stumpf – Hilary Cole; Ken Blundell – Dave Eastgate; Cheryl Moochmore – Manon Gunderson-Briggs; Agnetha Fäitskog – Jaime Hadwen; Anni-Frid Lyngstad – Sheridan Harbridge; Björn Ulvaeus – Mark Hill; Alexander Shkuratov – Stephen Madsen; Charlie Chan – Kenneth Moraleda; Janine Nutall – Laura Murphy; Malcolm Heslop – Connor Sweeney; Benny Andersson – Aaron Tsindos; Perry Heslop – Michael Whalley; Tania Degano – Christie Whelan Browne

Ensemble
Annie Aitken, Prue Bell, Kaeng Chan, Tony Cogin, Caroline Kaspar, Adrian Li Donni, Luigi Lucente, Tom Sharah

Orchestra
Isaac Hayward (Keyboard 1); Luke Byrne (Keyboard 2); Cameron Henderson (Guitar 1); Gary Vickery (Guitar 2 / Keyboard 3); Vanessa Tammetta (Violin / Viola); Clare Kahn (Cello); Emile Nelson (Electric / Double / Synth Bass); Steven Pope (Drums); Tim Paillas (Percussion)

Maggie McKenna as Muriel Heslop
with The Bouquet
Reviewed by Frank McKone
December 6


ABBA’s songs are used better in Muriel’s Wedding, the Musical than in Mamma Mia!, the Musical.  It’s hard not to compare the two.  Mamma Mia! cleverly weaves the story around 22 songs, introduces significant issues about men’s behaviour and women’s proper treatment, but ends in marriages all round – feels good but a bit too easy considering the less attractive reality expressed in some of ABBA’s more serious songs.

Muriel’s Wedding, especially in PJ Hogan’s updating of his movie script, and the black edge to the excruciatingly funny numbers, using seven of ABBA’s songs among the very witty songs – verbally and musically – by Miller-Heidke and Nuttall, creates a much more powerful effect.

Where Mamma Mia! is a highly enjoyable romantic comedy with some worthwhile social commentary along the way, Muriel’s Wedding focusses on exposing crucial issues of some men’s destructive behaviour, both in the family and at the political levels.  At her mother’s funeral, Muriel shows how she has grown up through the experience; so have her sister and brothers – and so have we.

The satire is funny – often terribly funny – because Muriel (but absolutely not her father) comes to understand how she has changed; while Mamma Mia!’s Sophie Sheridan quite simply gets what she hopes for, while her mother rekindles an old flame without her script providing any justification, apart from the romance of ‘falling in love again’.

Mamma Mia!’s women want to be independent and strong, but are waylaid by love.  Muriel and Rhonda, facing the horror of cancer – impossible to predict and probably incurable – learn what love really entails, gain in strength, and strengthen our understanding.  Hogan’s quality of drama is not strained.

In comparing these two very Australian productions, both have everything going for them on stage; but, for me at least, Muriel’s Wedding, the Musical gets an extra guernsey: the story of corruption and the satirical contrast of typical Aussie sexist culture in Porpoise Spit with the wild variety of the Sydney city scene has freed the designers to let themselves go.




A typical Mondrian painting




The stage design opens in primary colours, turning into edgy plain Mondrian-style art, against which Gabriela Tylesova’s costumes riotously explode – on the beach, in Oxford Street, under the Harbour Bridge, on the Opera House forecourt,  in every wedding dress shop you can imagine, at a tropical island resort, inside the Heslop lounge room watching tv, outside before and after Betty sets it on fire: scene after scene until the funeral service, where stark black takes over from frothy white.  This is design with emblemetic purpose, a drama in its own right.  A work of art – very specifically modern Australian art from John Brack through Brett Whiteley to Tylesova herself.

Beach scene in Muriel's Wedding - The Musical
Set and costumes designed by Gabriela Tyselova

Gabriela Tyselova's designs for 'Misfits of Sydney'
for Muriel's Wedding - The Musical

In some ways the choreography in Mamma Mia! from a ‘pure’ dance point of view was more original and complex, and therefore could be seen as more entertaining; yet Andrew Hallsworth and Ellen Simpson have exaggerated the dance and movement work in a way that make so much fun of Australian characters that we just could not stop laughing.  Somewhere behind our recognition was the old cartoon, “Stop laughing, this is serious!”, which has been picked up by the ABC in its series on the history of Australian comedy [ www.abc.net.au/tv/programs/stop-laughing-this-is-serious/ ] .

Ben Bennett as Brice Nobes
Design by Gabriela Tyselova
for Muriel's Wedding - The Musical


After the design, there’s the more than difficult job of praising individual actors, since no-one among the principals and the ensemble lost their footing – which they might well have done literally in such a fast moving production, which outshone the movie for set and costume changes with the cameras in our eyes permanently turned on. 

I’m sure everyone agreed with me that the long search which finally lighted upon Maggie McKenna for Muriel was well worth the extra effort, which we saw played out on ABCtv  in Making Muriel, broadcast on November 26, and still available on iView until December 26.  McKenna’s voice has the full range needed for the singing, while her acting superbly captured each mood, especially in the more complex situations where Muriel finds herself divided several different ways at once.

Maggie McKenna as Muriel Heslop
in Muriel's Wedding - The Musical

The groupies like Tania, Cheryl, Nicole and Janine were absolutely wonderful comedians throughout (comediennes? – or is that not politically correct nowadays), and were absolutely but accurately ghastly in their nasty unwillingness to accept Muriel, in the song Can’t Hang – about with us any more! 

Then the mystical silvery-white ABBAs, in Muriel’s and later her mother Betty’s imaginations, seemed to me, relying on my distant memory, to perform with as much elan as the originals in that faraway Eurovision contest in 1974. 

Christie Whelan Browne, Manon Gunderson-Briggs,
Hilary Cole, Laura Murphy (maybe not in correct order)
as Tania Degano, Cheryl Moochmore, Nicole Stumpf and Janine Nuttall
in Muriel's Wedding - The Musical

Briallen Clarke, Michael Whalley, Connor Sweeney
as Joanie, Perry and Malcolm Heslop
in the lounge room watching tv
in Muriel's Wedding - The Musical

There’s far too much to cover here – I’m almost writing a thesis, already – but I have to say that it was Justine Clarke’s Betty, when she finally could no longer cope in the face of her husband’s calumny, who turned our feelings over, and turned the play around as the ABBAs sang SOS, and we realised what that meant.

And, of course, I haven’t mentioned what really happened when Muriel married.

What Muriel’s Wedding, the Musical does is to tie together the three strings of comedy, serious social criticism and personal growth through tragic experience to make a top quality theatrical work, which should well satisfy those of us concerned about ‘conservative’ programming by the ‘majors’ which I’ve previously discussed in Platform Papers commentaries. 

If Mamma Mia! The Musical is not to be missed, then Muriel’s Wedding, The Musical must not be missed even more.

Maggie McKenna and Justine Clarke
as Muriel and her mother Betty Heslop
in Muriel's Wedding - The Musical













BOSOM BUDDIES THEATRE LUNCHEON



Bosom Buddies
Theatre Club Luncheon
Coralie Wood Publicity
Guest Speakers: Nancye Hayes & Todd McKenney
Compered by Bill Stephens – Canberra City News
Bosom Buddies ACT Inc
Crowne Plaza Hotel 6 December

Report by Len Power

Coralie Wood, Canberra’s publicist extraordinaire, presented a Theatre Club luncheon at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Civic.  Part of the proceeds from the lunch went to ‘Bosom Buddies ACT Inc.’, the local charity that supports women living with breast cancer.

The lunch was compered by Canberra City News’s Bill Stephens.  Guest speakers at the lunch were theatre icons, Nancye Hayes and Todd McKenney who showed that they were indeed long-time bosom buddies with a fascinating talk about their joint theatre experiences.  Both very entertaining speakers, their stories about things going wrong on stage were hysterically funny.

Nancye Hayes started in the chorus of the first production of ‘My Fair Lady’ in Australia and got her big break in 1967 playing Charity Hope Valentine in the musical, ‘Sweet Charity’.  Since then she’s been in just about every musical of importance and continues to wow audiences with her fine performances.  Off stage, she’s very friendly, approachable and down-to-earth.  She’s even had a theatre named after her – the Hayes Theatre in Sydney.

Todd McKenney has been performing professionally since 1983 in shows such as ‘42nd Street’, ‘Singin’ In The Rain’ and ‘La Cage Aux Folles’.  He rose to fame in 1998 with his portrayal of Peter Allen in the highly successful Australian musical, ‘The Boy From Oz’.  He’s a really easy-going guy with a delightfully wicked sense of humour.

Nancye and Todd worked together in ‘42nd Street’, ‘Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks’ and the 2012 production of ‘Annie’.  In that one, along with Chloe Dallimore, they stopped the show with their performance of the song ‘Easy Street’.

During the luncheon, Nancye and Todd announced that they will be teaming up in 2018 to perform in a new autobiographical show called, coincidentally, ‘Bosom Buddies’.  After hearing some of their stories during lunch, this will be a show not to miss.  It will be at the Canberra Theatre Centre in May next year.

The stars finished up their talk with a very funny, personalized version of the song ‘You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me’ from ‘42nd Street’.  It will be heard in their ‘Bosom Buddies’ show in 2018.

Oh, yes, and the buffet lunch at the Crowne Plaza gets a good review from me, too.  According to Todd McKenney, Nancye Hayes was up all night making the sandwiches!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

MAMMA MIA !


Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and songs by Stig Anderson
Book by Catherine Johnson
Directed by Garry Young – Choreographed by Tom Hodgson – Musical Supervision by Stephen Amos – Set Design by Linda Bewick – Costume design by Suzy Strout – Lighting Design by Gavan Swift – Sound Design by Michael Waters

Canberra Theatre, 30th November - 17th December 2017


Reviewed by Bill Stephens 

Mamma Mia! How Can I forget You?  It seemed like all Canberra was in party mode for the opening of t he Australian season of this brand new production of  “Mamma Mia”, and it wasn’t disappointed. In an unusual move, Producers Louise, Michael Coppel and Linda Bewick, decided to launch this new production in Canberra, prior to its National tour, and already the Canberra season is nearly sold out.

Alicia Gardiner ((Rosie) - Natalie O'Donnell (Donna) - Jayde Westaby (Tanya)
in
'MAMMA MIA  !

With fresh new set and costume designs, a good-looking, energetic cast, with Natalie O’Donnell, who played the bride-to-be Sophie in the original Australian production, now playing Sophie’s mother, Donna, “Mamma Mia” returns to the stage in a beautifully conceived production guaranteed to enchant a whole new generation who only know the show from the film.

One of the first Juke Box musicals, “Mamma Mia”, remains remarkable for the way familiar ABBA songs are seamlessly integrated into the storyline of a young bride-to- be, Sophie, who decides to invite three of her mother’s old flames to her wedding, in an effort to discover the identity of her father. These songs have been given fresh new arrangements by Stephen Amos, with overtures and entr’actes which literally lift you out of your seat.


An exuberant ensemble moment in "Mamma Mia !" 

 
Director Gary Young has tweaked the show slightly to give it an Australian flavour, and included some contemporary references. We now have Chris from Queanbeyan, and Bill from Batlow among the characters. He keeps a clear focus on each of the characters and how they fit into the story, and though the audience know every line of the ABBA songs, the way those lyrics fit so seamlessly into the storyline still surprises and charms, and the story feels even more captivating in Linda Bewick’s postcard pretty blue and white Greek taverna setting, and Suzy Strout’s supremely wearable and elegant costumes.

Sarah Morrison is a delightfully fresh young Sophie Sheridan, and her scenes with her mother, Donna, (Natalie O’Donnell), are affectingly played by both actors, especially the scene where Donna dresses Sophie for her wedding.


Sarah Morrison (Sophie) -Stephen May (Sky)
in
"MAMMA MIA !"

O’Donnell invests her character, single mum, Donna, with grit, determination, occasional exasperation, and disarming sexiness, while Jade Westaby and Alicia Gardiner both give scene-stealing performances as Donna’s gal-pals, Tanya and Rosie.

The male roles are less showy, but Ian Stenlake as the suave and charming Sam, Phillip Lowe as the lovable eccentric Harry, and Josef Ber as the confused travel writer, Bill, succeed in convincing the audience of the difficulty of Donna’s predicament, and thankfully, all sing superbly. 

 
Phillip Lowe (Harry) - Ian Stenlake (Sam) - Josef Ber (Bill)
in
"Mamma Mia !"
Stephen Mahy as Sophie’s fiancé, Sky, and Sam Hooper and Alex Gibson-Giorgio as his mates, Pepper and Eddie, and Monique Salle’ and Jessica Di Costa as Sophie’s friends, Ali and Lisa, all offer strongly etched characterisations, as well as dance up a storm in the ensemble numbers for which Tom Hodgson has devised some sensational choreography with plenty of cheeky dance moves to snaffle for your next party. 
       
But why wait for a party?  “Mamma Mia” is a party. A party which received a rapturous reception at its Australian premiere. Don’t miss out.


Alicia Gardiner (Rosie)- Natalie O"Donnell (Donna) - Jayde Westaby (Tanya)
and Ensemble
Following its Canberra season "Mamma Mia !" tours to Brisbane (26th December - 4th February 2018) - Sydney (11th February - 8th April, 2018) - Perth (15th May - 3rd June, 2018)
Melbourne from July 2018 - Adelaide from October, 2018. 

                            Photos: James Morgan and Brew Bevan

This review first published in the digital edition of CITY NEWS on 1st December 2017