There are some things in life that are so simple that the execution of it really highlights the skill of the person creating it. For example when I try out a new burger place I always try a cheeseburger, the staple food, because if they can't get that right I don't trust them with anything more complex. Mamma Mia! is the cheeseburger of musicals for me. It is not a show that begs for reinvention but the end result tells you a lot about a company. Blue Mountains Musical Society is a big name in amateur theatre out west and for good reason. This production highlights what audiences have come to expect a bright and energetic show with crazy talented people on stage.
The creative team have done a fantastic job of bringing this show to life. Originally meant to be staged in 2020, this production features a joyful energy that can't be denied. Director John Forbes says in his directors note that he believes this show is about finding your own definition of yourself and I think the final work reflects that as there were elements in this show that I have never seen before in previous productions, some of which I suggest others try to emulate. Alina Wakeling (Musical Director) has done a fantastic job of crafting the sound, every single song feels like an event and the ensembles voices are just so good, they add depth and lift every solo. Amy Stokes as Choreographer did a really good job of balancing the skill level in the cast and I enjoyed the really simple movements that looked effective in unison, particularly in songs like "Honey, Honey". Another element of the production that I think needs a highlight is the look. The stage looks great, the cast look great. the set and costuming are really effective and create the mood perfectly, I was particularly impressed with the details of the floor. So well done to Bec Blackwell (Costume) and Linda Aubrecht (set) on the design.
Of course I have to talk about the leading ladies, Donna and Sophie. Donna is played by Jessica Zamprogno who has a powerhouse of a voice. Every time she sung she owned the stage and her talent is undeniable. Her voice has a wonderful range that it is clear Zamprogno has been doing this for awhile. The tender moments had a sweetness that really built to her powerful belt, this is never more evident than in contrast between "Slipping through my fingers" and "Winner takes it all". Samantha Taylor makes some really great choices as Sophie, particularly with her physicality. Taylor is always story telling on stage, even when she is in the background. The show is about this relationship between a mother and daughter, this is the real love story, I think Zamprogno and Taylor both worked really hard to bring this to life.
Robert Hall is amazing as Sam, the first of the potential fathers. As the romantic lead of the trio Hall manages to bring a charm and energy that is easy to invest in and his voice is beautiful. This fact is clear whenever he sings, "knowing me, knowing you" is a stand out number because of Hall. Bill is usually played as a rough and roguish man who is a bit too cool, but James Matheson has probably my favourite version. Matheson makes Bill so endearing, his physicality is still confident but he is softer and warmer which adds to the comedy of "Take a chance on me". Craig Wynn-Jones is a great Harry. Wynn-Jones is charming and has fantastic comedic delivery particularly in his body language and facial expressions. Of course the last gentleman we need to talk about is Caleb Hamwood as Sky. Hamwood really stands out when he is on stage and has a great voice. I really got the sense that he was having fun in the role and enjoyed what he was doing.
Donnas' Dynamos are played by Linda Aubrecht (Tanya) and Michelle O'Riley (Rosie) and Dynamos they are! These two ladies have a wonderful chemistry with each other and have really great comedic instincts which added life to every song and scene they in. It also helps that they have wonderful voices which are featured in two of the best songs in the show for comedic value. Special shout out to Phoebe Atkins and Sarah Namdar who played Ali and Lisa, Who I always refer to a Sophies' Dynamos. They made me smile and were always present and in character on stage.
I did have some issues with the production, some of these are down to opening night nerves. A few obviously anticipated cues, some sound mixing was uneven and lighting issues when it came to spots. All of these can and will be fixed as the show moves into its run. One thing however I question was the use of ensemble as times. The ensemble play an important role in adding depth to the sound but I question if they needed to be on stage all the time. There were songs where I am not sure if their presence was purposeful and at times I found distracting. An example of this was "Winner takes it all", Do we need anything more than Donna and Sam having the confrontation 20 years overdue?
Normally a review ends with phrases like: - Make sure you get a ticket - You don't want to miss out - I suggest you buy a ticket quickly All of these will not feature in this review, because Blue Mountains Musical Society's production of Mamma Mia! was sold out before even opening. Sorry, If you have come to read this to make up your mind, you have missed out. If you have however come to build anticipation, well, it was a pretty damn good cheeseburger.
I rate this show 4 Italian phrases said on Greek islands by Swedish bands with Australian accents... out of 5
Photos courtesy of Brenden Neaton of Neaton Photography & Film