Review: Mamma Mia at Manchester Opera House is “absolutely fabulous”

Still going strong after an incredible 24-year-run, Mamma Mia is wowing audiences at the Opera House.

The hit musical Mamma Mia! opened in London twenty four years ago and nobody really knew what to expect.

A jukebox musical featuring the songs of Abba, set in Greece and following a young woman’s quest to find out who’s the daddy, from 3 likely candidates was the premise.

The Swedish supergroup had stopped touring, but their hits had lived on through the successful Abba Gold compilation, which still sells strong today. And bands such as Erasure had covered some of their biggest tunes and Bjorn Again were packing in the crowds at gig venues all over the UK.

Then the show opened and audiences fell in love and said “I Do” many times, with some fans going returning to the stalls to lay all their love on this feelgood musical. Critics also enjoyed the show and it garnered many five star reviews.

Meryl Streep became a huge fan of the show and she stepped into Donna’s dungarees for the film version and again in a cameo role for the sequel, which even featured Cher – who has since released her own Abba covers album.

So after almost twenty five years, does the show live up to the hype? On a cold and windy day, I returned to the Opera House to find out. The first thing to note is that as soon as you sit down to watch this “Super Trouper” of a musical, the audience are invested from the minute they take their seats. There is something comforting and familiar about this show, even if this is your first time.

Catherine Johnson has cleverly penned a story which incorporates Abba’s hits but it never feels clumsy or pointless. The audience relate the characters and the fact that it celebrates middle age and women, in particular. Donna Sheridan (a spirited and feisty Sara Poyzer) is living and working in Greece with her daughter Sophie (Jess Michelmore) as they get ready for Sophie’s wedding to her beloved Sky (Christopher Foley) and then chaos ensues.

Sophie has sent invites to three men, each of whom she suspects could be her dad after stumbling across mum’s diary. She does not expect all three of them to turn up and when they do, it sends Donna spinning and Mamma Mia! the feta hits the fan!

Donna’s two loyal friends Rosie (Nicky Swift) and Tanya (Sarah Earnshaw) offer moral support and a few songs, as they were all conveniently (for the plot) part of a girl band back in the day. The three exes-  Sam (Richard Standing), Harry (Neal Craig) and Bill (Phil Corbitt) all arrive ready to do a Darth Vader turn and say “I am your Father” – as Sophie begins to have second thoughts about her Big Fat Greek Wedding.

As you have probably gathered the plot does not really matter, but is not to be dismissed, as it does weave the songs in as opposed to hammer them into the storyline awkwardly and you do care about these characters.

Like many big musicals, the ensemble provide the backbone and whenever they are on stage in the glorious group numbers, such as “Gimme! Gimme Gimme!” and “Voulez-Vous” Mamma Mia! jet skis its way into your heart, as the energy they bring is infectious and they have the moves and vocals to make the show soar.

Sara Poyzer brings strength and resilience to Donna and she delivers “The Winner Takes It All” as if she is running the London Marathon, and she knows when to hit the big note and when she does, the audience cheer her on. Nicky Swift is excellent as Rosie and has great comic timing, as does Sarah Earnshaw who gives Tanya far more than is on the page.

Richard Standing, Neal Craig and Phil Corbitt have a ball as the three possible dads, and their encore provides them with a Nancy Sinatra moment. Jess Michelmore gives Sophie light and shade and her vocals have a purity to them. Christopher Foley is funny and game as Sky and when he is in group scenes with Sky’s pals, he really flies.

Mark Thompson’s set is suitably Greek and with the blue chairs and white walls and Anthony Van Laast’s choreography is as great as you remember.

This really is the mother of jukebox musicals, scrub that – the Mamma of Jukebox musicals and it brings on Summer at a time when you really need it. And by the close of the show you will be singing the words to the iconic hit “Dancing Queen” without a care in the world.

Almost twenty five years on Mamma Mia! is still making “Money, Money, Money” and you can see why. It is Ab Fab.

Mamma Mia! is at the Opera House until 11th February and you can book tickets here.


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