Review: Mamma Mia! at The Palace Theatre

Pic Brinkhoff-MÂgenburg
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Mamma Mia! is almost 20 years old. Since it opened in London in 1999, it has gone global, with many international tours. Meryl Streep loved it so much on Broadway that she stepped into lead character Donna’s dungarees and sandals for the hit film.

With the movie sequel featuring Cher about to be released, the campery has been turned up to eleven. So what better time to see the show on tour?

Mamma Mia! is one of the most successful jukebox musicals of all time. Many have followed. We have had the good (Carole King’s Beautiful), the baffling (We Will Rock You!), and the downright awful. Monkee Business, anyone?

So what is it that makes this Abba musical stand out from the crowd, like a Super Trouper (sorry)?

Pic Brinkhoff-MÂgenburg

Catherine Johnson’s narrative written around these sometimes epic songs has a clever, knowing, and often cheesy glint in its eye.

The plot, which revolves around a young girl called Sophie (played with genuine spirit by Lucy May Barker) and her quest to find her father, may be as slim as the original notes for a Katie Price novel, but it still manages to engage you every step of the way.

The setting helps. Donna, the lead character, lives in Greece, so you are whisked away to one of your favourite holiday destinations. Manchester may experiencing a Mediterranean summer at the moment, but imagine if it was raining. Mamma Mia! brings more sunshine than Morecambe and Wise.

This show knows its audience and, as a result, it continues to rake in the Money, Money, Money (stay with me, there’s more).

The way the songs are sutured into the narrative often makes you laugh at the sheer cheek of it all.

The Winner Takes It All, a blindingly good song, is placed in the hands of the lead character as she talks about her past and present to the man who let her get away.

Dancing Queen becomes about empowerment, as Donna and her two best friends dance around the bedroom and sing into anything lying around on the floor, just like an Abba fan would.

Shona White is brilliant as Donna Sheridan and appeals to the core audience as she feels real.

Her chemistry with Lucy May Barker is beautifully realised, especially during the heartfelt Slipping Through My Fingers.

Nicky Swift and Helen Anker do far more with their roles than is on the page. They play best friends Rosie and Tanya, merely stereotypes, but they play them incredibly well, delighting the audience with their quips and slapstick comedy.

The three possible dads, Sam (Tamlyn Henderson), Harry (Daniel Crowder), and Bill (Matthew Rutherford), are all game and you do believe that they share a past with White’s Donna. They share some great scenes, generating laughter at every turn.

The hard working ensemble takes the likes of Voulez-Vous and Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! and dance their sandals off till the straps break, with the result that these songs become exhilarating and their energy is completely infectious.

The great thing about the show is that just when you think the story needs to get a move on, along comes an Abba song, making you forget your woes like an ice lolly in a heatwave.

Mamma Mia! may have more cheese than a Greek salad and has become such a cash cow that it seems to be everywhere, but the commitment of the cast, the dazzling choreography and the brilliant songs mean that everything comes together and you end up digging the Dancing Queen on the tram home, shouting I Do, I Do, I Do to anyone sober enough to notice.

Mamma Mia! is at The Palace Theatre until 14 July.

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