First seen in Sydney in 2001 and again in 2009, Catherine Johnson’s ABBA-powered jukeboxer demonstrates its near imperishability.
Haters might say cockroaches do much the same thing but Sydney’s critics have come to the party and appreciated Mamma Mia for what it is: a big-hearted story of 20-year-old Sophie’s attempt to discover the identity of her father on the eve of her wedding set to a conveyor belt of glam-pop hits.
“Johnson’s book is a vessel for the music, nothing more,” notes Cassie Tongue in her mostly positive three-star review in The Guardian Australia.
The material has dated and the jokes occasionally lazy, Tongue notes, but the show’s appealing cast won her over. “As Sophie, Sarah Morrison elevates the material with sly comic-timing and lovely vocal phrasing …
“This production, made for an Australian audience, is a workmanlike, though clearly effective, conduit for memory, and an excuse for hundreds of audience members to forget their self-consciousness and raise their voices in song at the end.”
Writing for the Daily Review, Kath Kenny awarded the show four stars and singled out Jayde Westaby for her contribution: “Her take on Does Your Mother Know? is a masterclass for the cast’s younger members,” Kenny writes. “In fact the best numbers of the night – Dancing Queen, Super Trouper – are so good because, like ABBA, they make the most of beautiful female harmonies overlaid with that room full of sound.”
John Shand, writing in the Sydney Morning Herald, likened his experience to being immersed in “a warm current of water on which you can happily float along, twirl gleefully about in the eddies of Money, Money, Money, Dancing Queen, Honey, Honey and the title song, and smile all the while. Stay in that carefree place and it’s fairly consistent fun. Just don’t peer too deeply beneath the surface.”
Time Out’s Ben Neutze felt director Gary Young’s production was “a little undercooked” but couldn’t fault the casting. “Spot-on across the board,” he concluded. “The performers manage to elevate the material through their charm and sheer determination.
“Sarah Morrison sings gorgeously and finds plenty of sweetness as Sophie, the bride-to-be, and her relationship with Natalie O’Donnell, who plays her formerly feisty mother, Donna, certainly rings true. O’Donnell’s take on ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ as her daughter prepares for her wedding is the show’s most poignant moment, and she brings a lot of grit to ‘The Winner Takes it All’.”
Suzy Wrong has a theory on Mamma Mia’s appeal and it’s a plausible one: “A wonderful thing about Mamma Mia! is the positive light in which all its characters are portrayed. There are no villains, no rivalries, and no one has to face punishment in order that its story of happily ever after can proceed. It is a perfect picture of the sisterhood, with good men providing colour and support; a strangely rare occurrence on any stage. No wonder it refuses to go away.”