Mamma Mia! features 22 songs from one of the world’s greatest pop groups which has been turned into a record-breaking film. Two ingredients that should make this international touring musical production an instant hit, right? Well, for over an hour of watching the show at Liverpool’s Echo Arena, the musical took a bit of convincing.
The cavernous venue usually plays host to international pop and rock superstars and has been transformed into a 3,300 seat theatre. Before the arrival of the ABBA inspired musical, one wondered why the production was not appearing at a more suitable venue of a smaller theatre. The audience was subdued for the first act and the production is a little difficult to determine whether it was a musical or a pop concert at first.
The story, by Catherine Johnson, is simple. A girl - soon to be wed - seeks answers to who she is by asking who her father is. There are three possible options and Sophie dreams ‘the one’ will walk her down the aisle. Cue the 1979 classic ‘I Have a Dream’ and the format for the rest of the night – more ABBA tunes stuffed into the yarn than feta stuffed into the olives on sale in the foyer.
Fans of the film won’t be disappointed. Even the casting appears to have been influenced by Streep, Brosnan, Walters and co.
Comedienne turned stage star Jackie Clune acts her heart out in the role of mother Donna Sheridan and has the voice to boot. As Sheridan’s daughter Sophie, Miria Parvin shows star quality. The supporting cast of friends and possible fathers also shine - although Charles Daish’s accent as Bill Austin travels as far and wide as the show has, before gingerly settling on Scottish.
The deceptively simple set transforms effortlessly. The orchestra, led by Carlton Edwards, bring those unforgettable songs to life although it took until the second act and "Does Your Mother Know?" for the audience to really come alive in the same way.
The show, directed by Phyllida Lloyd, has great visual gags that can only work on stage and the dialogue is witty and more risqué than Hollywood can handle. The choreography though just can’t hold an arena’s attention although the inevitable ‘on your feet’ encore wouldn’t feel quite as epic in a theatre.
In the end, one cares more about the story than what venue one is watching the production within and those enduring songs from Benny and Björn will win anyone over. When Clune sings "The Winner Takes It All", followed by the wedding scene, the twist, and the encore, the audience got on their feet to salute a talented bunch touring the world with a very entertaining night out.