REVIEW: Mamma Mia! ABBA show swings into Birmingham for rip-roaring 20th anniversary tour
The feel-good ABBA musical Mamma Mia! makes a sensational return to Birmingham after it was postponed two years ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Birmingham Hippodrome proudly throws opens its doors to welcome the audience to a night of singing, dancing, drama and comedy to celebrate the 20th anniversary tour of the smash hit show which runs until 14 May.
The jukebox musical Mamma Mia! has been delighting audiences and packing out theatres since it first opened in the West End in 1999.
Mamma Mia! is producer Judy Craymer’s ingenious vision of staging the story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs with a sunny, funny tale of a mother, a daughter and three possible dads unfolding on a Greek island idyll.
Written by Catherine Johnson, the show premiered in the West End and went on to become a global phenomenon which culminated in a Hollywood film version in 2008 which was helmed by British director Phyllida Lloyd – who also directed the original stage version – and starred Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan.
The hugely popular film adaptation of the stage show became one of the highest grossing musicals raking in over $600million at the international box office.
The unforgettable music and lyrics for the show are supplied by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. The pop band have been entertaining fans since the 1970s, and their music continues to remain fresh, exciting, and engaging, with timeless lyrics and melodies which speak to a modern audience.
The selection of hit songs from the ABBA music catalogue cover everything from the darkness of heartbreak, loneliness, loss, to the light of joy, love, celebration and redemption.
Mamma Mia! taps into the themes contained inside each of the ABBA songs and uses them in the show. The show creators allow the lyrics in the ABBA songs to act as the glue which to pulls along the narrative of the drama of a young woman searching for her father and her identity.
The music is rich and vibrant, and it surges over the audience like waves of familiar warmth that heats up the body and imagination with thrilling energy.
The casting choices for this 20th anniversary tour of the show are impeccable. The crew, from dancers and singers, are absolutely pitch perfect in their roles.
Jena Pandya plays the role of Sophie who is desperate to find her father. This talented artist not only has a sizzling charisma – which shines brightly – but she also has the gift of being blessed with a warm and soaring voice that rises to the challenges presented by the music.
The icing on the cake is that Pandya is also able to produce soulful acting and holds her scenes in some dramatic and emotional moments.
The audience warmed to her beautiful nuances and there is no doubt we shall be seeing more of this incredible young performer.
Sara Poyzer (Eastenders, Casualty) takes on the role of Sophie’s mother, Donna. The role requires a performer who can sing, swing and win over the audience. The emotional range for the role of Donna requires a great deal of stamina and grit.
Poyzer’s voice has the power to belt out the high notes, and in contrast, also to bring out her hidden inner pain. She tries to disguise and hide the vulnerability and anguish that she is is nursing, while at the same time she valiantly attempts to protect and guide her daughter.
Poyzer manages to lay bare the pain of heartbreak and loss in a raw and real manner which gives the music a layer of soulful intimacy and depth in the vast space of the Hippodrome stage.
The Hippodrome’s epic stage is perfect for the dazzling choreography by Anthony Van Laast, every inch is used to usher in movement that brings delight and zest which showers energy over the auditorium like invisible confetti.
A special mention goes to James Willoughby Moore who plays the part of Pepper. The vitality and flow of Moore’s dancing are fuelled by an energy that has to be seen to be believed.
His swift movements, timings, and rapport with the rest of the cast are spellbinding. Moore’s thrilling style and powerhouse dancing made him look like a member of Diversity who recently performed in Birmingham.
People were toe tapping in the seats, wriggling and clapping, and totally in tune with the colourful dancers on the stage.
The production design by Mark Thompson is minimal and imaginative, and allows the audience to immediately home in on the lyrical magic of the songs and drama rather than get swamped and distracted by huge sets.
The costumes and outfits are a razzmatazz of colour and retro-style that would look perfectly at home in the hedonistic world of Las Vegas.
Howard Harrison’s lighting matches Thompson’s creative production, both complimenting and highlighting the psychedelic colours that fly and dance freely in dreams. The lighting design is absolutely vibrant and lush, and it almost becomes a character in its own unique manner, conveying the moods and emotions felt by the cast on the stage.
The finale left the audience standing on their feet with rapture and joy, and the cast of Mamma Mia! returned the love by offering not one but three encores to the appreciative audience who were now dancing and clapping in the aisles.
After two years of darkness and fear, with entertainment venues shut due to the pandemic, it’s so refreshing to see people having such a lovely night out at the theatre.
This show has the magic ingredients of music, drama and dancing, with a peppering of light and zest to thrill the heart and soul.
Mamma Mia! is now playing at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 14 May