The TheatreguideLondon Review
June 2004: The move to a new theatre is a good occasion for a fresh look at this long-running hit, and it is easy to see why it has been pleasing audiences for 4 years.
It is the very model of the proverbial Good Night Out, a light-hearted and totally disposable musical entertainment, as well-written as most original musicals, and with the added bonus of a score of ABBA hits that many in the audience come in knowing as well as the cast does.
ABBA were always a bigger hit in Britain than anywhere else, with the possible exception of Australia - Britain has ABBA tribute bands the way (and in almost the same numbers) that America has Elvis impersonators - and the show gives the fans 21 hits on the order of Dancing Queen, Super Trouper, Money Money Money and the like, all plugged into a new plot..
Indeed, for the real fans - and you can't miss them in the audience - one source of fun is spotting the song cues, and a wave of appreciative laughter greets every spoken line of dialogue that the afficionados recognise as the first line of a song lyric.
For the rest of us, there's the amiable story line. Author Catherine Johnson imagines a bride-to-be raised by her hippie mother on a Greek island, who invites to her wedding the three men who might be her father. The various reunions and memory-searching provide a more than adequate frame for the songs, and making the mother a former member of a glam-rock girl group is an excuse to break out the spandex jumpsuits.
In short, you don't have to be an ABBA fanatic to enjoy the show (though it undoubtedly helps). The songs are, of course, first-rate pop, and the show has the added advantage of not taking itself too seriously. There's a great sight gag about plastic surgery in the middle of the mother's group getting together, and later - for no clear reason except that it's silly - there's a chorus line of guys dancing in scuba gear and flippers.
The current cast features Alexandra Jay, perky and energy-filled as the bride - take note of the fact that she can dance as well as the chorus, no small accomplishment - though the show is really built around the mother, with Vivien Perry moving and belting them out like a super trouper. Lara Mulcahy and Kim Ismay steal their scenes as Mamma's former backup singers.
It's not Hamlet. It's not even Phantom or Les Miz. But it is good clean bouncy fun, and that's more than enough for most.
(Be aware that long-running shows may have had cast changes since our review was written.)
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Review - Mamma Mia - Prince Edward / Prince of Wales 1999