It still feels bizarre being in a large crowd of people again, especially one full of evidently passionate ABBA fans at a musical titled Mamma Mia! The Musical. But that was me last night, at The Star Gold Coast, sitting down with mask on-face at Matt Ward Entertainment latest production of the musical. I have to say that after another lockdown period and not being at a venue for several months, this was a great welcome back to live performance.
For those who have somehow avoided seeing the musical or its feature film adaptation before, Mamma Mia! is what could be considered a ‘Jukebox Musical’. This is a show which has a narrative, as would be expected, but critical plot points are presented using the songs of a particular performer, band or genre. In this case, more than a dozen songs from the Swedish pop group ABBA weave their way seamlessly into the story – from their biggest hits such as the show’s titular number, Money, Money, Money and Dancing Queen, to some of their lesser-known but still impressive numbers such as Slipping Through My Fingers and Voulez-Vous (My personal favourite track in the show). Essentially, these are shows that can be enjoyed by those after a narrative-driven experience, simply enjoying their favourite songs, or both.
The story is not the most creative thing you will see on-stage, but it does the job well. The narrative follows Sophie, a young 20-year-old girl residing on a Greek Island with her mother, on the eve of her wedding. Having sneakily read her mother’s (Donna) diary, she discovers that her estranged father could be one of three men – who she decides to invite to attend the ceremony. Only… all of them show up, and it isn’t clear on whom is her father. As Sophie tries to work out who her father is, Donna is left mortified that the men she left 21 years ago, just so happen to be on the island at this time. The story is fun, approachable and straightforward to a wide audience. From the colourful characters to creatively delivered musical numbers – Mamma Mia! The Musical is high on the fun spectrum.
The 2021 production was produced by Matt Ward Entertainment, whose previous line-up of shows include the 2019 season of Wicked at Home of the Arts and the 2018 season of Rent at the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. I think they manage to strike that middle-ground between an amateur production and major touring musical perfectly – still putting on performances that could grace any major venue but does so in a way that provides opportunities for local performers to be involved in bigger scale works. Their production of Mamma Mia! The Musical was a solid production, with excellent cast selection, fantastic set design, solid choreography and a few fun pokes at the Gold Coast.
In the casting department, Jayde Westaby takes on the lead role of Donna. Having been involved in the 2017-2018 Australian tour of Mamma Mia!, her experience with the musical shows, and I would argue she is even better in her current role than her (already stellar) performance as Tanya. Her take on the role is a little different to that of previous co-star Natalie O’Donnell, providing a more spunky, sassy Donna at the right moments, complementing them with the right level of emotion and vocal capability to match.
Opting to recruit one of your leading cast members through a radio competition rather than exclusively a merit-based audition does come with risks. However, I would argue they found a gem in Madeline Grice as Sophie Sheridan, who has a stellar voice, clear dictation on stage and much personality. The same can be said about the other leading and ensemble cast members on-stage, with a very diverse and charming cast on-stage. While not as perfectly refined as the Australian tour a few years back, given how few performances they have had prior to my watching, they were outstanding. Emily Jade O’Keeffe and Leah Howard shine as Tanya and Rosie respectively, while Sean Mulligan, Sandro Colarelli and James Shaw each embody the unique personalities of Sam, Bill and Harry well. Sky has always been a role that has struggled to receive much attention in the show and movie, often falling into the background compared to other leading and ensemble cast members. Through his on-stage engagement, I would argue that Lakota Johnson had more presence than usual – which was very much welcome.
Overall, the music was solid, but with a significant caveat that unfortunately prevented it from being anything better. More around audio levels than anything else, from the moment I entered the theatre (when background music was playing), my ears felt like they were being assaulted by the piercing doof doof of the sound system. Being one of the first to enter the theatre, I “enjoyed” an hour of this before the show commenced, where the continual accentuated bass kicks lead to a headache. This was a huge shame, as not only was the band pretty good themselves, but the balance between vocals and music meant you could understand pretty much every line in the show without either being too overpowering. I am hoping this was a once-off issue and not something that continues in subsequent performances. As no matter how good a show is… you don’t want to leave it nursing a headache…
A special mention must go to the set designed by Adam Gardnir, which I would argue trumped that of the latest Australian tour. The set followed the usual design language of Mamma Mia! The Musical, offering a set that could be rotated to reflect either the hotel’s exterior or a bedroom. The design itself perfectly reflected what I would think was a Greek Island hotel, and didn’t bother itself with too many frills. That said, during some of the more upbeat dance-worthy numbers, they did go all out with plenty of lighting and a disco ball. One element I particularly liked was that they had a jetty sticking out of the stage, overlooking those in the ABBA VIP Experience seats, which allowed them to get closer to the audience and have the occasional (social distanced) interaction with those in the most expensive seating.
Final Words on Matt Ward Entertainment’s Gold Coast Production of Mamma Mia! The Musical
Mamma Mia! The Musical is a fun musical to see whether you are attending by yourself, having a girls night out or enjoying a nice outing with friends, a loved one or family. Regardless of whether you are seeing this exact production or another one in the future – provided that an in-depth narrative is not precisely what you are looking for, than this is a show you should consider. As for Matt Ward Entertainment’s Gold Coast production, outside significant audio level issues that hampered the experience considerably and left me with a headache I am still nursing, the foundations are all there to go head-to-head with a toured production. The casting is perfect, the choreography is enjoyable, and the set design is some of the best I have seen from Mamma Mia! yet.
If you would like to catch this production, tickets are on-sale for performances daily from now until Sunday 11 July 2021. To book tickets, click HERE.
Acknowledgement: Tickets to attend a performance of Mamma Mia! The Musical were provided by Matt Ward Entertainment for the purposes of this review.