Everyone knows the songs of Abba. Their catchy songs have been gracing our lives since the Seventies. It was a pure stroke of genius of Catherine Johnson to write a jukebox musical including their songs. What’s not to love about hearing a young girl innocently singing “I Have a Dream” and wishing to find her father? Or a heartbroken mother singing “The Winner Takes It All” to her long lost love?
All of these promising aspects aside, I have always been sceptical of the musical. I have never seen the show live before and I have never even watched the film. I’m pretty sure this boils down to the “ignorance is bliss” attitude I had adopted. I have always loved Abba’s music but after the film was released it seemed to be all I heard for months on end. So at a risk of the story ruining the music as well as the over-exposure, I buried my head in the sand and refused to have anything to do with it.
This all changed when the musical landed on my doorstep and came to Milton Keynes Theatre. It seemed a good opportunity to go and experience Abba’s music on stage. I was underwhelmed with the tour cast since most had little to no experience in theatre. The most promising cast member seemed to be Helen Hobson who plays Donna, the strong independent mother and hotel owner. Helen’s theatrical experience wasn’t too extensive but, since she’s played the same role in the West End and she has also been in the Les Misérables ensemble, she has the most impressive résumé.
The opening number is “I Have a Dream”, sung by Sophie (Lucy May Barker ) and I wasn’t blown away. Her voice was strained and quite shouty in parts. So this definitely wasn’t the promising start I had hoped for. The show didn’t get much better for the first act. The stars of the show, for the first act at least, were Tanya (Emma Clifford), Rosie (Gillian Hardie) and, as expected, Donna (Helen Hobson). The comedy that the middle-aged trio brought to the stage was a breath of fresh air from the just-above-average vocals and the questionable accents.
Helen’s voice was by far the strongest so I had hoped that the second act would showcase her singing a bit more. When Sam (John Boydon) walks onto the stage, the atmosphere is electric as he and Helen belt out a fantastic rendition of “SOS”. John completely stole the focus at this point and his vocals were truly outstanding. I was thrilled when the next song was his solo. He sang “Knowing Me, Knowing You” in an attempt to pass on some pearls of wisdom to his recently discovered potential daughter. John put the whole cast to shame and those mere two songs made the whole visit worth it.
Helen then finally gets to sing Donna’s big solo of “The Winner Takes It All” and shows how great her vocals really are. It’s a beautiful song with a painful message and she portrayed that excellently. I couldn’t fault her and it was the closest I came to crying the whole night.
Mamma Mia is, first and foremost, a musical. Was the singing earth shattering? No it wasn’t but musicals are a package deal. The singing aside, the comedy was fantastic. The Donna/Tanya/Rosie trio were very comical as were Sky’s laddish pals. I spent a lot of the night laughing out loud, loving the dancing and, of course, singing along to some fantastic tunes.
So if you want to have a laugh, have a singalong and just get lost in a feel good story of love, friendship and family, this show is definitely worth a visit.