GOING OUT

ABBA officially overtakes The Beatles as the music ingrained in every Australian’s DNA

By Giles Hardie February 26, 2018
Mamma Mia Sydney production 2018

Mamma Mia! Australians are Bjorn to sing ABBA tunes

It’s often said that every child is born knowing the lyrics to The Beatles.

And that may well still be true for the wider, English-speaking world.

But in Australia, somewhere between Muriel’s Wedding, ABBA Gold and Mardi Gras, we set aside our predisposition to Liverpudlian lads to embrace the Eurovision royalty from Sweden and like an obsessive alphabetiser we prioritised ABBA mania over Beatle… mania.

For proof one need only glance around the musical stages of Sydney to see Bjorn, Frida and the gang leaving the stage after an outstanding extended cameo in Muriel’s Wedding, only for Mamma Mia to re-open to huge fanfare and audience response.

And I have a confession. I have never really loved Mamma Mia. Not in the West End, not in its original Sydney run and not on the big screen. It has always seemed to take itself a little too seriously and been just a little too impressed with itself for making it all work.

Until now.

This latest production of Mamma Mia recognises, nay embraces, the absurdity of contriving a plausible justification for one set of characters to sing about Chickachita, about men after midnight, about having a dream, about the name of the game and about money, money, money.

Unlike previous productions - and the movie - this show isn’t overwhelmingly pleased with how clever it is. It is enthusiastically aware of how silly it is. And the production and the ensemble are here to just have a whole lot of fun.

And by Bjorn its contagious.

The cast are simply fantastic. Natalie O’Donnell and Sarah Morrison are wonderful as the mother-daughter at the centre of a Greek island wedding with three potential fathers of the bride.

The show stealers among a score of ultra talented attention seekers are the mother of the bride’s BFFs played by Alicia Gardner and Jayde Westaby who eat the scenery, and the glittery lame, with every line and lyric they are given.

There is no one star of Mamma Mia though, as everyone from the charming three fathers to the ensemble of wedding guests are a delight with every moment.

Of course it wouldn’t be a true ABBA experience without a few things that leave the audience pulling faces.

The keyboard at the heart of the orchestra - and every number - appears to have been borrowed from a 1982 Casio catalogue and it is consistently too loud and too cheesy even for ABBA.

And then there is Stephen Mahy, an immensely talented musical performer who was a delight in Rocky Horror not long ago as Brad, but who here demonstrates his possession of not only a superb singing voice, but also one of the single worst English accents ever put on stage.

Mamma Mia is not a musical about accurate accents though, any more than it is a show about the trials and tribulations of a girl who never knew her father. These are but the artifice and excuses for a night of amazing fun and frivolity with a ‘70s Swedish pop soundtrack.

And everyone in Australia knows all the words… because we were born with them.

Take this chance Sydney. Take a chika-chan-chance. You won’t regret it for a heartbeat.

Mamma Mia! plays at the Capitol Theatre in Sydney until 6 May