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SCENE IT: MAMMA MIA! The hits keep on coming

Maria Kearns


The Showtime Management presented MAMMA MIA!, currently onstage at the Artscape Theatre, promises audiences a feel-good, fun-filled family theatre experience, but whether it delivers will depend much on your attachment to the ABBA-ness of it all.

Written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, MAMMA MIA! takes themes of family, friendship and love, throws a wedding into the mix, and dresses the mother-daughter drama at the centre of it all up with the hits of everyone's favourite Swedish band, ABBA.

MAMMA MIA! has been performed all over the world to varying degrees of success, with more than 65 million people having seen the some version of the show.

Taking music so familiar and personal to ABBA fans and packaging it for the stage is always a risk, because you are attempting to both tap into and manipulate audience memory. To say the show is driven by heightened nostalgia is an understatement, as it includes hits like, "Super Trouper", "Dancing Queen", "Money, Money, Money", "Voulez-Vous", "SOS", and of course "Mamma MIA".

As a jukebox musical, it therefore has a very specific audience appeal that comes with that "knowing me, knowing you" familiarity.

There’s a lot to be said for jukebox musicals. Nevermind the sneers and haughtily arched eyebrows these shows elicit from those who regard themselves as purists; just let your hair down, put on your best party frock, and head out for what usually turns out to be a decidedly fun evening filled with old familiar tunes strung together by what must technically be called a plot but is always happily understood to be subservient to the hit parade we’re all really there for.

This is the contract we enter into when we as audience members embark on one of these two-to-three-hour voyages down memory lane: We’ll forgive any number of silly plot devices as long as the songs we all love are belted out enthusiastically, accompanied by flashy dancing and punctuated by the occasional witty quip or raucous innuendo.

It’s only when this contract is broken that the curtain seems to be pulled back and the formerly blissful illusion falls apart in front of our eyes.

This new production boasts much to get excited about: direction by Janice Honeyman, choreography by Duane Alexander, and musical direction by Charl-Johan Lingenfelder—a recipe that surely promises a very watchable take on a hit show.

Unfortunately, this promise is not kept, despite the best efforts of the show’s cast. After all, there’s only so much a performer can do to offset a rather flat staging, and even the best singer can’t out-belt an unfavourable sound mix.

Ilse Klink and Kate Normington put in commendably energetic performances as Tanya and Rosie, and Matt Newman and Tiaan Rautenbach (two of the heroine’s potential fathers) play their parts with charm and a great degree of warmth.

The ensemble do their best but seem somewhat underrehearsed. Even so, there are many scenes that could have benefitted greatly from the presence of the spirited company. What’s a musical without dancing, eh? When they are present, the dancers liven things up tremendously. Justin Swartz and Austin Tshikosi stand out thanks to their energy and sharp, clear movements.

Perhaps opening night was not kind to MAMMA MIA!—one hopes these were just temporary jitters and that some of these kinks will be ironed out during the run. If not, it might be best not to take a chance on this one, especially if you're attachment to ABBA isn't strong to begin with. But admittedly fans tend to forgive much.

MAMMA MIA! is onstage at the Artscape Theatre until 7 April 2024, and tickets are selling out fast online through Tickermaster. Ticket prices range from R200 to R550 per person.


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