The overall sound of the show is closer to pop rather than full-blooded orchestra
Admittedly, when it comes to jukebox musicals, Mamma Mia! has a lot to apologise for, although it remains among best in breed—it at least has a genuine story, even if the central narrative thrust—20 year old Sophie wanting to find out which of three potential candidates is her father—could now be easily solved by a few DNA tests. (Mamma Mia!, it’s often forgotten, is set some time in the 1990s.) Thanks to a few tweaked lyrics here and there, most of the oh-so-well-known ABBA songs slot into their narrative roles effectively enough, although some remain slightly distracting while others are resolutely square pegs forced into round holes. (The Winner Takes It All is arguably the worst example.) In truth, Mamma Mia! demands a certain degree of forgiveness, but invariably gets it—partly down to nostalgia, but also because it remains a gloriously female-centric show.
The scale of this particular touring production is best reflected in the live music, the “band” consisting of three keyboards, three guitars and some percussion. The overall sound of the show is closer to pop rather than full-blooded orchestra which, while fine for most of the songs, disappoints during the overture and other “orchestral” lead-ins. This also puts more pressure on the cast’s vocal talents which rest most strongly on Sara Poyzer as single mum Donna Sheridan and Lucy May Barker as her about-to-get-married daughter Sophie. Both have strong voices, although Barker’s has an unfortunate harsh edge on occasions; but they are, for the most part, stronger than the male performers surrounding them.
Richard Standing, as Donna’s principal love interest Sam Carmichael, is arguably the strongest vocalist among the three “fathers”, but even he has few opportunities in which to flex his vocal chords. Given his ultimate role in proceedings, it’s unfortunate that we’re given little reason to believe in the chemistry between him and Donna. (In contrast, arguably the most believable relationships is that played between Donna and “impulsive” banking man Harry Bright—played by Tim Walton—during a playful take on Our Last Summer). The production’s habit of freezing certain characters in spotlights while another sings, doesn’t help build these connections.
There are, of course, laughs to be had; not least from Jacqueline Braun and Emma Clifford as Donna’s old performing partners Rosie and Tanya, who are both seeking love in their own ways. Overall, though, this is a production that feels rather less than the sum of its parts; it hints at why Mamma Mia! is such a global hit, but doesn’t exactly explain how.