St James Theatre 2, Wellington

19/11/2014 - 06/12/2014

Production Details

Mamma Mia! is based on the songs of ABBA. ABBA was a Swedish pop/dance group active from 1972–1982 and was one of the most internationally popular pop groups of all time, topping the charts again and again in Europe, North America and Australia. Following the premiere of the musical in London in 1999, ABBA Gold topped the charts in the United Kingdom again.

Timeless songs such as ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘I Have a Dream’, ‘Voulez-Vous’, and ‘Take a Chance on Me’, are ingeniously woven into an enchanting tale of love, laughter and friendship. 

On the eve of her wedding, a daughter’s quest to discover the identity of her father brings 3 men from her mother’s past back to the Greek island paradise they last visited 20 years ago. 

Night after night audiences are having the time of their lives at this irresistible musical, isn’t it about time you did too?

St James Theatre, Wellington  
Wed 19th Nov – Sat 6 Dec: 7:30pm  
Also Saturdays : 2pm  
Sundays: 4pm only  
(No shows Monday)  

Principals – Role
Julie O'Brien – Donna
Jody McCartney – Rosie
Frances Leota – Tanya
Russell Dixon – Sam
David Cox – Harry
Mark Shepherd – Bill
Ellie Neal – Sophie
Flora Lloyd – Lisa
Brogan Wilkinson – Ali
James Gordon – Sky
Kent Robinson – Eddie
Hamiora Tuari – Pepper
Lloyd Scott – Father Alexandrios 

Female Company
Amy Stonnell
Charlotte Martin
Danielle Booth
Eddie Brunton
Frankie Sampson
Hope Fuiomaono
Kirsty Moir
Molly Gare
Skye Hay
Sydney Reynolds
Taryn Baxter

Male Company
Ben Paterson
Cade Taylor
Chris Hayward
LeRoi Kippen
Michael Sinnung
Saufoi Faavale

Backing Vocals – Female
Abigail Kempf
Adele Child
Aimee Dowse
Bronte Fitzgibbon
Desree Morrison
Gemma Hoskins
Jennifer Howes
Joanne Sharp
Juliane Bush
Kree McMillan

Backing Vocals – Male
Greg Rogan
Joe Mara
Robbie Lane

Laugh-till-you-cry / cry-till-you-laugh again

Review by Jo Hodgson 21st Nov 2014

No matter which era you are from, you have no doubt encountered an ABBA song or two. The Swedish pop group firmly established themselves as one of the most popular groups in the world in 1976. Subsequent generations who missed the initial craze have been brought into the fan fold through the stage musical which premiered in 1999 and the blockbuster movie first screened in 2008. 

Based on this history it is no wonder the audience is buzzing with excitement prior to curtain-up and claps excitedly as the beautifully realistic and picturesque Greek Island taverna set is revealed.

The impressive band strikes up with a clear mixed sound and such exciting tempi, under the baton of Timothy Bridgewater, it’s impossible not to hum along.

The MAMMA MIA! story (written by Catherine Johnson) is provoked by the Greek island wedding of Sophie, daughter of hotelier Donna. The premise is that Sophie, on finding her mother’s diary, discovers who her Dad might be – actually it could be 1 of 3 possibilities!! – so decides to invite him/them to her wedding. 

This is not just a collection of someone’s favourite ABBA songs threaded together with some vague storyline. It is a simple but intricately woven story of love, friendships, and finding ones sense of self, aspects of which we can all identify with if the belly laughs and tears shed by this audience are anything to go by.

This Wellington Musical Theatre production is part of a larger New Zealand consortium sharing the fabulous sets designed by John Harding and lavishly vibrant costumes – including the iconic sparkly jumpsuits and platform boots – by veteran costume designer Lesley Burkes-Harding.  

The lighting design by Tayla Pilcher and Jeff Hewitt transforms the set by creating the surreal Greek island light one dreams of seeing for oneself and the disco-themed LED screen makes the final numbers so much more authentic.  

Right from the get-go, the energy coming off the stage from the entire company is electrifying, and the seamless segues between dialogue and song carry us along on an hilarious and very touching journey.

Aside from the brilliant talent oozing off the stage, this is down to the fabulous production team led by Director Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, who has found the heart of this piece and has drawn it out of her performers.

Choreographer Leigh Evans creates the most powerful and intricate dance numbers from the massive show-stopping company numbers like the famous flipper dance, ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’, or ‘Voulez-vous’ and the psychedelic acid-trip nightmare scene ‘Under Attack’, to the slick trios like ‘Supertrooper’ and ‘Dancing Queen’ that bring out every ounce of the characters who dance them.

Michael Nicholas Williams’ (musical director) thorough drilling of the music and harmonies is demonstrated note after note from the on-stage company and the superb booth singers so that co-musical director Timothy Bridgewater’s job, as he now leads the magic through the performances, must be so enjoyable.

The sound mix is generally excellently clear and crisp but there are times, when the band and backing really kick in, I feel the solo vocals are not cutting through quite enough and end up being lost into the overall sound colour instead of sitting more on top. This could be because it’s a very fine balance to juggle on the first night with a packed house soaking up sound and changing the levels previously set.

Ellie-Jane Neal as Sophie delivers a stunning portrayal of the impetuous bride-to-be and has a crystal clear voice which is particularly magical in ‘What’s the name of the Game’. Her exuberant bridesmaids, Ali (Brogan Wilkinson) and Lisa (Flora Lloyd), support her excellently. 

As do their young male counterparts: Sky (James Gordon), the handsome but I felt slightly awkward, groom; Pepper (Hamiora Tuari), the cheeky wanna-be ladies’ man (from NZ!) who gets to show off his Kiwi skills with cougar Tanya later in the show; and Eddie, a laid back worker at the taverna (Kent Robinson).

The three possible Dad’s are played by the beautifully rich toned Russell Dixon as a confident but torn Sam Carmichael; Mark Shepherd as the wandering Aussie writer Bill Austin; and David Cox as Harry ‘head-banger’ Bright. They all bring their own special truth to their contrasting characters. 

But for me it’s the perfectly cast Donna and her ‘Dynamos’, Rosie and Tanya, who really make this show rock.

Julie O’Brien takes us right into Donna’s world; she makes us laugh, feel her frustrations, her hurt and her deep love for her daughter.  It is a massive role to traverse, both vocally and emotionally, and Julie certainly pulls out every stop on opening night, especially in the one the audience waits for ‘The Winner Takes All’.

Her ‘absolutely fabulous’ – yes I see a correlation – cohorts Rosie (Jody McCartney) and Tanya (Frances Leota) bring such sureness and superb comic timing to their roles that I have tears streaming down my face during ‘Chiquitita’ and ‘Dancing Queen’. Their respective show stopping numbers – ‘Take a chance on me’ (Rosie with Bill) and ‘Does your Mother Know’ (Tanya with Pepper) – are performed with such sass and vocal precision that the audience spontaneously claps along and cheers these two wonderful performers on.

When the three come together, the obvious connection between them is so heart-warming; they just beam and we beam with them. It’s a frenetic, fun, laugh-till-you-cry / cry-till-you-laugh again kind of night.   

The moments of calm – ‘One Of Us’, ‘Knowing You, Knowing Me’, ‘Last Summer’, ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ – amongst the huge list of ABBA mega hits are a refuge to take a breath and I do wish at times the orchestration and backing vocals weren’t written so densely, so we can hear the soloist without ahs and oo ee oos crashing in on top of that powerful stillness. Certainly no reflection on the great sound the booth singers make; just a preference for a moment of reflection. They could be mixed a little less prominently in those numbers.

So get some ‘Money Money Money’, and ‘Take A Chance On …’ my review. Don’t let this musical ‘Slip Through Your Fingers’.

‘Thank You For The Music’, Wellington Musical Theatre.


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Jukebox musical with catchy ABBA songs

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 21st Nov 2014

We enter the St James already knowing the infectiously catchy ABBA songs. We are then bombarded with them during this jukebox musical for about two hours.

In the olden days an encore had to be earned by the performers but now the encores are written into the show, so we hear Mamma Mia and Dancing Queen yet again at the encore finale.

And we curse Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus knowing their songs are seared into our brains for ever. Our bodies are also limp from just watching all the energy that has been expended on stage in that time.

And it is the energy, not to mention the polished skill, of the entire company, that Lyndee-Jane Rutherford’s lively direction, Leigh Evan’s often comic choreography, and Michael Nicholas Williams and Tim Bridgewater’s musical direction have melded into an impressive ensemble.

For me the best moments are always when the chorus is involved. Some of the solo numbers are marred (and it’s not the fault of the performers) by what a Broadway reviewer described as ovation-by-coercion.

The staging of Money, Money, Money and Mama Mia isengaging and the execution of the choreography by the chorus slickly timed and performed not only as a chorus of dancers and singers but also as individual characters.

What is so appealing about the chorus is that it is not made up of trim, identikit young dancers. They are of all different shapes, sizes and races. And they are all clearly dedicated to what they do.

The highlight (and it is far too brief) for me is when the young men of the island of Kalokairi appear in nifty purple, navy blue, and aquamarine wetsuits and flippers and goggles and proceed to perform a funny, athletic dance.

It is also good to see a taverna that looks like a taverna rather than what looked like a rusty old ship when Mamma Mia! was last seen here and when you add the riotously colourful costumes and the blazing pop concert-styled lighting effects our senses are saturated with the theatricality of it all in this thoroughly professional production.


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