It’s not often a touring production lives up to the standard of its West End counterpart.
But the debut International Tour of Mamma Mia! has done just that. On Wednesday 17 November the Wales Millennium Centre hosted the global smash hit for the very first time as a chosen venue for the show’s 15-month stint, which tours throughout the UK and mainland Europe.
As you would expect from a sell-out musical, Mamma Mia! delivers an experience which leaves you breathless through brilliantly-timed comedy and sharp choreography, gift-wrapped in a whirlwind of brightly-coloured spandex and glittering sequins. The dazzling facade and gleaming smiles however disguise a lack of emotional depth that really makes a musical.
Written by Catherine Johnson, the production tells the tale of bride-to-be Sophie, on a mission to find her real father. Her plan of inviting three possible contenders to her wedding, without her mother Donna’s knowledge, leads to inevitable chaos. The plot is cleverly interwoven with ABBA songs, highlighting Johnson’s talent and shedding a whole new light on the tunes which are today almost overfamiliar.
The fantastic rapport between the cast leads to a performance which fully engages the audience from when the curtain is raised until the finale. This relationship is epitomised in the side-achingly funny duo of Rosie (Leanne Rogers) and Tanya (Kate Graham), Donna’s old-school sidekicks, whose comic timing and likeable personalities instantly warm the audience to their extravagant and over-the-top nature.
The choreography and staging of the production is expertly tailored to the atmosphere of each individual scene. Voulez-Vous is the one to notice here, with choreography which flits between tempos and styles, resulting in a montage that reflects the chaos and confusion that Sophie is battling with in the scene. Sharp isolations and excellent partner work are carried out by the ensemble, who maintain an excellent standard of technique and musicality throughout the performance. Particular credit has to be given to the male ensemble members, who carry out jaw-dropping moves with charmingly boyish swagger.
The standard of the ensemble and the overall impression of the production make up for where the more emotive scenes lack. Although the vocals of leading ladies Sophie (Miria Parvin) and Donna (Jackie Clune) are flawless and utterly breathtaking – particularly Clune’s rendition of The Winner Takes It All – the acting and tension in the heavier scenes are not conveyed fully to the audience, leaving the production somewhat lacking in emotional intensity, and keeping the audience at a distance.
The International Tour of Mamma Mia! leaves you with ABBA tunes stuck in your head and an infectious smile on your face, and is brilliant value for money if you are looking for a feel-good production.
Mamma Mia! is performing at the Wales Millennium Centre until 23 January, 2011.
This article was originally written for Guardian Cardiff here.