Set against the backdrop of World War II, Mimma: A Musical of War & Friendship, tells the story of a young Italian anti-fascist journalist who seeks refuge with her uncle in London and strikes up a friendship with the English jazz singer in residence at his pub. Billed as a world premier, this new musical aims high with its production values, top-notch performers, and ambitious musical score by Ron Siemiginowski. The narrative doesn't quite reach the same heights, however, and this unfortunately lessens the impact of this potentially compelling show.

The work doesn't seem to quite fit into any particular genre, straddling the territory between cheerful musical and tragic opera; tap dance numbers commingle with operatic trios sung in Italian. It's also light on narrative; its titular character, Mimma (Mirusia Louwerse), is undercooked without much of a story arc or internal life (through no fault of Louwerse, to be sure) - she's more of a device to hang the show on rather than a 'person' in her own right.

We learn more about the internal workings of her friend Sarah, played by the bright and sparkling Holly Meegan, as she works her way through the lion's share of the show's female solos. Both women are gorgeous vocalists, but Meegan's got the presence of a musical theatre artist, while Louwerse fades slightly in their shared scenes without much meat to her character and fewer opportunities to take the lead. Jason Barry-Smith as Mimma's brother Aldo also stands out with a rich velvet voice, and the trio between himself, Suzanne Kompass (Mimma's mother) and Louwerse later in the second act is quite enjoyable.

These bright spots for me don't fully make up for some of the show's shortcomings. For instance, sometimes an actor has to leave the stage without an exit line because they're inexplicably no longer written into the scene. There's a bizarre scene that features Aldo sitting in a bathtub in the middle of the stage while being harassed about his political views. Another scene sees Sarah spending the whole scene decorating the sweeping staircase and bar with tinsel, only for it to be promptly removed by stage crew in the following scene break.

There are many songs that describe places in the story, but which offer little to the narrative. The opening scene is difficult to follow, as we're bombarded with exposition delivered with thick 'Italian' accents. We come to the 'war' part of the show, and the upper level opens up to the interior of a German submarine and we are treated to more accent work with Giuseppe Rotondella and Joel Horwood playing two Nazis preparing to bomb the ship that Mimma is travelling on. It's not quite as campy as a Blackadder sketch, but it's close.

To be sure, the production values are impressive, with a set by Bryan Woltjen that elicits applause when the curtains rise, beautifully crafted lighting by Trent Suidgeest, and a cast that is absolutely crammed with outstanding local and national talent. Perth audiences will undoubtedly relate to the ideas that underpin Mimma: friendship, loyalty, integrity. And many will find something familiar in the account of Mimma coming to Australia from Europe during this era. It's a shame that Mimma isn't more about Mimma rather than everyone else around her; a few more passes at the drawing board could see this home-grown musical worthy of the world stage.

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From This Author Cicely Binford