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This Winner Has It All: Mamma Mia! International Tour Review

Mamma Mia! is currently the world's most popular musical. Although the show has been all over the world, audiences in the UK have not seen a touring version, until now. But how does the show stand up outside of the West End? Incredibly well when you consider the 'damage' caused by Tonight's The Night and other rushed juke box musicals.

Unlike many of these shows, this one does have a plot. Ok, the songs may be sledge-hammered into the narrative on occasions but the story itself remains strong. Our young heroine Sophie is engaged and her one wish for her wedding day is to find the identity of her father. She has three men to choose from, so unbeknown to her mother; Donna, she invites them to her big fat wedding in Greece.

The scene is then set for a series of encounters set to an Abba soundtrack which pulsates rather than irritates. The reason being, that so many of the songs suit the narrative. You get the feeling that the book came first – then the songs were chosen. This makes a real difference in terms of spontaneity. Catherine Johnson crafted an intelligently written book which moves you, makes you laugh and leaves you feeling exhilarated, complimenting the feeling of the Swedes' super-hits.

As Sophie uncovers more about her past, the songs evoke the feelings of all of the characters concerned. The supergroup's music blends into the musical genre perfectly as it has an epic quality of its own and alongside the rich narrative, a story evolves from nowhere. The audience ends up thanking Abba and the cast for the music because the performers really provide unique takes on these classic hits.

Of the cast, Jackie Clune owns the stage as Donna, the mother with many a skeleton in the closet. She performs with real panache providing the songs with real heart and backbone. "The Winner Takes It All" has always been a heartfelt number but here, Clune gives it her all – moving the audience to tears. Kate Brayben nails the vulnerable, child-like quality that makes Sophie believable. "Name Of The Game" is her strongest number – as it becomes a real soul-searching torch song. Comic relief comes in the form of Morag Siller as the stereotypical overweight best friend. What could have simply been comedy value becomes a joyful characterisation thanks to Siller's natural ability to make you smile.

Sam Carmichael is the strongest dad vocally and also in terms of character. But credit is due all round as the supporting cast provide much more than window dressing. During "Voulez-Vous" they make Anthony Van Last's energetic choreography look like child's play. Filling the stage with high kicks, flares and day-glo colours mean that there is never a dull moment even when the principals are nowhere to be seen.

Phyllida Lloyd directs with a real eye for pace. The musical never comes to a halt as the choice of songs, strong story, wonderful performances and eye catching set mean that there is never a dull moment.

Nostalgic, full of life-affirming moments and one hell of a ride, Mamma Mia! gives juke box musicals a good name. This super trouper shows no signs of age yet so Dancing Queens rejoice, as this is pure musical heaven.

Glenn Meads

(Reviewed at the Palace Theatre, Manchester)

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From This Author Glenn Meads

Glenn Meads Living in Manchester, Glenn writes for covering Salford, Manchester and Bolton. He also teaches Media, Film and English. His favourite writers are Arthur Miller, (read more...)

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