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MAMMA MIA! (article first published : 2005-03-31)

The Mamma Mia! roadshow came to Durban on Friday evening and just as it has done for the estimated 20 million people who have seen the show worldwide, it blew the audience away.

It sounds like a simple recipe for success: take Abba’s music and add a lightweight story. But the secret is in the mixing of the two ingredients and the addition of just enough wit to spoof the undeniably cheesy songs without putting the silver platform boot in too hard. It is a delicate balancing act – affection for the material combined with an awareness of its shortcomings. Writer Catherine Johnson, producer Judy Craymer and director Phyllida Lloyd got it right six years ago, and are deservedly still making the profits to prove it.

The plot concerns a 21 year old bride-to-be who would love her Dad to lead her down the aisle. Trouble is her Mum, Donna, is silent on the subject of paternity and all daughter knows is that it could be one of three men who came and went from Donna’s life 20 years ago. So she secretly asks all three to her wedding on the Greek island where Donna has been running a taverna since her rebellious days in the 70s. Donna in the meantime has invited Rosie and Tanya, her two oldest friends and one-time co-members of Donna and the Dynamos. So the scene is set for plenty of misunderstandings, fun and games. And, of course, a wedding.

The set is simple, but beautifully designed to serve as interiors and exteriors of the taverna with minimal disruption. The lighting is slick (one wandering spotlight was probably just a first night glitch) and the sound balance, even in an auditorium the size of the ICC, is excellent.

The touring productions of Mamma Mia! are major undertakings, with 60 cast and crew on the road, not to mention a vast amount of equipment. So to get the numbers in to make the show financially viable, it has come out of regular theatres and into the convention centres in the three major cities.

Inevitably, there is a loss of the intimacy of a more normal theatre – and if you are up on the raked seating, opera glasses or binoculars are a good idea. But there is very little to detract from what is a great feel-good experience which may even make you sing Abba songs all the way home.

Mamma Mia! runs at the ICC until April 3. Book at Computicket on 083 915 8000 or www.computicket.com - Margaret von Klemperer




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