Arts / Mamma mia, here we go again!

“Mamma Mia!” cast members, from left, Jayde Westaby as Tanya, Natalie O’Donnell as Donna and Alicia Gardiner as Rosie in Mamma Mia!. Photo by Peter Brew-Bevan

Mamma mia, here I go again

My my, how can I resist you?

Mamma mia, does it show again

My my, just how much I’ve missed you?

MAMMA Mia! It’s the Italian phrase for “mum” that’s gone global via a show-stopping musical and now a new production of “Mamma Mia” will premiere in Canberra.

Scripted by British playwright Catherine Johnson around no fewer than 22 songs by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus of the legendary Swedish group ABBA, it proved a smash hit in its first Australian outings in 2001 and 2009.

This will be a fresh production and will debut at the Canberra Theatre before travelling on to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide.

Gary Young is the director and his professional portfolio is formidable, including “Wombat Stew – The Musical!”, “The Mousetrap” and “Singin’ in the Rain”.

He was assistant director on the first show in Australia in 2001.

Young tells “CityNews” that second time round is “exciting”.

“It’s the same script, but it’s certainly not the same production,” he says.

“The lovely thing about it is that the show has been loved by Australians and indeed around the world and people who were kids when they saw it and as mums and grandmothers bringing their grandchildren, so it’s going full circle all the time.”

Sarah Morrison as as Sophie. Photo by Peter Brew-Bevan

Natalie O’Donnell plays Donna – she played Sophie in 2001 – and Alicia Gardiner plays her best friend Rosie – she played the bridesmaid Ali in 2001.

Not so for Sarah Morrison playing bride-to-be Sophie. She played Lisa in “Ladies in Black,” seen at the Canberra Theatre early this year, and it’s all new to her.

A gift to Young is that he doesn’t have to follow a set formula and nor does choreographer Tom Hodgson. The first two productions of “Mamma” in Australia came out of the West End and were seen all around the world, but this is an opportunity to take a new look.

Hodgson is creating what Young calls “a really lovely energised and if anything slightly more contemporary style – there are no virtuosic moves, we were keen to give attention to the songs.”

He is sure everyone will readily relate to a young girl who invites three men, one of whom might be her father, to her wedding on a Greek island. The roles of the women are “meaty” ones, but the dads and the male friends are more “types in society that the audience will be able to identify with”.

To Gardiner, revisiting the musical years on now as the larger-than-life friend Rosie, is “different”. Alicia spent her youth in Gippsland being driven around the countryside with her mum playing ABBA in the car cassette.

“ABBA were really strong storytellers with simple relationships stories… that means the audiences want to get up and dance, and everyone I talk to says ‘I want to go again’,” she says.

Since Gippsland, Alicia has studied classical voice at the Victorian College of the Arts, become a household name as Kim in the TV series “Offspring” and spent more time on the screen than the stage.

“Rosie is a fun role and I’m loving exploring a new character, you might say that Mamma is about love, but deeper than this is the idea of friendship, something that audiences also pick up on,
she says.

“Donna has a huge support network of people like Rosie.”

Director Young agrees, saying: “The audience likes the music but also the story.

“The emotional high points are enhanced by the ABBA songs, especially ‘The Winner Takes It All’ where Donna stands on the precipice of the rest of her life – it’s moving and it’s very heartfelt.

“And, in the tradition of classical comedy, it ends with a wedding and happiness.”

“Mamma Mia!”, Canberra Theatre, November 24-December 17. Bookings to canberratheatrecentre.com.au or 6275 2700.

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