Sydney Lyric Theatre, Sydney.
27 May 2023.
MAMMA MIA! The Musical – what a show! The Sydney premiere on Saturday, 27 May at Sydney Lyric Theatre was an opening night to remember.
The evening commenced with a buzzing red carpet, with the Who’s Who of Sydney including stars such as Rebecca Gibney from Packed to The Rafters, Rogue Traders singer Natalie Bassingthwaighte and Former Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives Bronwyn Bishop, and many more – all who enjoyed a playful media wall with flying confetti and colourful microphone props to embrace the theme of the show.
Presented by Michael Coppel, Louise Withers and Linda Bewick with music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, book by Catherine Johnson, MAMMA MIA! was originally conceived and produced in London’s West End in 1999, by Judy Craymer along with Richard East and Björn Ulvaeus and includes additional arrangements by Martin Koch. After all these years, the production is still utterly dynamic and has become the sixth longest running show in West End history. Since first sharing its electric energy with audiences and critics, MAMMA MIA! The Musical has toured in over 50 countries, in over 440 major cities, to over 65 million people. In 2017, an all Australian creative team re-staged the production to present a unique Australian version.
Set in the fictional Greek Island called Kalokairi, the story is a light-hearted and colourful tale of Sophie Sheridan (played by Sarah Krndija), a young bride-to-be who, on the eve of her wedding, goes on a quest to discover the identity of her father. Bypassing her fiancé Sky’s (Lewis Francis) awareness, she sends out her wedding invitations – also without her mother Donna Sheridan’s knowledge (Elise McCann). Her quest brings three men — Sam Carmichael (Martin Crewes), Harry Bright (Drew Livingston) and Bill Austin (Tim Wright) — from her mother’s past back to the island from 20 years ago. Moving through multiple scenes and moving sets designed by Linda Bewick, what happens next is an eclectic, magical story of love, filled with laughter, music, close friendship and pure entertainment.
Sneakily prying through her mother’s journal from 1979, Sophie and her friends Ali (Nina Carmen) and Lisa (Kadesa Honeyhill) read moments from her private love affairs in an effort to solve the mystery and identify her father. The first discovery: “July 17th, what a night, after the show, Sam rode me over to the little island and we danced on the beach, kissed on the beach and…” The first humorous musical number, “Honey, Honey,” opens the show, and…the plot of the love affairs with Sam, Harry and Bill unfolds.
Krndija, who trained at the Victorian College of the Arts in 2018, and is know for her work on both stage as Margaret in 9 to 5 (Crossroads Live), Cecile in Cruel Intentions (David Venn Enterprises), and on screen as Sandy Cooper-Reid in the critically acclaimed comedy series Class Of ’07. Other screen credits include Elvis (Warner Bros, dir. Baz Luhrmann) and Olivia (lead) in Sean Bell’s The Junket (Autumn Pictures), to name a few. Krndija was perfectly selected for the role of Sophie Sheridan. Her voice was commanding, her look reminiscent of the film, and her stage presence was balanced with an easygoing energy that was fun-loving and spirited.
Donna Sheridan, played by Elise McCann, was brilliant. McCann embodied the role effortlessly and stole the show in “Money, Money, Money,” “Super Trouper” and “One of Us.” Her ebullience in each dance number and deeply felt emotion in every song she performed was a beautiful contrast; her performance was second to none. The audience went wild for every number, and the energy was electric, and rightfully so. McCann is known for her role of Miss Honey in the Australian production of Matilda the Musical for which she won the 2016 Helpmann Award, the 2015 Sydney Theatre Award and was nominated for the 2016 Green Room Award. She also played Lucille Ball in Everybody Loves Lucy (2015 Sydney Theatre Award nomination), Mary in Merrily We Roll Along (2021 Sydney Theatre Award nomination) and Lynne Woolnough in the Australian television mini-series Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door for Channel Seven.
Sam Carmichael (Martin Crewes), Harry Bright (Drew Livingston) and Bill Austin (Tim Wright), Donna’s past love interests, were simply entertaining and extremely comical. Whilst their musical numbers and movement on stage at times appeared to drop in energy – in comparison to the rest of the show – their vocals were exceptionally melodious and fitting for their scenes. However, “Take a Chance on Me” with Bill and Rosie (played by Bianca Bruce) and “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do,” with Sam (Crewes) and Donna (McCann) and the ensemble was cheerfully amusing.
The two stand-out numbers of the evening that had the audience in uncontainable laughter across the theatre was “Lay All Your Love On Me” performed by Sophie (Krndija) and Sky (Francis) and backed up by friends Pepper (Jordan Tomljenovic) and Eddie (Etuate Lutui) and the ensemble, who burst onto the stage dressed in tropical swimwear – shorts and skirts, flippers, goggles, and executed to most hilarious and ridiculous balletic seal and mermaid moves which included a quick change into a shell bikini. It was simply smashing! The next was “Does Your Mother Know,” performed by world-class performer Deone Zanotto, who stars as Tanya and exemplified exceptional theatrical charm in both dance and vocals, along with rising talent Tomljenovic who plays Pepper. His energy was zestful, and nuances in his mastered movements stole the spotlight throughout the show.
Featuring 22 of ABBA’s greatest hits including “Gimme Gimme Gimme,” “Voulez Vous,” “Dancing Queen” and “S.O.S.,” the production directed by Gary Young (OAM), with choreography by Tom Hodgson, iconic costumes designed by Suzy Strout, music supervision from Stephen (AMOS) and lighting by Gavin Swift all combined, received a roaring standing ovation with an explosion of confetti to celebrate an extremely successful opening night.
Guaranteed to deliver a night of pure entertainment and laughter, MAMMA MIA! should not be missed!
Catch the show at Sydney Lyric until July 30, Brisbane QPAC Lyric Theatre from August 6, and Melbourne Princess Theatre from October 4. Tickets and information are available at www.mammamiathemusical.com.au.
By Renata Ogayar of Dance Informa.