Mamma Mia – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By @Steve Crabtree, November 2019
So, this is how I seem to do it. I don’t watch the film first… I watch the musical on stage. Footloose… Ghost… Dirty Dancing. And here I go again (pun intended) with Mamma Mia, currently on an extended run at the Alhambra Theatre, Bradford.
And on the second night since opening, the sell-out audience were in for a real treat.
“Deluge of ABBA hits”
Mamma Mia is set on a fictional Greek island. It centres around Sophie (Emma Mullen) who dreams of her father giving her away on her wedding day. She’s not sure who her father is, and she finds out that her mum Donna (Sharon Sexton) had relations with three different men around the time of her conception. So Sophie invites them all to the wedding – Sam, Harry and Bill. They turn up the day before the wedding, much to the surprise of Donna, and from there we’re set for an uplifting tale, with a lot of laughter and music throughout. A storyline to fit in with a deluge of ABBA hits.
Classic numbers like ‘Chiquitita’, ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ are all in there, and go down well. ‘Take a Chance on Me’ and, of course, ‘Mamma Mia‘ are all piled in to the show too.
And with remarkable energy, the players up on the stage looked to be enjoying themselves. As was I. I wasn’t sure what my expectations of Mamma Mia were going to be, but the story was strong and humour was thick and fast. When there seemed like there was a serious scene coming up, something to contradict the sincerity of the moment happened. A wild and wacky outfit. A number of people peeping out from behind a wall, or an ability (or lack of) to dance through serious dialogue. But still, the Mamma Mia story flowed.
The talent on stage in Mamma Mia is there for all to see with some great dancing and great voices. And the show-stopper was the performance of ‘Winner Takes It All‘ by Donna during a one-to-one with Sam in act two. Sharon Sexton’s vocals ranged from the delicate to the powerful. The emotion was raw and she got a rousing reception. I thought she was absolutely superb.
And like the rest, I couldn’t help but enjoy all the songs. I’m no ABBA super-fan, but Mamma Mia brings home just what great songwriters they were. In fact, when ‘Super Trouper’ was performed by Donna and her friends, it triggered a memory for me of singing it in the back of the car in the early 80s when it came on one of my parent’s cassettes.
Scenery wise, the set up was simple. Two basic Greek exteriors, which span round when we went inside, or moved out of the way if we went somewhere else. Initially I was expecting big things with the scenery, with the reputation the show has. But as Mamma Mia carried on, the scenery was merely a backdrop to a genuinely funny, and well written musical.
“Bradford on its feet”
Special praise is due for James Willoughby Moore who gave us a hilariously entertaining Pepper. And Emma Odell too, who took the role of the reputationally man-hungry Tanya with aplomb.
And with it being such a good show, Mamma Mia just flew by. I wasn’t expecting it to end the way it did – the marriage… the father thing. But with a happy, but softly sweet finale the cast couldn’t let us go home on a light note. So, cue the quick costume change and they were back out to fire out a few of ABBA’s big numbers again – finishing with ‘Waterloo’. With Bradford on it’s feet, we’d had a great night.
I can see why they’re here for a three week stint at the Alhambra. Mamma Mia is absolutely brilliant and although the term ‘jukebox musical’ often comes with tacky connotations, this along with Beautiful, are the exceptions to that rule.