If I tell you this show is possibly the best I’ve seen in South Africa, will you think I’ve turned into a pop-tart?
It’s Abba, for goodness sake, and a silly love story about a girl trying to figure out which of three middle aged men is her father on the eve of her wedding. All done to those songs we once pretended we didn’t like. You know the ones. Voulez-Vous, Money, Money Money, SOS and I Have A Dream.
And it’s absolutely brilliant. In fact the superlative police will arrest me for throwing in too many gushing adjectives. Just like the fashion police would have a ball on a stage filled with white plastic platforms, pink catsuits and flared sliver trousers.
From the minute the curtain rises the sparkle and energy is obvious. After five minutes it’s becoming a party as much as a piece of theatre.
Mamma Mia played in South Africa several years ago, and it was good. Very good. But I don’t remember it being this incredibly powerful, this slick and tight, this overwhelmingly wonderful. See, here I go again with the superlatives.
Get a grip girl, and do some real analysis. Well, the scene-stealers are undoubtedly the fabulous comic pairing of buxom Ilse Klink and foxy Kate Normington as Rosie and Tanya. They play the best friends of once free-spirited Donna (Gina Shmukler), whose daughter is about to marry at the ridiculous age of 20, triggering a reunion of three wise but wild women on a Greek island where Donna runs a taverna.
Klink and Normington are so outrageously good that it hurts. Their comic timing is perfect, and the warm, cheeky script just crackles with gorgeous little verbal and physical gems that make the story funnier and saucier.
Choreography is inventive and action-packed. When the whole ensemble of 31 is dancing in multi-coloured costumes you don’t want to look left in case you miss something special on the right. The flipper dance will have you in stitches.
There isn’t a moment when the show isn’t totally engrossing. The scenery is simple but works a treat, with sliding buildings that turn around to be an interior or exterior, while the inventive touch of a suspended tree instantly turns the stage set into a Mediterranean village. The lighting is spot-on too, building the moods of bright summer sun or dark, broken dreams.
A six-piece band adds a few electronic tweaks to some of the classic songs, but just enough to make them a little more fitting, especially when the words are twiddled to slide them into the story. Klink is at her best in those moments, tentatively circling the crying Donna before asking “Chiquitita, tell me what’s wrong?” or making a play for Bill by saying: “If you change your mind…” Oh, you get goosebumps just remembering it.
What makes the storyline so perfect is that songs are worked in flawlessly. If you sat down to write a musical score to match the plot you couldn’t come up with anything better. It’s never a case of stop and sing the next song, it all flows perfectly as the lyrics move the plot forward.
When Shmukler heartbreakingly sings The Winner Takes It All, the power and emotions are overwhelming. It’s a spellbinding moment.
The men are outshone all the way. It’s not that Neels Clasen, Murray Todd and Anrich Herbst as the potential dads Harry, Bill and Sam aren’t great, but it’s the women who have you mesmerised. Although when Herbst sings Knowing Me, Knowing You, you could cry for him. In fact I think I did.
Abba’s music was always a roller coaster of ups and downs, soaring loves and desperate heartaches, and perhaps the buzz in the audience is partly because we have lived these songs ourselves.
Mamma Mia runs at Montecasino’s Teatro until November 30.
For more of Lesley’s musings follow the links alongside.