Canberra came of age in the world of musical theatre last night in hosting the official opening of the Australian premiere of a new production of global musical phenomenon Mamma Mia!
Too long the poor cousin of our bigger Australian city counterparts when it comes to musical theatre productions, Canberra proved its credentials last night as a city providing a passionate and appreciative audience with a strong love for the genre.
The response was aided by a strong production cast who sang, danced and acted their way into the hearts of an ecstatic audience who showed their enjoyment with a standing ovation at the end – following of course by more singing and dancing.
The seemingly timeless popularity of ABBA hits and their sheer fun factor is the basis for this exciting new production by Michael Coppel, Louise Withers and Linda Berwick with music and lyrics by ABBA originals Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus.
The stand out performer at last night’s premiere at the Canberra Theatre Centre was Natalie O’Donnell who played the role of mother-of-the-bride Donna Sheridan. In a poignant twist Natalie, who made her professional debut in Les Miserables in 1998, starred as the daughter Sophie in the original Australian production of Mamma Mia! in 2001.
Her maturity and talent 16 years later has been borne out in her beautiful voice which captivated the audience in between bouts of laughter at the antics of the cast.
The role of Sophie in the new production is played by emerging young Australian actress Sarah Morrison who is known to Canberrans for her lead role in the musical Ladies in Black.
Sarah was another strong performer in last night’s premiere, engaging the audience not just with her lovely voice but with her delightful portrayal of a young bride-to-be intent on finding out who her father is out of three possible contenders.
It would be difficult to fault any of the performers in last night’s official opening event, with their high energy, fun character portrayals, rich voices and clear enjoyment of their roles.
The dancing was also a standout for the musical in terms of choreography, timing, humour and the occasional acrobatic feats performed by Sam Hooper who played Pepper in the production and leant it a wow factor with his huge flips.
The set for Mamma Mia’s opening performance in Canberra was perhaps not of the big scale you see with some musicals, as the same Greek taverna provided a backdrop for the whole performance. However, the moving of furniture and props was cleverly executed to give the impression of a series of very different scenes.
The cast also wasn’t huge in number – think Les Miserables by comparison – but suited the needs of the show.
The show features 22 of ABBA’s greatest hits and keeps quite close to the plot of the Mamma Mia! movie with Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Amanda Seyfried. The way sometimes lightweight ABBA songs are wound into deeper parts of the plot was part of the amusement, with songs such as ‘The Winner Takes it All’ and ‘SOS’ cropping up at slightly incongruous times.
There was even a nod to the Canberra audience in the production with one of the cast being told not to pay any attention to Pepper’s words in the line “Don’t worry, he’s from Queanbeyan”.
The Canberra Theatre Centre was packed out for last night’s opening, which has been preceded in the past week by several preview shows. The Canberra season runs until December 17 and is almost sold out.
A spokesperson for the Canberra Theatre Centre confirmed to The RiotACT that the premiere of Mamma Mia! is the biggest professional musical theatre event to ever hit Canberra when measured in terms of ticket sales and hype.
“There have been other premieres (theatre, dance, opera), but this is – in living memory – the first Australian premiere of a nationally touring musical,” the spokesperson said.
Mix 106.3 presenter Kristen Henry attended last night’s performance with one of her fans and said some of her friends have been keenly awaiting Mamma Mia! for more than a year.
“It’s about time that Canberra is on the map and that when we think of national shows we think of Canberra too,” said Kristen who praised the quality of the musical.
Perhaps Canberra’s greatest ABBA tragics, Tony Ladds and Allison Pyke, were also delighted by the musical.
“To have it launched here in Canberra is just fantastic,” said Tony who was sporting an ABBA shirt and together with Allison hosts an ABBA ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ show on Friday nights on ArtSoundFM.
Mamma Mia’s Canberra season will be followed by a season in Brisbane from December 26, then Sydney from February 11 next year, Perth from May 15, Melbourne from July 10 and Adelaide from October 9.
The Mumma Mia! video below takes you behind the scenes of the first photoshoot.