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Mamma Mia

The Winners Take it All and anyone seeing this tour is most certainly going to feel like a Winner

Mamma Mia Tour Sunderland Empire Theatre4Everyone

Now in its 23rd year, having had over 65 million people watch it live and spawn 2 smash hit musical films, Mamma Mia the Musical has lost none of it’s appeal. This jukebox musical, penned by Catherine Johnson and based around the songs of Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaues, has all the surety of the rising sun or the - in fact when Benjamin Franklin famously wrote “nothing is certain except death and taxes” he could easily have added “.. and a brilliant evening out at Mamma Mia”.

Mamma Mia Tour Sunderland Empire Theatre4Everyone

The story of soon to be married Sophie (wonderfully played by understudy Phoebe Roberts, resembling a young Kylie Minogue in both her singing and her effervescent performance) who, having read a diary belonging to her mum Donna (Sara Poyzer – Casualty, Eastenders) decides to try and find out who her biological father is.

Mamma Mia Tour Sunderland Empire Theatre4Everyone

Her plan is to invite the 3 potential dads to her wedding; the charismatic Sam (Richard Standing – Silent Witness, the Bill), ‘Headbanger’ Harry (Daniel Crowder – Ladies of Letters, The Cockfields) and the Geordie giant Bill (Phil Corbitt – one of my favourite North East Panto stars) and surely, by the time she has met all three she will be able to tell who her dad is. Sadly for Sophie, but not for us, she can’t and, once over the initial shock of having her past brought before her eyes, neither can Donna.

Mamma Mia Tour Sunderland Empire Theatre4Everyone

Donna, on the other hand, has her best friends to help her prepare for her daughters forthcoming nuptials – firecracker Rosie (Nicky Swift – Les Mis, Footloose, Shirley Valentine) and man-eater Tanya (Helen Anker – My Fair Lady, Romeo and Juliet). Both ladies feel Donna has strived too long on her own, running her taverna and bringing up Sophie has lost the old Donna and her feisty magic. They set about trying to rekindle the girl power spirit through some truly hilarious song and dance routines making very original use of some ordinary bedroom appliances.

Mamma Mia Tour Sunderland Empire Theatre4Everyone

Not to be outdone in all this, fiancée Sky (Toby Miles – Les Mis Best Stage Debut nominee) and the guys plan his stag do while trying to keep their own hormones in check – the attempts by Pepper (James Willoughby Moore) and Eddie (Corey Mitchell) to grab Tanya’s attention are simply brilliant especially when played out to “Does Your Mother Know”.

Backed by over 20 Abba hits you know this show is going to be light on dialogue – to be honest, it doesn’t need much as Benny & Bjorn’s brilliant lyrics tell stories better than most playwrights could ever hope to. The singing for the most part is perfect, and when it slips (mainly by the 3 dads) it feels more real; I’m a dad and I believe when in the car I am Michael Bublé, Pavarotti and Tom Jones until my passengers remind me otherwise. As my fellow watcher commented “At least we don’t have to listen to Pierce Brosnan”

Mamma Mia Tour Sunderland Empire Theatre4Everyone

I would hazard a guess that most, if not all the audience will have seen the 2008 movie and hence they may think this is simply a lift from the big screen to the stage – not so. What was very apparent is that the chemistry between the dynamic groups on stage (Bill and Rosie, Sophie and Sky, Donna and her Dynamos etc) is far greater than in the movie – you can feel the warmth between them, see the little extra interactions around the stage, more in-jokes and this only serves to add extra depth to the characters and their relationships.

Mamma Mia Tour Sunderland Empire Theatre4Everyone

There are one or two notable additions to the stage production too – for instance Sophie’s angst riddled nightmare to Under Attack is mind bending (brilliant choreography by Nichola Treherne and costumes by Lucy Gauger). But perhaps what was the biggest difference was the power and passion you can feel from the live performances that is impossible to get from the screen – Sara Poyzer’s stunning rendition of The Winner Takes It All is right up there with Tell Me It’s Not True from Blood Brothers or I Dreamed a Dream from Les Mis – tears forming in the corners of many pairs of watching eyes.

Mamma Mia The Musical is about as close to total feel good as you can get. Certainly the Sunderland Empire full house all left singing and smiling. In the current climate of doom and gloom, this current tour and its wonderful cast & crew could well be responsible for lifting us out of the doldrums and giving us back some happy feels, some shared fun and a little bit of hope.

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