As a longtime ABBA fan (I was at their Melbourne concert in 1977), I had very high expectations of what CLOC would deliver in staging Mamma Mia!. Thankfully, CLOC not only delivered, they exceeded those very high expectations.

The experience of Director Craig Wiltshire shines through this production. Fans of Mamma Mia! will be delighted with the fresh, new take on this much loved musical. Wiltshire has kept all the spectacle and fun, but has also captured the heart and emotion of this story. All the iconic moments are there, but Wiltshire has certainly made some very clever directorial decisions to give this production a completely new look and feel. I won’t go into details, but there were audible gasps in awe during the opening scene of the show, which confirmed in the first minutes that this production of Mamma Mia! was going to be something very special.

Choreography, also by Craig Wiltshire, is crisp and sharp, and superbly executed by the full ensemble cast. The energy levels from the entire cast are incredibly high and the show feels very well rehearsed and quite settled for an opening night.

A detailed and lavish set design, by Sally Martin, immediately transports the audience to the Greek islands. Projections are used throughout the show, but are mostly just in the background until a few key moments in the show. In particular, the projections really highlight Sophie’s confusion in the dream sequence during ‘Under Attack’.

Costumes, designed by Brian Mission, are beautifully colour coordinated. Each performer has their own unique look, but the colours blend to provide a sumptuous, visual feast. As the show progresses, so too does the colour palette, beginning with the calming blues and whites of the Mediterranean, and culminating with various shades of pinks and oranges. Costumes are further highlighted by stunning millinery by Christina Scott. Wig and make up design by Natalie Della Grazia is expertly done, with Tanya’s wig by Jenny Barratt, a highlight.

Ask any professional cast of Mamma Mia! and they’ll be quick to explain the surprising complexity of the music by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus. Under the guidance of Musical Director Tony Toppi, the much-loved songs of ABBA come to life.

Rosa McCarty will already be a familiar face to regular CLOC patrons, after taking on the roles of Elphaba (Wicked) and Mary Poppins, amongst others. Stepping into the role made famous by Meryl Streep in the film adaptation, McCarty is outstanding in the role of Donna Sheridan, with powerhouse vocals and a confident stage presence. Her passionate and heart-wrenching performance of ‘The Winner Takes It All’ is a real highlight.

Pam Christie Birkett and Carolyn Waddell provide much of the lighter moments as Donna’s best friends Tania and Rosie and both are perfectly suited to their roles.

India Morris is delightful as Sophie Sheridan, the young woman trying to find her dad to walk her down the aisle of her big, white wedding. She has a beautiful, but powerful voice and her rendition of ‘The Name of the Game’ is incredibly heartfelt.

Ric Birkett, Barry Tudor and Rick Howden are all perfectly cast as Sophie’s potential fathers: Sam, Harry and Bill. Luke Bortignon is well suited as Sophie’s love interest, Sky.

Rounding out the strong cast are Charlotte Page and Breanna Stuart as Sophie’s bridesmaids, with Mitchell Groves and Chris Rogers as Pepper and Eddie. Special mention must be given to Mitchell Grove’s dance routine in ‘Does Your Mother Know’ which is executed just as well as any professional dancer you’ll see on the mainstage.

Mamma Mia! is CLOC at its very best. It’s as dazzling as a mirror ball, but with all the heartfelt emotion of an ABBA song during their breakup years. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and you’ll leave with a smile on your face.

Fans of Mamma Mia! will not be disappointed by this latest offering, and in fact will be pleasantly surprised by this fresh take. For those who are only familiar with the movie (and there were certainly some in the opening night audience) go see CLOC’s production – it’s better. Thank you for the music CLOC!

Mamma Mia! is now playing for a limited season at the National Theatre, St Kilda.

For tickets: https://cloc.org.au/event/mammamia/

Photo credit: Ben Fon

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