Whoa Mamma! This should be fun.

Sam Stewart and Courtney Dibben in Townsville Choral Society's Mamma Mia IMAGE: Chrissy Maguire

There are some musicals steeped in expectation: Les Miserables, Cats, The Lion King.

They’re shows whose reputations transcend the confines of a theatre, reaching far beyond the auditorium and backstage halls and into the hearts and minds of generations of audiences.

Often such shows – like the aforementioned three – have been inspired by source material that has already endeared itself to savvy readers, movie-lovers or music mavens. And that is certainly the case with the latest offering from Townsville Choral Society.

The Choral Society will present Mamma Mia from next Thursday, a jukebox musical crafted entirely from ABBA hits such as Dancing Queen, SOS and, naturally, Mamma Mia. More than 65 million people across the globe have seen the musical since it premiered in 1999; and it was adapted into film in 2008 starring Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried and Colin Firth.

Courtney Dibben and Sam Stewart in Mamma Mia. IMAGE: Chrissy Maguire

We learn that family isn’t always by blood. Family is the people around you that you love, and you trust, and you create a life with…

Courtney Dibben

For Courtney Dibben, who’ll take on the production’s lead role of Sophie (made famous in the film by Amanda Seyfried), the pressure to live up to the hype is balanced by the thrill of finding a fresh approach to something so well-loved.

“I think people go into a show like Mamma Mia or like Mary Poppins or Wicked with a certain expectation because they’ve seen iconic people play these roles and they’ve become attached to those versions of it,” Courtney said.

“There’s certainly the pressure of trying to bring that to the role and to the show, but also then giving it a fresh new life and a fresh new spin that’s entirely your own.”

For Courtney, creating her ‘own’ version of Sophie has had her reflecting on her personal relationships and experiences.

“I’m a mum, so that’s added a new dimension for me because as Sophie, I’m not just playing her as a daughter, I can also see her from [her Mum,] Donna’s perspective. I’m able to bring a few different facets to her that I think if I hadn’t already been a mum, I may not have been able to do.”

Courtney said finding the authenticity in each of the show’s characters had been a big focus for the cast and production team.

“As much as this show is all the fun and excitement of those ABBA songs that you know and love, there’s also a lot of heart to it,” she said.

Jodie Bell, Deborah O’Toole and Sandra Neal in Mamma Mia. IMAGE: Chrissy Maguire

“We’ve really unpacked the emotions that these characters are going through: discovering who your family is, and what family means, and the different facets of what family can be.  In doing so, we learn that family isn’t always by blood. Family is the people around you that you love, and you trust, and you create a life with; and so we see that with Donna and the Dynamos; they’re more than her friends, they’re her sisters. The same with Sophie and her friends, Sophie and her Mum, and Sophie and [husband-to-be] Sky.”

The on-stage family that Courtney has found in this show also translates off-stage; and she and the rest of the cast have used that to help shape their performances.

“I’ve found working with the amazing cast I’ve been able to have those real connections really quickly and it’s been beautiful,” Courtney said.

“Especially with the Dads. Each of them brings their own unique spin: there’s Andrew Higgins, who plays Harry and he brings this beautiful, sweet character but that cheeky sense of humour underneath; you’ve got Luke Reynolds who plays Sam and he’s got that sort of protective father role; and then you’ve got Bill, played by Glenn McCarthy, who’s so torn because he’s not into commitment at all, but has this underlying desire to do right by Sophie; and Glenn does that beautifully.

“There’s some really lovely moments between each of them.”

The cast of Townsville Choral Society’s Mamma Mia. IMAGE: Chrissy Maguire

Between the big ABBA, the talented cast and a the concerted focus on tugging the heartstring, Mamma Mia promises to get Townsville’s 2020 theatre season off to a great start.

“It’s the perfect Summer show because it’s all light and fresh,” Courtney said. “It’s set in the Greek Islands, the set is bright and airy, and a lot of it is about having fun and translating the parties that are going on and the celebration of love between Sophie and Skye.”

Catch Mamma Mia at the Townsville Civic Theatre on 30 January to 8 February 2020.

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