REVIEW: Mamma Mia! by Townsville Choral Society

Deborah O'Toole as Donna in Townsville Choral Society's production of Mamma Mia! IMAGE: Chrissy Maguire

I’ve never really been an ABBA fan. Their campy, bubble-gum-esque tunes usually drive me to switch off the radio, vacate the dancefloor or roll my eyes at an unimaginative soundtrack choice. But the Townsville Choral Society’s production of Mamma Mia! could just sway me to come ‘round.

The show is exactly what you’d expect from a summer musical set in the Greek Islands and stitching together some of the biggest pop hits of all time. The story follows Sophie (Courtney Dibben), who’s invited three men – each of whom may be the father she’s never met – to her big white wedding, unbeknown to her mother, Donna (Deborah O’Toole), who thought she’d left the heartache of a fleeting summer romance 20 years behind her. Naturally, the farcical premise provides plenty of opportunity for big dance numbers, cheesy gags, over-the-top acting and explosions of colour.

Deborah and Courtney take the lion’s share of vocals between them. Deborah is an absolute powerhouse and her moving rendition of ‘Winner Takes It All’ was a climactic point that earned her suitable cheers from the audience. Donna’s moments of strength were humanised by more tender moments between her and Sophie, with ‘Slipping Through My Fingers’ providing a touching insight into the relationship between the two characters.

Courtney Dibben (centre) and the cast of Mamma Mia! IMAGE: Chrissy Maguire

Courtney imbued Sophie with a sweetness and sense of hope that made the audience warm to her immediately; although there were some jarring moments were Sophie’s sudden sexiness felt strange and out of character. Courtney’s vocals were wonderful and she certainly rose to the mammoth task of holding the rest of the cast together as the central character.

The three Fathers – Sam (Luke Reynolds), Harry (Andrew Higgins) and Bill (Glenn McCarthy) – each brought something of their own. Andrew was loveable as the reformed bad boy Harry Bright, who had clearly shared a beautiful friendship with Donna; Glenn was enigmatic as the lone-wolf writer, Bill, slowly softening to the idea of settling down; and Luke made for a suave playboy still stoking an old flame. Each Father was wonderful individually, but it was the brotherly dynamic they shared as a collective that made their performances particularly enjoyable.

FROM LEFT: Glenn McCarthy, Luke Reynolds, Andrew Higgins and Deborah O’Toole in Mamma Mia! IMAGE: Chrissy Maguire

Similarly, Donna’s best friends Rosie (Sandra Neal) and Tanya (Jodie Bell) – aka The Dynamos – bring oodles of laughs thanks to their shared chemistry, spot-on comedic timing and easy stage presence. Both deliver some incredible solos as well and it’s clear to see they’re having as much fun as their characters throughout the show.

The lead cast is backed by some wonderful supporting actors including Sam Stewart as Sky, Jacob Martinez as the hilarious Pepper, Sam Taylor as Eddie, Madison Tomarchio as Ali and Josie Power as Lisa. The rest of the ensemble is also energetic and enthusiastic from start to finish.

Under the Direction of Lindsay Nobile every element of Mamma Mia! contributes to the show’s overall appeal. The main set, a two-storey Greek taverna designed by Chris Nobile, packs some serious wow-factor and is utilised to its full extent throughout the show. Donna’s wheel-in-wheel out bedroom is also impressive, and I enjoyed spotting the different details such as wall hangings, photos of Sophie on the chest of drawers, and the monogrammed trunk, which helped the room feel ‘lived in’. But for me, the highlight was the simple set of white drops used to indicate the beach – they contrasted beautifully with the intricacy of the rest of the set and, although much more abstract than everything else, didn’t detract from the dreamy coastal romance that had been established. I must also mention the effortlessness of scene changes throughout this show: on several occasions the cast and crew managed to strike entire sets before I’d even noticed it was happening – a combination of fast work on their part and clever sleight of hand by Lindsay.

Deborah O’Toole stars in Mamma Mia! at the Townsville Civic Theatre until 8 February 2020. IMAGE: Chrissy Maguire

Katie-Anne Grice’s choreography was fresh and fun, delivering some great visual moments including Donna suspended in a small boat during ‘Money, Money, Money’; an enormously endearing kick-line of flipper-clad gents; and a dream sequence that was softly terrifying.

The Band, lead by Paul Neilson, and vocals, directed by Claire Davies, were faultless and I loved picking up on the beautiful layers of textured sound throughout the show.

The costumes were light and airy and I enjoyed the well-considered colour palettes used throughout. The opening night performance was also free of the common light and sound glitches that are often experienced during a first show.

As is often the case with shows that are driven by the desire to incorporate specific songs, the story and some characters are lacking a little in development. For example, why did Bill’s Aunt Sophia leave Donna all that money in her will?; why is Sky a bit of a jerk?; and would three men really so happily come to the conclusion that they do? (I’m trying to avoid spoilers on this last one!) Nevertheless, these little plot holes do not pull from what is simply a fun and frivolous night at the theatre.

If you like ABBA, you’ll love Mamma Mia!; and if you don’t like ABBA, you may be persuaded to reconsider.

Catch Townsville Choral Society’s production of Mamma Mia! until 8 February 2020.

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