Whether you’ve seen the hit musical on West End, Broadway or the big screen, or you’re simply a lifelong member of the ABBA fan club, there’s one event you won’t want to miss at the Civic Theatre: Mamma Mia. In fact, non-diehard fans or strangers to the show should grab a ticket, too – because if one thing’s for sure, it’s that you’d be hard-pressed to find a more feel-good local production.
Coming to Newcastle for the first time this year, Mamma Mia will be staged by local theatre outfit The Very Popular Theatre Company. For those who aren’t familiar with the show, here’s a quick rundown: ahead of her Greek island wedding, a young woman invites three men from her mother’s past to attend in the hopes of discovering which one is her birth father. What ensues is a feel-good story about family, told with the aid of flares, frills, fluoro and good old-fashioned fun. Oh, and did we mention the whole thing centres around the music of ABBA?
More than 40 years after hitting the big-time, the 70's Swedish pop sensations still have millions of fans around the world – partly thanks to Mamma Mia and its continued success on stage and screen. So it’s no surprise to hear that many involved in the local production have personal connections with the band and its music.
“I’m a bit of a diehard ABBA fan,” confesses lead actor Rachelle Schmidt-Adnum, who plays Donna in the show. “My mum always told the story that when I was literally in nappies, sitting in the highchair, ABBA would get me grooving! And then I just stayed a fan for my whole life – I still played the albums, and I would still jump around my bedroom with my hairbrush to ‘Dancing Queen’. So it really has been a part of my musical life, my life in general, for my whole life.”
The production’s director, Erin James, feels that these personal links are part of what makes Mamma Mia so special. “That’s what’s wonderful about the show itself – everybody has some sort of connection or journey with the music of ABBA because they’ve been around for such a long time and they’re so enduring,” she says. “Whether it be someone in the company, in the cast, in the audience – everyone has a connection.”
With such popular, upbeat music at its heart, the show can’t help but be a jubilant experience for those both on-stage and off. Audiences can expect to hear twenty-two of ABBA’s hits peppered throughout the production, including ‘Take A Chance On Me’, ‘Money, Money, Money’, ‘Thank You For The Music’ and many more, including the title track. But it’s also the story itself that gets people smiling. “We’re telling a joyful story – you can’t help but do most of it with a massive smile on your face,” Erin says. “It’s a show about family, about having connections and discovering them. Everybody has a question that they’re asking in the show, and because it’s set to such incredible music, you can’t help but be happy.”
For Rachelle as an actor, Mamma Mia’s appeal also lies in its portrayal of relationships (romantic, familial and those between friends), as well as its representation of women. “This musical is so full of life and energy and fun, and it’s really nice to see women across a broad age range being represented, but then also having this other side of it: the stories about these lovely relationships. Friendships, the mother-daughter relationship, our intimate relationships as women,” she says. “And I love how Donna is represented. It’s not the stock-standard ‘a woman’s got to fall in love with a man, and that’s who she’s stuck with for the rest of her life’ – she’s paved her way, and she’s done things a little bit against the social norms.”
For Erin as a director, Mamma Mia has allowed her to return to her hometown, bringing her interpretation to a show that’s known and loved around the globe. “I am honoured to be able to bring such a well-known beast of a show into the Civic Theatre for local audiences,” she says. “We’re not replicating anybody else’s production; this is our show, but it’s still the same message that is universal. I think that’s the most wonderful thing: that we can honour this beautiful story that has been around for twenty years.”
So who’s the ideal audience for Mamma Mia? Well, don’t feel you need to know every word to ABBA’s greatest hits to have a great time.
"This show is for everybody because it is such a party – it’s a celebration of family, it’s a celebration of love, it’s a celebration of music.
“Audiences can expect amazing performances, fantastic vocals, and just a wonderful party atmosphere,” Erin says.
Rachelle agrees. “I don’t think you need to be an ABBA fan; I don’t think you necessarily need to be a musical theatre fan, either. You can bring little tiny kids through to your great-grandma. There’s literally something in it for everyone,” she says. “I would be disappointed if there isn’t a whole lot of on-your-feet dancing by the end of the show every single performance!”
Catch The Very Popular Theatre Company’s production of Mamma Mia at the Civic Theatre from 25th October to 9th November. Click here for tickets and further information.