Musicals are ludicrous. However tragic the tale – the stabbings of West Side Story, the AIDS deaths of Rent, the prisoners and prostitutes of Les Misérables – the moment the leads burst into song, the gravity evaporates.
And no one knows this better than the makers of Mamma Mia!, the adap of the ABBA jukebox musical that’s played to 30m worldwide. Because every time Meryl Streep’s single mother Donna or Pierce Brosnan’s long-lost lover Sam start to sing, it’s with an implicit wink to the audience – we’re all in on the joke and it’s a good one.
About to wed beau Sky (Dominic Cooper), Donna’s daughter Sophie (Mean Girls’ Amanda Seyfried) longs for a father to give her away. Having found mom’s old diary, Sophie knows she has three potential pops – American Sam, British Harry (Colin Firth) and Swedish Bill (Stellan Skarsgård) – and decides to secretly invite them all to the Greek-island wedding…
You could attribute Mamma Mia!’s appeal to the killer back catalogue, but there’s also some smart staging on show, from the understated (and admittedly ragged) choreography and sung-live numbers to the key change in ‘Lay All Your Love On Me’ as the action flips from the stag to the hen do. Then there’s the actual Greek chorus popping up like a punchline, Benny and Bjorn’s Easter egg cameos and encores after the main action that tear down any remnants of the Fourth Wall and demand you sing along.
There are few more stirring moments than the women of the village downing tools to celebrate themselves in ‘Dancing Queen’, while the sun-burnished Seyfried is surely the year’s most adorable screen bride. And though the supporting cast play it for laughs, Streep provides the heart of the show, her independent Donna spinning from hardship and heartbreak to happiness, pirouetting on the jetty and bearing her bruised soul on a clifftop. You may have already decided to dislike it – but if you change your mind…
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