AS soon as the title of his musical is mentioned thoughts immediately turn to the music of ABBA, and with 22 Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus numbers (a couple with the help of Stig Anderson) included in the show, that is a reasonable route to go down.
The fact that this show is NOT just a procession of ABBA songs is mainly down to the efforts of a lady who grew up in the Gloucester village of Wickwar, and was a long time resident of Bristol – writer Catherine Johnson. Sitting in her then home near Brunel’s Suspension Bridge, I was told how she was invited to watch rehearsals of the original production, and asked if she could formulate a workable script from the casts adlibbing and the lyrics of the songs.
The result is a story of a young girl, Sophie, brought up on a Greek island by Donna a single English mother. Sophie is desperate to discover her missing father before her upcoming marriage. Finding three names in her mother’s old diary, Sophie, invites all three men to her wedding.
The arrival of the three men, Sam, Harry and Bill, (one of whom may or may not be the Sophie’s father), plus Tanya and Rosie, Donna’s former working partners in a singing act, creates an almost farcical situation into which the lyrics of the songs are interwoven. It’s a storyline which has served this stage musical and the successful film that grew out of it, extremely well, providing many laughs, quite a bit of drama, and a firm base from which to showcase those well loved ABBA songs.
This new tour of the show, which also stops at Sunderland, Brighton, Oxford and Manchester before travelling abroad to Hamburg, Prague and Seattle, has a simple but very effective set that transports the audience easily inside and outside Donna’s taverna.
Well-chosen costumes and those ABBA songs capture the atmosphere of the end of the 20th century visually and musically. And when not overpowered by the sheer volume of the musical arrangements, Sara Poyzer (Donna), Helen Anker (Tanya) and Nicky Swift (Rosie) take full advantage of the wonderful musical and comedic opportunities that come their way. In a score that is overstuffed with big dramatic climaxes, Sara Poyzer’s passionately delivered The Winner Takes it All still topped all that had gone before – or was to follow.
Richard Standing (Sam), Daniel Crowder (Harry) and Luke Jasztal (Bill) gained plenty of dramatic effect and well-presented comedy, as the possible fathers. After a slightly shaky start, Phoebe Roberts settled comfortably into the role of Sophie, forming a lovely romantic partnership with Billy Downs, handsome, always quietly in control as her prospective husband Sky.
Among a group of fun-filled broadly-drawn characters. James Willoughby Moore’s uninhibited and oversexed Pepper took the eye. As did the bright and breezy ensemble, showing dancing and vocal talents to match their enthusiasm.
The production runs at the Bristol Hippodrome until Saturday 2nd July.