Wednesday 25 September 2019

Mamma Mia! The Party - Review

The O2, London


Music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus (some songs with Stig Anderson)
Story by Calle Norlén, Roine Söderlundh and Björn Ulvaeus
Adapted for the UK by Sandi Toksvig
Directed and choreographed by Roine Söderlundh

Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and the cast of Mamma Mia! The Party

Forget a 4 hour flight, airport transfers and the like because now Mamma Mia! The Party is whisking audiences straight into the heart of the Greek island of Skopelos – and all within London’s O2 Arena. Despite a lengthy (Schengen-esque?) queue for punters on arrival, from the moment one steps foot into the venue the transformation and indeed the transportation into the traditional Greek taverna is immediate and this extraordinary evening begins.

The story is set in Nikos’ Taverna on Skopelos, the island that was indeed the location for the exterior shots of the first Mamma Mia movie franchise. Since the island is now so famous, Nikos (played by Fed Zanni) explains how business has been booming and that tonight we ‘the audience’ are his diners and his punters!

While the plot line is nothing complex Sandi Toksvig has written a script that keeps the mood light hearted, funny and sharp, providing a perfect framework for the songs that everyone knows and loves, as wonderfully corny dialogue that seamlessly segues the numbers. The accompanying four-course meal proves to be as stunning as the ABBA songs – with food that is well prepared, served and tastes fantastic. Design from Bengt Fröderberg is a wonder in itself not to mention the vision of Björn Ulvaeus and Ingrid Sutej in creating such a perfect transformation.

The cast are also an equally perfect fit to each of their respective roles. Special mention must go to Zanni, the perfect master of this Greek public house. His powerhouse vocals are sensational particularly in Money, Money, Money which even sees the centre-piece water fountain dancing along throughout. Julia Imbach gives a performance that is fun and fitting as Nikos’ daughter Konstantina, delivering an epic take on The Winner Takes It All. There is similarly wonderful comedy and vocals from Linda John-Pierre, the deliciously delightful Deborah, the Taverna’s Head Chef. The entertainment is non-stop throughout with the waiting staff occasionally bursting into fully choreographed numbers and there is even the unexpected treat of some aerial circus from Elin König Andersson.

As with any ABBA themed production, it’s all about the songs. In this case the classics combined with some new additions by Benny Anderson & Björn Ulvaeus together in part with Stig Andersson are delivered by the ingenious John Donovan whose band not only constantly move around the Taverna but provide backing vocals throughout, adding a flawless and powerful musical soundtrack to the evening. And as The Party turns into an after-dinner 1970s disco, Donovan's band just gets better and better. 

There really is nothing quite like Mamma Mia! The Party. The fourth wall between audience and artist doesn't exist for a moment and the combination of theatre, dining and entertainment is of the highest order. Smash a plate, sing a song, but above all grab a ticket, because after a night in Nikos' Taverna you truly will be yelling from the rooftops, Thank You For The Music!

Booking until 16th February 2020
Photo credit: Dave Benett
Reviewed by: Davide Davidsson

Friday 6 September 2019

Falsettos - Review

The Other Palace, London


Music & Lyrics by William Finn
Book by William Finn and James Lapine
Directed by Tara Overfield-Wilkinson

Daniel Boys

When the patriarchal Marvin leaves his wife and young son for another man his family life is thrown into disarray. Trina, his frazzled spouse hooks up with Marvin’s psychiatrist Mendel, Marvin’s lover Whizzer is reluctantly inducted into the family’s day-to-day activities for the sake of maintaining some sense of normalcy as 10 year old Jason find himself caught in the middle of the pandemonium. 

William Finn and James Lapine’s Falsettos, originally envisioned as a pair of one act chamber musicals, really is a show of two halves. Act one, while slightly disjointed, is a fairly breezy affair, filled with pithy recitatives interspersed with zippy ensemble numbers. It’s all good fun, but while the show is funny, cutting and witty, as the interval arrives it also seems a little bit directionless. 

Not so in the second half. Picking up two years later and introducing Marvin’s delightful next door neighbours, caterer Cordelia and doctor Charlotte (‘the lesbians next door’), Falsettos delves into the confusion and chaos of the AIDS crisis. It’s a gut-wrenching decent – the darkening tone jarring uncomfortably with production designer PJ McEvoy’s kitschy set, with its cartoonish colour palette washed over with blinding bright primary coloured lighting. Tara Overfield-Wilkinson directs the turn from mayhem to tragedy perfectly, seamlessly balancing the laughs and the tears.

And, of course, the production is elevated by an outrageously good ensemble cast. Daniel Boys gives a masterfully complex performance as Marvin, a man who is constantly in the middle of a precarious balancing act with Oliver Savile charming as Marvin’s sardonic and seemingly self-absorbed boyfriend. Meanwhile Laura Pitt-Pulford’s Trina is as brilliant as ever, the jilted wife putting on a happy face for the sake of her family. 

Having picked up a cult following amongst UK musical theatre lovers after its well-received 2016 Broadway revival, the UK premiere of Falsettos was massively anticipated, and this production goes a long way to showing just why. It’s a shame though that it has been marred by controversy, with some in the UK’s Jewish community  calling out the lack of Jewish representation within the production’s cast and creative team. As the story centres closely upon the Jewish experience, including a touching subplot that centres on young Jason’s looming Bar Mitzvah, it remains essential that the show never dips into distasteful parody. There’s definitely a lesson to be learned here for future iterations of this show and indeed, others. 

Judging the production at face-value though, Falsettos is well sung, ultra-smart and ultimately gutting. Those who buy a ticket will have plenty to look forward to.

Runs until 23rd November
Reviewed by Charlotte O'Growney
Photo credit: The Standout Company