Ok theatre fans, confession time: jukebox musicals are not my thing, and Swedish pop icons ABBA even less so. So, knowing me (knowing you), I have to say that I went into FM Theatre’s production of Mamma Mia expecting not to have much fun at all. Luckily for yours truly, it was a toe-tapping night for the whole theatre.

Yes, it was still wall-to-wall disco cheese, but the trick is to relax, lean into it and let the cast’s enthusiasm carry you away until you’re humming Dancing Queen for the next week. Unfortunately for my poor workmates, that last part is by no means an exaggeration.

Even if your ABBA tolerance is limited to about half a refrain of pop-tacular kitsch, this production still had something to enjoy, from the beautifully designed set, the great band and a few really stand-out performances.

It goes without saying that the production team knew exactly what they were up against when it came to casting the role of Donna. Sitting at the heart of the show, the role requires no small amount of charisma, pluck, and of course – a hefty helping of talent. Although we do of course have a slew of talented local leading ladies, I feel like reaching overseas to cast Charlotte Gorton from the UK really elevated the entire production to give it the extra push it required.

In Donna’s scenes with her daughter Sophie, Gorton and Maxine Aquilina really managed to bring the relationship to life in all its loving, but prickly, glory. In her role as leading lady Sophie, Aquilina once again steps in to the spotlight for FM Theatre following her portrayal of Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady earlier this year.

Of the two, I definitely felt that Aquilina seemed more at home stepping into Sophie’s shoes, and her performance felt more earnest and natural. Although we didn’t get to see too much of Thomas Camilleri and Sophie’s laidback fiancé, Sky, he handled the role (and his slightly suspicious wig) with his usual gusto.

I found myself dancing in my seat and wanting to sing along

Similar to their previous outing in My Fair Lady, I felt that Aquilina had a really enjoyable onstage rapport with Edward Mercieca in the role of Harry. Mercieca’s affably uptight banker is one of the highlights of the supporting cast, along with Ray Calleja’s genuinely funny performance as eccentric travel writer Bill. Unfortunately, I felt that the on-stage chemistry fell flat in the scenes between Donna and Anthony Edridge’s Sam.

Sadly, I feel that the role required a little more charm than Edridge was able to bring to the stage, particularly with one of the show’s central relationships hanging in the balance. As a result, some of the slower scenes seemed to lose their pacing and punch as the romance fizzled.

On Donna’s side of the wedding party, Pia Zammit and Izzy Warrington were always enjoyable to watch – more than holding their own against the men, the chorus and even Gorton’s impressive West End-grade performance.

Both Take and Chance on Me and Does Your Mother Know were particular highlights of the show, in my opinion. However, the top mention of the night for me went to the entire company in the number Lay All Your Love on Me, and its fantastic choreography by Francesco Nicodeme. The sight of the chorus hopping across the stage in flippers and wetsuits will take some effort to top in upcoming shows!

As for the chorus themselves, I was always happy to see them take to the stage and bring the energy up a notch. While their enthusiasm was great throughout though, there were definitely moments when the choreography could have been tightened a little more to keep things sharp in the larger numbers. Bolstered by a supporting cast featuring Warren Bonello, Jeremy Grech, Tezara Eve Camilleri and Nicole Cassar, the numbers that showcased the whole company and their considerable talents were crowd favourites throughout.

Another successful outing for musical theatre fans across the island, FM Theatre continue to provide crowd-pleasing entertainment extravaganzas. Even for someone whose maximum ABBA saturation hits its limit at one round of Gimme Gimme Gimme after a few drinks, I still found myself dancing in my seat and wanting to sing along. I guess the only thing left to say is – thank you for the music!

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