proudly presented by The Metropolitan Musical Theatre Cmpany (The Met) reviewed October 18, 2019
Originally established in 1958, the Metropolitan Musical Theatre Company (The Met), previously known as the Metropolitan Light Opera Company, have been producing live theatre and bringing a variety of productions to Adelaide, often challenging themselves in mounting a famous Broadway production. This has seen them previously produce Boy from Oz (2014), Cats (2015), Evita (2015), and most recently, Miss Saigon, earlier this year. Continuing in this tradition, it, therefore, comes as no surprise that when amateur rights were released for the ninth longest-running Broadway show, Mamma Mia!, the Met would apply for the rights, having been approved to mount the production as their second 2019 production, producing the coveted Adelaide amateur premiere. However, while having previously mounted famous productions, the Met, unfortunately, are not yet ready to mount a production like Mamma Mia!, and need a production team which can cater for the demands of mounting such a show, and such is not the case here, as their production is something reminiscent of the first rehearsal of a school production, and not quite to the quality one might come to expect of an amateur company. It's therefore great news that this musical features several of ABBA's best hits, as this is what keeps this production from becoming one which drags on and on and on.
With a book by Catherine Johnson, Mamma Mia! follows the story of 20 year old Sophie who is preparing to marry her fiance Sky, and wants it to be a memorable and glamorous wedding, and one of the most wonderful moments of her life. In order for this to happen, Sophie wants more than anything, for her dad to walk her down the aisle, but there is only one problem: she doesn't know who he is. Her mother Donna is very secretive about her past, and as such, Sophie takes matters into her own hands, secretly reading her mother's diary and discovering that she doesn't just have one possible dad, but three. Not entirely sure which one to invite to the wedding, she decides to invite all of them, unbeknownst to her mother. What follows, is a hilarious story where secrets are revealed and relationships are tested.
Since its first performance in London's West End in April 1999, Mamma Mia! has been nominated for several awards, toured the world professionally (stopping in Australia on several occasions), and is currently still playing in the West End. Throughout this time, it has also been described as a "feel-good hit" and "the party event of the year", but unfortunately, the same could not be said for this production by the Met, as while the mega-mix at the conclusion of the performance is entertaining, exciting and engaging, it takes far too long to get to this point, which owes to a poorly cast and directed show, and a production team which is less than adequate. However, with some necessary tweaking, the show will improve, and while the season progresses, actors should become comfortable in their roles and with performing for an audience, but until then, I can only review what has been observed at the time of review.
As Sophie, Cassidy Rae Gaiter gives a commendable performance and one which particularly stands out. Whilst Gaiter has nice vocals and an energetic, lively persona and tone of voice to portray Sophie's innocence, Gaiter also provides a nice contrast with a stern tone of voice to indicate her frustration later in the production. However, she could still benefit from tighter direction, with regards to slowing down her delivery of dialogue, as at times it is delivered too fast, and therefore the important dialogue is lost and hard to understand.
Cassidy Rae Gaiter (centre) has lovely vocals and stage presence, giving a solid performance as Sophie. Also pictured Vinuri Gange (left) and Lauren Zannettino (right), as Sophie's best friends, Lisa and Ali, respectively. Photo source: Supplied.
As Sophie's fiance Sky, Daniel Fleming is not well suited, and leaves much to be desired. Unfortunately, Fleming does not have the stage presence and confidence necessary for Sky, and does not show any emotion when delivering his lines, and thus, Fleming is essentially only reading lines. He also lacks chemistry with Gaiter, and it is at times cringe-worthy, particularly in the Lay All Your Love on Me scene, where he could benefit from a greater stage presence, and showing greater chemistry with Gaiter.
Similarly, as Sophie's possible fathers Harry, Bill and Sam, Brad Martin, Lane Jones and Njal Venning, respectively, are also not well cast or suited to their characters, and each requires a greater stage presence and tighter direction. While Martin appears far too young to be Harry and has poor vocals, he does make a good attempt and presents as lively, but could still benefit from significantly slowing down his delivery of dialogue, as much of his dialogue is lost and hard to understand due to a delivery that is too fast,and therefore much of the comedy is lost. Jones, meanwhile, whilst amusing and entertaining to watch, appears to show only one basic emotion, that of frequent happiness, and therefore it becomes hard for him to show Bill's serious side when necessary. However, the acting which is most significant to note is that of Venning. Unfortunately, his performance is lacking significantly and needs much improvement, as the delivery of dialogue is also too fast, in addition to lacking in any shifts of emotion, therefore meaning that he is essentially just delivering lines. Similarly, Venning also shows no emotion in his poor vocals, which are flat and show no versatility in vocal range. Venning has potential but requires significant training both in acting and vocals, to become the exceptional performer which is hiding within and desperate to escape.
Njal Venning (right) shows little emotion in dialogue and vocals. Also pictured Trish Hart (left), as Donna. Photo source: Supplied.
As Sophie's mother Donna, Trish Hart is well cast. Hart portrays Donna well as an honest and forward character by delivering dialogue with conviction, which she complements with her nice stage presence and lovely chemistry with Gaiter. Hart's solo song Slipping Through my Fingers is particularly beautiful to watch, as is her solo song The Winner Takes it All, where Hart demonstrates incredible vocals which bring a tear to one's eye.
Trish Hart (right) has delightful chemistry with Cassidy Rae Gaiter (left). Photo source: Supplied.
Donna's friends Tanya and Rosie are played by Natasha Scholey and Trish Hendrick respectively, but unfortunately, both are not well-cast. While Scholey gives a good attempt, she could benefit from commanding the stage more, and exhibiting a greater confidence both in tone of voice and physicality, to ensure that her character is over-the-top, overly confident, exuberant, fun-loving and larger than life. In particular, there needs to be much more enthusiasm in her delivery of the "Donna and the Dynamos!" dialogue. Additionally, Scholey needs to significantly slow down her delivery of dialogue and exhibit a greater comic timing, because most of the comedic lines are lost through dialogue being delivered too fast. In much the same way, Hendrick appears nervous and could benefit from showing a greater stage presence, while also slowing down her delivery of dialogue. In particular, her solo song, Take a Chance of Me, loses much of its comedy due to her poor delivery and stage presence.
Trish Hendrick (left), Trish Hart (centre) and Natasha Scholey (right) form the energetic trio, Donna and the Dynamos. Photo source: Supplied.
While casting is important, it is important to also ensure that an adequate production and design team is also assembled, and unfortunately on this occasion, the team which has been assembled, is not adequate, as designs lacks in creativity and professionalism.
Set design by Bianka Kennedy is, while functional, clumsy, tedious and unimaginative in parts, lacking signs of timely design work. Though the set shares similarities with the professional productions, with a blue and white color scheme for tables and chairs, and two large rotatable and moveable white set pieces, one of which contains a blue door, and the other, an open doorway with a beaded curtain, to contribute to the feel of a warm and welcoming Greek Taverna, it is the static set upstage, which is most cumbersome. It can be assumed that the small platform located upstage, which has a thick rope barrier, white steps and painted with brown stonework, represents a boardwalk, however, its poor design means that it does not have this intended effect. Locating this boardwalk further downstage, constructing it smaller, removing the steps, and having it visible at all times, would assist in it looking closer to that of a boardwalk. Moreover, it would be more effective to not have the two white painted flats located stage right, as the paint work is of poor quality, and does little to contribute to the set. I can see the intention but it just does not work and is more distracting than anything.
It is unfortunate that this set is also not enhanced or complemented by the lighting design either. Though the colors are bright and have a diverse selection, there appears to be no order or purpose to the designs, than to enhance the white cyc wall upstage. It would be more beneficial to leave the cyc wall blank, as the lighting featured upon it becomes distracting and confusing, and is an eye-sore. In particular, the lighting used in the Voulez Vous party scene which closes the first act, does little to enhance the action on stage or to indicate a party atmosphere. Moreover, the use of stationary and follow spots needs significant work, as there were lacking in vital points, and some were used when unnecessary, therefore again appearing to be arbitrary and with no careful design or order.
Choreography by Carmel Vistoli also needs significant improvement, as though it is coordinated and interesting to watch, many times it is dull and lacking in energy and anything memorable. It is unfortunate that the only choreography worth remembering is that which is featured in the mega-mix at the conclusion of the show, as it is full of energy and ABBA inspired movements, bringing the audience to their feet to join in, though it takes far too long to get there.
Though the aforementioned aspects didn't quite impress on this occasion, such is not the case with the excellent costume design. While most of the costumes are predominantly bright and colorful to contrast well with the white set, and are a good good reflection of clothing which would be likely be seen on an Island paradise, it is Sophie's wedding dress and the ABBA inspired costumes which are most impressive. Specifically, Sophie's pure white wedding dress is absolutely stunning and would be enough to make any groom cry, and the ABBA inspired brightly colored satin costumes complete with flared pants, featured in the mega-mix at the conclusion of the musical, are incredible and very true to what ABBA would be seen wearing.
However, though design is important to any production, what is just as important to a musical, is the orchestra, and on this occasion, Jennifer Trijo's nine piece orchestra deliver a fine performance and play well, however, there is something lacking still, but while it could perhaps be a lack of an extra instrument or two, what is really missing, is adequate sound design, as on this occasion, the sound design is anything but adequate. It is most disappointing and saddening that this poor design means that the talent of the musicians is drowned out, meaning that the orchestra is lacking significantly in volume and sounds much that of a recorded soundtrack which has been digitally edited so that it sounds electronic. This poor design also shifts to the actors, meaning that though the actors have headpiece microphones, the actors are very often hard to hear and therefore significant dialogue (often comedic), is lost and some songs lose their effect. In particular, poor design means that the pivotal Voulez Vous scene loses its intended effect, leaving it a poor scene to lead into interval and one which doesn't make sense for those who are unfamiliar with the story. Similarly, poorly designed sound means that often the actors are difficult to hear, and need to spend more energy on projecting their voice more.
Nonetheless, though there are significant improvements which need to be made, mounting an Adelaide amateur production of one of the most famous musicals is no easy feat and does come with its challenges, and it is to be expected therefore, that it will not be without faults. Kudos therefore to the cast and production team, who have at least made a solid attempt and challenged themselves to overcome such challenges, and in doing so, demonstrate that if one has a dream, there is nothing stopping them from achieving that dream.
There are only very few chances left to catch this musical, but best be quick, because tickets are very quickly slipping through their fingers.
**Patrons are advised that this production contains mild sexual references and a copious amount of ABBA music, particularly in the ABBA mega-mix at the conclusion of the performance. Singing and dancing during this part is highly recommended, so ensure you bring your dancing shoes.
Thomas.what a negative review of a wonderful show,
I Had the pleasure to attend Final night with a group of friends .we all had seen the Professional show a couple of times before and we rated this Production as good as and if not and better in parts..A standing ovation, people dancing in the aisles and smiles on everyone's faces is something you don't experience every day..I also heard from the Front of House people that over 4000 people had attended the season's 10 performances so i can only assume that You and the 22 likes must have seen a different show.
sample of Comments from Met Facebook page
3.Such a great performance by everyone, on stage and off
4.It was a fantastic show smiled the whole way.. so professional.. great singers and the whole troupe showed flawless team work.. well done
5.Fantastic show!! Congratulations to everyone involved. Thoroughly enjoyed it
6 Loved this show. For the first time I took all 4 of my children and husband Everyone enjoyed it but the highlight was seeing my 13 year old son, who has autism, get up spontaneously at the end of the show and join in on the dancing....and he NEVER dances!! We were all stunned and couldn't stop watching him and smiling at the joy on his face....thank you! :-)
...The people have spoken...