Written on: 27/11/2009
A night full of surprises. I attended the November 26th performance of Mamma Mia with some trepidation. After all, I made no secret of my suspicion that the decision to cast Niamh Perry as Sophie was partially influenced by myopic commercial "TV Land" considerations, considerations I still don't feel were in her long-term interest nor in the interest of the West End. This is why the reader should assign double weight to what I am about to write.
I doubt anyone with his or her eyes closed listening to Niamh could honestly guess her age?
The richness of Niamh's tonal palette combined with the maturity of her phrasing, creates a cognitive dissonance between what your ears register musically, and your eyes register chronologically. It's as if her voice is an amalgamation of reincarnated divas with a freshness not yet coarsened by the ravages of time. They say that youth is wasted on the young, yet somehow Niamh has managed to cheat the vocal Gods. Her performance left me both mesmerized and saddened. Mesmerized by vocals interpretively well beyond her years and saddened that a more lucrative recording career has not yet materialized for her?
Sally Ann Triplett as Donna was simply stunning. The breadth and depth of her vocal, dramatic and comedic ranges were blended to absolute perfection. The uniquely original mixture of her giddiness, confusion and anger upon seeing Sam for the first time in 20 years, made her rendition of Mamma Mia truly unforgettable. I thought I had already gleaned some hint of Sally Ann's vocal facility from a recent outdoor performance in Hyde Park, but I was wrong. Outdoor acoustics left me woefully unprepared for the true depth of her virtuosity.
The seamlessness with which she married her stunning technique to her equally insightful emotional interpretations of Slipping Through My Fingers, One of us and The Winner Takes it All, rendered them, and her, positively electrifying.
Leanne Rogers played a convincing Rosie with vocals that are simultaneously disciplined and expressive. With the Role of Rosie, less is often more, And Leanne selflessly understates her character for the good of the show when necessary. In some ways, the characters of Donna and Tanya are, and should be, bigger than life; this makes Leanne's restraint, all the more commendable.
One would think I would eventually run out of praise for Jane Gurnett; think again. Jane has found a new synergy with Sally Ann, convincing me they are genuine old friends. During Chiquitita, my entire torso began a kind of involuntary spastic movement that I initially interpreted as a combination of indigestion and hiccups only to realize that my entire upper body had been set to "chuckle," not unlike a "Tickle-Me-Elmo" doll. For about 15 seconds I was actually concerned that I would not be able to stop. The only other time I experienced anything like that was when I worked nights at a peach packing plant and became so sleep deprived that I started laughing at a joke and continued uncontrollably for approximately 20 minutes. It was a temporary but very real psychotic episode brought on by sleep deprivation.
So thank you Jane, your physical comedy and expert timing caused me to lose control of my laugh reflex. You really should come with a medical warning. Sam Carmichael as played by Norman Bowman was excellent. He possesses an exceptional voice and uses it to genuine dramatic effect. Without a believable Sam, Donna's job becomes much more difficult which, thankfully, is not the case with Norman Bowman.
The other dads were more than just believable, they were authentic. Well done Paul Ryan as Harry Bright, and Bill Austin's stand in, Anthony Topham. A brief note on demographics. One of the nicer things about Mamma Mia historically, has been the general level of civility in the audience, typically a bit older, better heeled, dressed and spoken than your average beer-swilling Wicked audience member. I have now detected a definite slide toward the "Wicked end" of the gene pool, and actually don't blame "TV Land" nearly as much as "Movie Land." So for all of you hen party gals who got lost on the way to the ABBA Sing Along, do all of us a huge favor, stay home and watch Mamma Mia the Movie projected onto the giant plasma TV mounted on your cave wall.
Think about it:
1. it's much cheaper than a theatre ticket,
2. it saves you the agony of trying to find fake fur-lined Eskimo boots to match your fake fur-lined, standard-issue Vicky Pollard neoprene coat,
3. you can really get blasted without having to pay 4 pounds for a cheap champagne served in even cheaper plastic glasses,
4. You can reduce carbon emissions by drinking directly out of the bottle not to mention the general improvement to the aesthetics your absence will bring to the city,
5. You can sing along as loudly as you wish with Meryl Streep, which ironically, will probably make you both in tune with each other,
6. If you start your party early enough, you may have time to catch X Factor where you can spend, voting for your favorite act, what you would have spent on a theatre ticket even though it will no doubt be your second choice in light of Jedward's recent exit,
And finally, if you still feel compelled to grace the big city with all your refined charms and urbane elegance, you can always go to the brand new and much anticipated production of "Dumb and Dumber, the Musical," starring, you guessed it, Jedward where you will actually be encouraged to sing along, out of tune, and hence, in tune, with those equally charming twins.
Speaking of X Factor, if TV Land casting it is indeed a new economic, and inescapably necessary evil to ensure West End survival, then I'd like to nominate another Lucy for the next Sophie, Lucy Jones!
Since so many cave dwellers seem to have gotten lost on the way to the Mamma Mia sing along, the absolute minimum courtesy the pathetically impotent theatres could do would be to make an announcement asking the fake fur-lined audience members to please refrain from singing until the very end. Last night I actually had a nightmare where I was surrounded by a chorus of fur-lined celebrity riff-raff led by Katie Price and Jedward singing spectacularly off-key in my ear. It was called "I'm a critic, get me out of here!"
P.S., at the risk of angering the Gods, the Pantheon has now been expanded. Make room for Sally Ann!