Mamma Mia. Presented by Showbiz Christchurch. Director/Choreographer Stephen Robertson. Musical Director Richard Marrett. Isaac Theatre Royal, 31 March – 16 April, 2016. Reviewed by Kineta Knight Booker.

Have you ever been to a production where the male ensemble steals the show? Or where the backing vocalists are just as sensational as the onstage performers?

Showbiz’s Mamma Mia is an absolute standout production – from the lycra and lighting through to the distinctive full ABBA sound (with no less than four keyboards!) supervised beautifully by Richard Marrett.

Based on the book by Catherine Johnson, with music and lyrics by ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, the story is centred around 20-year-old Sophie and her upcoming wedding. She finds an old diary of her mother’s (Donna) and decides to invite three men written about to the Greek island she lives on with her mother hoping one of them is her father.

The story itself is simple but it’s the characters and music that makes it a success.

Mamma Mia is driven by its big company numbers. The dancing, the singing, the bright costumes and even brighter smiles. Money, Money, Money shows the darker side to ABBA’s songs, which was staged in a strong but beautiful way. It was just the start of the showcase of talent from Juliet Reynolds Midgley (Donna). Her voice has a faultless strength and sincerity to it, whether it be in the company numbers or ballads – in particular Slipping Through My Fingers and The Winner Takes It All.

A welcome addition back to Christchurch was Matt Pike (Sam). He brought a great deal of warmth to the stage, and his S.O.S. duet with Reynolds Midgley was one of the most powerful moments in the show. Almost a moment of reflection for the audience – either captured by the story of Sam and Donna, or the history of their own lives.

The male ensemble was certainly a crowd pleaser, especially during Lay All Your Love On Me and in Tanya’s (Sarah Greenwood) Does Your Mother Know number. Nicky Marshall is a cheeky talent and plays the role of Pepper well.

The duo of Greenwood and Sarah Kelly (Rosie) was a hoot to watch. Kelly’s natural comic talent came easily with the role and Greenwood’s ‘banana’ had those not already laughing – guffawing. Together with Reynolds Midgley they make up Donna and the Dynamos – an absolute super trouper of a trio.

With such a large production it’s hard to get everything perfect. Unfortunately there were a few sound issues with lead mics not going on at the right time for dialogue and often the leading men’s mics were not loud enough during their numbers or company songs, and during Dancing Queen (although a fantastic number) the balance of the backing vocals drowned out the girls onstage. But this is just being picky, in an otherwise faultless show.

However, the lighting was spectacular. Standout numbers were Money, Money, Money, Mamma Mia, and in the reprise of I Have A Dream at the end of the show.

Showbiz’s first of its three 2016 productions has hit an absolute highnote, and if they’re all like Mamma Mia this will surely be the company’s best year on record.