The brand new Australian production of Mamma Mia! has opened at QPAC’s Lyric Theatre in Brisbane. Mamma Mia! is all about the music, so who better to chat with than Music Supervisor Stephen Amos?
Amos, winner of a 2016 Helpmann Award (Matilda The Musical), knows Mamma Mia! well. His first time with the ABBA show was in 2001. QNews Magazine sat down with him to find out what makes this new Australian production fresh.
“Some of the original cast—Natalie O’Donnell (Donna), Alicia Gardiner (Rosie) and Jayde Westaby (Tanya)—are back in the show. Other than that, it’s all new, fresh and brilliant talent,” Amos said.
“They started with 1,000 people auditioning and culled it down to 30. We’ve had the good fortune to employ amazing young people who can sing the songs better than I’ve ever heard them. And they can dance at the same time too!
“We do our own choreography and Tom Hodgson, our choreographer, created some fantastic new moves, adding an extra element to show already teeming with incredible energy. We also have new costumes, although they still have connections to our previous productions.
“The set, however, is totally different. So, people who do know the original show will find this production really interesting.
“We use local musicians in every state during the run. The sound at every venue is slightly different, so I spend time listening to sound balance to make sure it’s okay. We also test the vocals to ensure lyrics come through the speakers clearly.
“Canberra was this tour’s smallest venue, compared to QPAC, which is one of our largest. Obviously, there are differences to take into account to make each venue sound as good as it can.”
Amos was fortunate enough to meet original ABBA member Björn Ulvaeus, who came out to their Melbourne opening: “He was lovely and supportive with what we’ve done with the show.”
Amos also had access to original Mamma Mia! producer Judy Craymer, as well as Martin Koch, the original Music Supervisor.
“I had lots of conversations with Martin on how they got the ABBA authenticity into the show,” he said.
“Martin told me they got hold of the original master tracks and transcribed every single note of all the instruments as well as all the backing vocals. So, Martin knew exactly what they played. Our production started with that.
“We then took advantage of today’s current technological improvements of drum and guitar sound quality, while holding onto the iconic ABBA 80s keyboard sound, blending them together to make it fresh. Today’s audience expects a CD quality live show, so we tried to create that.”
Not everyone may know, but ABBA’s global popularity actually began here in Australia. After winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with ‘Waterloo’, the Swedish pop group seemed destined to be a one-hit wonder.
But then Countdown host Molly Meldrum happened on a promotional clip of the song “Mamma Mia!”.
He played it on his show and Australia’s love affair with ABBA began. “Mamma Mia!” became a major hit, released as a single in Australia before gaining worldwide attention.
“Molly got people to listen to ABBA, a slightly obscure Swedish group that wouldn’t otherwise have made it on the radar 40 years ago,” Amos says.
“Unlike many groups today, which are easily exposed through the Internet. ABBA’s songs are still interesting to us now. I find them extremely well written.
“In my experience, the Brisbane audiences are always very supportive. Mamma Mia! may be the only show to hit Brisbane three times, and every single time it’s been sold out the entire season.
“The casts had such a great time in rehearsals, and their fun and ease on stage transferred to the audience.
“Often the audience sings along, especially when they recognise the songs. By the finale, many are on their feet singing and dancing along which is always great fun.”
So, the take home is: it’s new and fresh and even if you’ve seen it before, it’s bigger, brighter and has all the joy you remember.
Without a song or a dance what are we?
So I say thank you for the music!
Mamma Mia! is at the QPAC Lyric Theatre until February 4. For tickets, visit the QPAC website.