Mamma Mia! – South Africa 2024
Music and lyrics:  Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus

South African 2024 production: From March 6 in Cape Town in the Artscape Opera House and in Johannesburg – from April 6 in the Teatro, Montecasino

Producer:  Showtime Management SA
Director: Janice Honeyman

Choreography: Duane Alexander
Set and lighting designer: Denis Hutchinson
Musical director: Charl-Johan Lingenfelder
Costumes: Sue Daniels

Cast: Includes Kate Normington, Gina Shmukler, Ilse Klink; Matt Newman, Emmanuel Castis, Tiaan Rautenbach; Kiruna-Lind Devar, Gianluca Gironi, Sunny Yoon, Nitshikeng Matooane, Chad Baai, Bradley Smith and ensemble  

Love. Love.  Loved Mamma Mia! – stage musical – South Africa 2024. The musical is on in Cape Town, Artscape Opera House and then transfers to Johannesburg, Teatro, Montecasino,  from April 12. Most of the houses have been sold out in Cape Town and the season has been extended and it is likely that the Joburg season will sell out, with the acclaim in Cape Town. Yes, it is that good. This is the best stage production that I have seen of Mamma Mia!

It is like seeing a new Mamma Mia I have seen the musical several times and I felt that the story was secondary. It is a proudly South African re-imagining of this musical – with the fun heightened and the narrative riffing powerfully off the fabulous soundtrack of Abba songs.

 The story is always core to Janice Honeyman’s work and in the director’s seat, she has made magic. I never thought of Mamma Mia! as poignant. This production is poignant, with grit and moments of darkness which act as a foil for the fun and exuberance that is signature Mamma Mia! The cheesy brashness has been peeled back and there are delicious additions. Watch out for the dance with flippers and surf gear. Inspired choreography by Duane Alexander.

Mamma Mia is often tagged as a jukebox musical – a musical conceptualised around existing songs. I always thought of the musical as a karaoke musical – with the story incidental and performers belting out the songs. This Mamma Mia! shakes it all up – with story and music united as one immensely entertaining and meaningful piece of musical theatre.

WOW performances by Gina Shmukler, Kate Normington and Ilse Klink, reprising their roles from the 2010 production in South Africa- also a Showtime production – but not with Janice Honeyman on board as director. Shmukler (Donna), Normington (Tanya) and Klink (Rosie) were the fab three in 2010 but now in 2024 – whoa – super trouper – dot dot dot.  (The dot dot dot is a reference to how Donna wrote cryptically in the diary of her youth – which her daughter, Sophie scours to try and work out who her dad is).

The entire cast is fab. The three dads are terrific – Matt Newman (Harry), Emmanuel Castis (Sam) and Tiaan Rautenbach (Bill). Kiruna-Lind Devar as Sophie blew me away. It is wonderful casting with mother and daughter. Gina Shmukler and Kiruna-Lind Devar look they could be related (with a very young mum). Gianluca Gironi brings a quirky gravitas to Sky who I have always thought as a prop role. He is a spunky surfer dude. Sunny Yoon (Lisa) and Nitshikeng (Ali) are a hoot as the besties of Sophie.

In terms of the narrative, the story makes so much sense now in terms of the proliferation of destination weddings – where people go out of their usual frame. They put on their dancing shoes in Mamma Mia! as we are taken along a memory trip – of youth, songs (ABBA) and how that impacts on the present and what happens next. I love the inter-generational narratives between the middle age women – Donna, friends and middle age ex-squeezes and the young ones – Sophie, Sky and their cohort. Love is for all ages. Friendship is for all ages. Knowing who we are (genealogically and emotionally) – is for all ages. There are so many themes embedded in this musical. Honeyman lovingly plays homage to relationships, family, friendship, the joy of being away from home, somewhere exotic and the dreams that keep us singing, laughing and dreaming.

The set, draped in Greek island blue – is gorgeous- alluring, seductive and is wrapped in the glow of luminescent light. Denis Hutchinson‘s set and lighting is enchanting. Rather than the glitz and mawkishness I associate with Mamma Mia, there is a grittiness and whimsy through his design and Honeyman’s tender direction. Darker moments act as a foil against the fun and joy of this musical. The protagonists – particularly Donna and friends – have fun and take the Mickey out of themselves, yes, but with reflection and the gags have deepened into comedy, rather than silly shtick.

Costumes by Sue Daniels are beautifully conceptualised. The fun and glitz and nostalgia of the Abba gear is there – but it has a millennial/Gen Z vibe. Charl-Johan Lingenfelder (musical director) has conjures up inspired arrangements of the Abba songbook – the same but different. The script has been updated but not overly so. They don’t for example, sport mobile phones. I seem to recall some body shaming gags which have been cut.

This production of Mamma Mia South Africa 2024, is a winner. The winner takes it all with superlative staging, direction, design, choreography, musical direction and performances.

Greek Island in blues: Mamma Mia! – South Africa 2024. Pic supplied.
Gritty production: Mamma Mia! – South Africa 2024. Pic supplied.

✳ Mamma Mia! – South Africa 2024. Pics supplied.