It is, I suppose, possible that you don’t know much about Mamma Mia! the musical. At the very least you should know that a film version was released in 2008 starring the ever-magical Meryl Streep and featuring ABBA’s music – which went on to be become a global hit. In fact, there’s a very good chance you’ve actually seen the film – beloved by many a gay boy and their mothers alike.

So you may well question if it’s worth shelling out your hard earned cash to see the live version at Montecasino in Joburg. Well, if you’re a fan of musicals and ABBA’s music (and really who isn’t) then it’s certainly worth experiencing the show in the flesh.

If you’ve ever heard ABBA’s music in a nightclub or at a party and noted the instant toe-tapping reactions by the people in the room, you’ll know that an ABBA song is best enjoyed in a crowd – and a theatre full of grinning people bopping their heads to those fiendishly catchy tunes certainly qualifies.

The play was first performed in the West End in 1999, helmed by three women; producer Judy Craymer, writer Catherine Johnson and director Phyllida Lloyd – with, of course, the hit songs composed by ABBA songwriters Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. And thus it’s no surprise that Mamma Mia! Is largely from the perspective of its female characters.

Set on a Greek resort island, it tells the story of 20 year old Sophie’s quest to discover the identity of her father on the eve of her wedding. She sneakily brings three men from her mother Donna’s past back to the island they last visited 20 years ago in an effort to discover which one is her father. As can be expected, much enjoyable mayhem and emotional soul-searching ensues. All to the beat of ABBA’S tunes…

An all South African cast brings the production to life – and does so splendidly. Twenty year old Carmen Pretorius (High School Musical SA & Shanghai) as Sophie impresses with her soulful eyes and consistently solid vocals. She reminded me of a young Olivia Newton John – both in looks and voice.

Gina Shmukler (Chess, Jesus Christ Superstar) as Donna is initially overly meek and is not as impressive with her vocal prowess, but she comes into her own in the darker second half of the show. Her emotional performance of the heart-breaking The Winner Takes It All, is one of the highlights of the production.

Donna’s three friends, who bring a comedic element to the show, are played by theatre powerhouses Ilse Klink (Chicago, Isidingo) and Kate Normington (Hairspray, Sunset Boulevard). While always enjoyable to watch on stage, their antics here sometimes got a little too silly and juvenile for my taste. The occasional local references also seemed forced.

The eye candy is provided by the island’s boys, headed by the well-toned and quite dishy Stephen Jubber (Merchant of Venice, High School Musical) who plays Sophie’s simple, goofy and abs-gifted fiancée, Sky. The boys take every opportunity to take off their shirts or prance about in skin-tight wetsuits.

The three possible fathers are played by Anrich Herbst, Murray Todd and Neels Clasen who project the expected male awkwardness with the estrogen festival that surrounds them. Herbst, thankfully, does much better at singing than Pierce Brosnan did in the film version.

And then, of course there’s the biggest star of all; the ABBA songs. Mamma Mia! is a testament to the hit-making, hook-crafting genius of the band. Almost every song is like a virus that worms its way into your skull effectively obliterating any critical perspective on the show. Mention should also be made of some pretty remarkable choreography that further heightens the music’s impact.

So yes, if truth be told, the story is uninspiring, the set is simple (but cleverly flexible), the dialogue often trite and predicable and the cast often come across as manically over-enthusiastic; but damn it’s all so much fun!

Go see it with a group of friends, and take your mother and father along. Mamma Mia! is a communal musical experience that demands that you leave your snarky sophisticated ideas at the door and give in to its simple but effective charms.

Mamma Mia! is on at the Teatro At Montecasino until 30 November 2010, but don’t be surprised if the season is extended into December. Book at Computicket.

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