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Mimma – A Musical Of War & Friendship

This show needs work. It tries too hard to be too many things – at times a book musical, at other times an opera – in which certain characters do, frankly, take too long to die – at times a historical narrative, at other times a convoluted and increasingly implausible story about various people who may or may not have known each other but kept their identities hidden for reasons that may or may not have been revealed in the dialogue. For a musical (if that is indeed what it is) billed as being about “war and friendship”, there didn’t seem to be a lot of war going on (I don’t recall any of the characters being conscripted) and there didn’t seem to be a lot of friendship. In short, it’s a tangled and confusing mess.

MimmaThe production can’t even decide on the pronunciation of its titular character, played by Celinde Schoenmaker, whose Mimma (sometimes ‘Mee-muh’, sometimes ‘Mee-mah’, sometimes ‘Mim-muh’) was so heavily accented it was difficult to decipher what she was saying. Then there were the long periods in the second half which were (presumably) sung in Italian. The production made extensive use of a projection screen for various still and moving images, though there appeared to be no budget left to use the screen to provide a translation into English. By contrast, the Royal Opera House provides surtitles “for all opera performances, including those sung in English” – even Once The Musical provided Czech to English translations.

Mind you, sound problems kept creeping up during the evening – so many lines, whatever language they were in, were lost that it must have contributed to the struggle to follow what was going on, even with Sir David Suchet narrating, as Alfredo Frassati (1868-1961), the famed Italian journalist and novelist. For a performance that had royal and diplomatic seals of approval (there are letters and messages in the programme from HRH The Prince of Wales, the Governor of Western Australia and the High Commissioner for Australia) and flanked by the BBC Concert Orchestra, one might have expected something substantially more engaging.

I still know next to nothing about Mimma herself, as there are insufficient details about her personal life. She is, in effect, used as a narrative device to push forward a story about the London-based Lorenzo (John Owen-Jones) and his friend Jacob Katz (Steve Serlin). Ada (Elena Xanthoudakis), as Mimma’s mother, had made the decision in 1938 that Mimma should live in Britain because of the rise of fascism under Mussolini. But bizarrely (in my view) it was a joint decision made with Aldo (Ashley Riches), Mimma’s brother, which kills off any remaining sense that a show called Mimma might give women the courtesy of independent thought. Later, when an up-and-coming entertainer, Sarah Parker (Louise Dearman), sticks up for Mimma, her views are callously dismissed.

It’s an all-male writing team, and it shows – the female characters do not converse and interact in a convincing way, and this is nothing to do with the performers themselves, who do remarkably well with what they are given. The writers are so narcissistic that the ‘list of music’ (thirty numbers in total), rather than stating which character(s) sing them, instead lists the writers’ names – and as they wrote it all between them, the same names appear again and again and again.

Some sound effects were so ridiculous they managed to cheapen the atrocities of the era. The pacing is so pedestrian it felt like sitting in a traffic jam in central London on a Tube strike day. At various points in the first half, random headlines were shouted to underline, far too many times, the point that the Second World War was looming. Most were unnecessary: the audience is not stupid.

There are no memorable tunes to speak of. The lights were so blinding in certain scenes that I could see audience members in the balcony using their programmes to shield their eyes from the sheer glare. A noticeable number of people did not return after the interval. ‘A Musical of War and Friendship’ could and should have been so relevant at the time of writing (during the 2022 invasion of Ukraine) but this was, I regret to report, a disappointing and underwhelming experience.

1 star

Review by Chris Omaweng

Mimma, a new musical of war and friendship, performed with the BBC Concert Orchestra for one special semi-staged gala concert performance only, at Cadogan Hall, on 28 February 2022.
Orana Productions Ltd, Producer and Presenter of the Mimma Charity Concert, will donate 100% of ticket proceeds to The Prince’s Trust. The total amount donated to The Prince’s Trust is expected to be £65,000. The Prince’s Trust is a registered charity incorporated by Royal Charter in England and Wales (1079675) and Scotland (SC041198).
Mimma’s creative team includes Ron Siemiginowski (Composer & Producer), Giles Watson (Librettist) and Luke Fredericks (Director). The BBC Concert Orchestra will be conducted by renowned British conductor and orchestrator, Richard Balcombe (Musical Director & Orchestrator).

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12 thoughts on “Mimma – A Musical Of War & Friendship”

  1. Forgive me – what an inept, unkind and ridiculous ‘review’. I wonder Mr Omaweng what axe you had to grind. You certainly do not reflect the enthusiasm of the audience.

  2. I loved it. I don’t understand this review at all. It sounds more like sour grapes for some reason. Quite nasty actually. I haven’t seen a standing ovation like that for quite some time. It was a concert performance of a musical, not the musical itself. I find it interesting that this reviewer didn’t have many positive things to say which makes me suspicious about his objectivity. This review doesn’t do much for the London Theatre 1 website. It is poorly written and lacks stylistic elements of an actual review. Mimma Gala Concert was quite simply, superb. Audience members were raving about it with tears in their eyes after the show and that is what counts, not some spiteful rave by an amateur reviewer.

  3. Words utterly fail us as to how much we enjoyed the ‘MIMMA’ Musical experience last night at Cadogan Hall.
    It was probably one of the best musical shows that we have ever seen in our lives and wish it was running in a theatre as would have loved to go again and recommend to others!.
    The venue is amazing anyway and acoustics were phenominal, the sound, lighting and video guys/crew did an excellent job and raise the bar as to the ‘level of excellence’ that can be achieved at a live event.
    The storyline was enthrawling and sadly quite poigniant with the current events in the Ukraine.
    It was 2.5 hours of utter joyous and glorious entertainment with a world class of professional singers, musicians, dancers and all narrated by the amazing David Suchet.
    We can’t think of a more memorable evening that we have come away from in a long time!, pure ‘5 Star Quality entertainment’ and hope will raise much needed funds for
    the Prince’s Trust.
    There was a standing ovation at the end for all the cast and musicians which was so well deserved, it raised our spirits hugely in quite dark times.

  4. I was at last night’s performance of Mimma The Musical and whilst I can’t agree with your scathing review, there is one thing I feel I must correct you on.

    As it happens my name is actually Mimma and I do find that the pronunciation of my name does vary between those for whom Italian is their first language and those for whom it isn’t. Therefore, the differences you noted were in fact a very accurate portrayal and not something that should be criticised.

  5. 100% agree with all your comments. We were some of the ones that moved since we were blinded in the first half.
    The only saving grace for us was the opera section in Act 2 between the mother and son, fantastic baritone and soprano.

  6. Credit to Richard Balcombe for the lush orchestrations and the top-quality performances from the cast working with writing which wasn’t. The audience response to the incredible singing of Ashley Riches and Elena Xanthoudakis in the Italian arias was all about them ( and the one point when we didn’t have to suffer the somewhat banal lyrics). Top marks also to David Suchet, who managed to make the naively-written narration sound like Shakespeare.

    1. I read a quote from David Suchet saying he loved the narration which is why he agreed to come on board.

    2. There’ll always be saboteurs who write ridiculous comments out of sheer spite. Congratulations to the writers and all involved. This was s marvellous, courageous original show.

  7. Viola Patroska

    I strongly disagree with this catty review. I loved the songs. Too many standouts to name all of them but the Aria with Mimma and the ghost of her mother and brother gave me chills and tears, like many in the audience. It is insulting to all civilians throughout history and currently, who find themselves caught up in a war. Just because Mimma and her family weren’t soldiers in battle scenes doesn’t mean their story is not about war. From what I saw, Mimma’s character was shaped by her experiences – losing her family to the black shirts and the nazis. I had no problem with the dialogue between the women. It seemed realistic to me and I have no idea why the reviewer thinks the storyline implausible. I find the reviewer’s criticism of men writing about women’s experience unusual given he too is a man. It is implausible that a review can be so cuttingly unbalanced, in stark contrast to the actual audience reaction – a long, appreciative standing ovation. I sense sour grapes, which is shame because these types of reviewers are never taken seriously as writers, unlike the incredible work put in by Mimma’s creators. Some people have talent, others have talons.

  8. It is clear that this reviewer went into watching this performance with the aim of creating a scathing review, before the conductor had picked up their baton.
    Having sat in the front row for the performance, I could not disagree more so about all the points made in this review if I tried. This reviewer fails to mention that although there were no surtitles for the songs sung in Italian, they were also the songs that received the most tumultuous applause, so much so to the extent that at one point David Suchet had to stop his narration that he had just begun to allow the audience to cheer for over a minute.
    To take personal attacks at the character of Mimma, which may I add was so well portrayed by Celinde that she had tears streaming down her cheeks when she learned of her mothers death, show the reviewers personal vendetta against the show.
    The sound issues were miniscule… a slight error on two occasions by the sound engineer who had a slider turned up at the wrong time, and lasted mere seconds.
    I also strongly disagree with your statement about the music not being memorable. It is rare for myself to see a show nowadays that I have not heard the music of beforehand, yet now I find myself a day after the performance still humming a beautiful melody that was repeated by Mimma throughout the show having never heard a note from the musical before yesterdays performance.
    The standing ovation from the audience and the overheard conversations of positivity when exiting the auditorium speak volumes over this review.

  9. Any theatre reviewer worth their salt would understand that a concert gala version has time restraints and cannot deliver the full musical with all the dialogue and action. The writers did an incredible job modifying the original full length musical into a one off concert performances designed to focus on the songs and music. I hope Mimma the Musical can be seen by many more people for many years to come. It really was something special, particularly in the context of the current situation in Ukraine. The audience showed their appreciation beautifully. That’s what counts.

  10. Kimberley Silverthorne

    I agree with the above comments. I also was there last night and I found the story moving and the voices outstanding. They gave me chills with their talent and professionalism. Considering the short time they had to prepare this and how quickly the entire cast learned their lines, dance moves and songs (not to mention long arias in Italian), they did an amazing job. I was very impressed, as were many others going by the standing ovation, huge smiles and excited comments overheard after the show. Unfortunately it was a one off, but hopefully it will get picked up and developed a little more for the West End. Congratulations to all involved! 🙂

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