Take a backstage tour of Mamma Mia at Sunderland Empire
A flurry of flares and swathes of Swarovski crystals meet you backstage at Mamma Mia.
The Dynamos' Super Trouper costumes, bedecked with 2,000 hand-sewn crystals, are among the most dazzling of costumes used in this colourful musical.
Set to the music of Abba, Mamma Mia is one of the sunniest shows on the musical circuit, transporting audiences to a sun-drenched Greek island to the tune of Dancing Queen, Gimme Gimme Gimme and more.
While the satin flares of the Super Trouper costumes certainly channel Abba's legendary '70s style, other costume hark back to the '90s as we follow lead character Sophie's quest to discover the father she's never known.
Though the costume styles span the decades, all have had a keen attention to detail paid to their creation. The costume department spend hours each day detangling fringed jeans and sewing back on sequins that have flown off in energetic dance scenes. Sequins are a serious business in Mamma Mia. So much so, that the London production employs someone whose sole job is to sew sequins.
Resident director Nikki Davis-Jones says the look of the show, which started life in the West End back in 1999, is of paramount importance.
"We really stick to that original design from 18 years ago," she explained. "For some of the new jukebox musicals the wardrobe department will just go to shops like Primark, but we really stick to a specific look and set colour palette, right down to the feather boas which have to be a very specific shade and no other.
"The story is set in the '90s so we have a lot of looks inspired by that era, but it's The Dynamos costumes which are perhaps the most spectacular and colourful. They're made to fit each actress, with the two understudies for each role also having costumes made for them too. They cost a lot of money and take hours and hours to make, but it's worth it as they get such a reaction from the audience."
Such was the success of the musical it spawned a hit film in 2008 starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Amanda Seyfried. Before sitting in the director's chair, Nikki was once in the cast of the West End Mamma Mia as understudy to Sophie and, like many of the actors and actresses from the musical, featured in the film too, as one of Sophie's friends.
"The film was really faithful to the musical and I think it helped to spark a whole new generation of Abba fans," she said. "This is my first resident director's job and it's great to be able to come into a show you know so well. I've seen it from all angles really, as an actress in the musical and in the film and I'm really enjoying the new challenge."
The musical is enjoying a month-long stint at the Empire, giving the cast a chance to really perfect their swift backstage changes.
"It's a bit of rabbit warren backstage," explained Nikki. "But each time we go to a new venue the cast and crew have a full dress rehearsal before we open, for the tech team to make sure the sound is right and so the cast can figure out where they need to be for changes. It's a well-oiled machine now."
*Mamma Mia is at Sunderland Empire until November 11. Tickets from Tel. 0844 871 3022.