Set against the backdrop of World War II, Mimma: A Musical of War & Friendship, tells the story of a young Italian anti-fascist journalist who seeks refuge with her uncle in London and strikes up a friendship with an English jazz singer in residence at his club. The conflict brings out the best and worst in people as Mimma’s brother is captured, Londoners prepare for Hitler’s Blitz, and fears of betrayal reach fever pitch. Mimma and Sarah are caught in the turmoil as Soho is torn apart by arrests and interments.
This new musical semi-staged as a gala concert had top-notch performers and an ambitious musical score by Ron Siemiginowski and librettist Giles Watson. The work doesn’t seem to quite fit into any particular genre, straddling the territory between cheerful musical and tragic opera, tap dance numbers commingle with operatic trios sung in Italian.
The titular character, Mimma Marini (Celinde Schoenmaker), is undercooked without much of a story arc, we learn more about the internal workings of her friend Sarah, played by the bright and sparkling Louise Dearman, as she works her way through most of the show’s female solos. Both women are gorgeous vocalists, but I would have liked the character of Mimma to have had a couple more solo (or longer solo) numbers.
Narrating the show was Sir David Suchet in fine form as Alfredo Frassati the famed Italian journalist and novelist, his rich tone and deliverance of lines added gravitas to the piece. Kudos to John Owen Jones as Uncle Lorenzo who was a joy to watch and hats off to Steve Serkin as Jacob Katz who had the witty and upbeat number “Sophisticated”. Mimma’s brother, Aldo Marini played by Ashley Riches embodied the life and soul of a young man leading the resistance by running the family’s underground newspaper while fiercely protecting his sister. A dozen key ensemble members play multiple roles throughout, in cameos in the club in Soho and in the Marini family home in Turin. The true mother of the cast was of course, Mimma’s mother, Ada Marini played impeccably by Award-winning soprano Elena Xanthoudakis, her portrayal of the quintessential Italian mamma was exemplary.
There are many songs that describe places in the story, but which offer little to the narrative, 30 songs in total. The production made extensive use of a projection screen for various still and moving images, these could have been used for surtitles for the songs in Italian to help follow the story. Unfortunately, there were sound issues on the night, and I am not sure if this down to Cadogan Hall being a better location for a solo concert rather than a Musical staged Concert, also the lights needed to be not so bright!
The cast was absolutely crammed with outstanding talent and the glorious BBC Concert Orchestra led by Richard Balcombe. It’s a shame that Mimma isn’t more about Mimma rather than everyone else around her; a few more passes at the drawing board could see this project endure the tides of time with its historical content, different cultures and poignant themes, which seem very relevant in our current time.