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REDISCOVER: Mamma Mia! The Smash Hit Musical

On stage at the CCP Main Theater: Mamma Mia!

Regardless wherever and whenever and how you saw it, definitely you sang along, stomp your feet, rose proudly, and danced shamelessly to Mamma Mia!

The smash hit musical that premiered in London’s Prince Edward Theatre on April 6, 1999 has finally made its way in Manila’s CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) Main Theater starting January 24, 2012. Judging from the audience that fully packed today’s matinee, February 5, the well-loved musical that germinated from the top-charting songs of the 70s Swedish group, ABBA, have become more endearing to the Filipino audience.

Waiting for the show

First, a Musical

Yes.  Mamma Mia! started as a musical, with the idea brought upon by producer Judy Craymer to ABBA’s genius duo, Björn Ulvaus and Benny Andersson. The duo was skeptical (coming from the poor reception to the Broadway adaptation of their first musical, Chess, a collaboration with Tim Rice). Thanks to Craymer’s persistence, with help from co-producer, Richard East, they got onboard Catherine Johnson to write the script – with a stern reminder that nothing in the lyrics of phenomenal ABBA’s songs, Dancing Queen, Mamma Mia!, Take a Chance on Me, The Winner Takes it All, among other ABBA’s hits – be changed. West End’s sensation, Phyllida Lloyd, was also convinced to be its director – and the rest, was a successful history for the musical that was seen by over 50 million audience in 300 cities globally, including Shanghai (Chinese adaptation), which against all odds, premiered in July 2011.

The magical stage

Then the success was fully sealed in the 2008 movie adaptation, Mamma Mia! starring “the” Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård, Christine Barankski, Julie Waters, Amanda Seyfried,  and Dominic Cooper. The movie itself broke records: the highest grossing movie of all time in the United Kingdom and Irish box office; the highest grossing musical film worldwide; the DVD version became the fastest selling of all time in the United Kingdom, Denmark, Australia; the film soundtrack was the biggest album released in 2008 and sold over 6.4 million copies worldwide.

Thus, the reminder that the Mamma Mia! the world learned to love started as a musical. For the uninitiated, (this writer heard a couple of buzzes earlier) they thought the movie was first before the musical.

Applause Abound

By now, they know the difference how it was in the movie versus on stage. Thus, it is not fair to compare the two: while the movie was backed by the same women trio of Craymer, Johnson, and Lloyd, and fully supported by Ulvaeus and Andersson, the movie had all the resources it maximized to give the adaptation a new breathe of life, thus it was a success – as a movie. Plus, while the cast actually sang, the songs were pre-recorded, a couple they actually sang while shooting, and a couple were dubbed.

That is the magic of the musical: it is real time, the plain stage transforms into the scenes required for the two acts, the quick change from one costume to another, and despite the well-orchestrated improvisation, anything can go wrong, and it is all left to the cast to keep the show going. But the Mamma Mia! Manila cast, despite a couple of unavoidable glitches, overall delivered.

Money, Money, Money

Those who are aware that Mamma Mia! started as a musical still fall to that “trap” of what Hollywood fed us, this writer included. Bet a part of the audience was magically tricked that it was Seyfried opening the musical with I Have a Dream, but it was actually Charlotte Wakefield playing Sophie, or Streep stepping on stage for the first time with Money, Money, Money, but it was Ellie Leah (alternating for Sara Poyzer).

Mamma Mia!

When Donna (Leah) sang Mamma Mia! upon seeing  the three men from her past and any of them could be Sophie’s father, it was such a funnily chaotic scene with the trio of Sam Carmichael (Richard Standing), Harry Bright (Matthew Lloyd Davies), and Bill Austin (Charles Daish). An applause was given to them after.

This writer loves Pierce Brosnan, but imagine what would happen to his career if he sang S.O.S. on stage? Definitely this Manila tour with Standing as Sam pulled off S.O.S. with Leah, and they did it angrily yet melodramatically, as the song suggests. Standing also full-heartedly rendered Knowing Me, Knowing You, and was rightfully rewarded with a thundering  applause (this song was not in the movie).

Leah and Wakefield got such dramatic temper to their singing, especially when they hit the high notes in Slipping Through My Fingers, capturing indeed the very concern of a mother letting go of her daughter to start a new life.

Among Donna and the Dynamos, it was Jennie Dale (as Rosie) who got such bravado in both her effortless singing and providing comic relief. Although she was starting in a low note in Chiquitita, then urging Kate Graham (as Tanya) to follow to console Donna who was in shock to see the three men, Dale was simply brilliant. Dale also never failed to make the audience laugh, when she started Take a Chance on Me, and had that chase and aborted romp with Daish’s character, it was such a very rousing number.

Among the male leads, Davies was a natural. Perhaps the song, Our Last Summer, a duet he did with Leah, was an easy song, but still, he sounded so pleasant. He initially gave such promise when he saw the guitar he gave to Donna and tuned it up, starting Thank You for the Music, then singing with Wakefield, Standing, and Daish.

Daish’s character, Bill, is not really a singing role (that was why Skarsgård apparently accepted the role in the film), but he had his own time to shine in Name of the Game, a duet with Wakefield (in the film, this was cut but was included in the soundtrack).

Graham’s character, Tanya, also delivered funnily and sexily. In today’s term, she was the cougar that got the attention of Pepper, one of Donna’s  workers in the taverna, and did, with the rest of the ensemble, the teasingly, tauntingly number of Does Your Mother Know.

Highs and Lows

Another song that was not in the movie was Under Attack. It was a scene when Sophie was having a nightmare about her three possible fathers fighting each for their right to walk her down the aisle. The song is a personal favorite of this writer, however, it was not exactly what she thought it would be on stage. But, the number was well-choreographed, and it must have scared a couple of children watching for its eerie feel, with smoke filling the stage and lights were to a minimum.

Wakefield and David Roberts (as Sky) have such a chemistry but it was not totally romantically “aaww” inducing. But to their credit, their number, Lay Your Love on Me, was well-sang and well-choreographed as well.

Super Trouper

The ensemble number, Voulez-Vous  was  a show stopper – the dancing lights and the thundering beat were perfected with such choreography. Prior to this, the Donna and the Dynamo’s sang Super Trouper, fully clad in glittery, tight costumes (especially for Dale, but the humor was part of the musical). This was followed by another dance number, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) and The Name of the Game.

There were times though that this writer felt the stage was about to cave in, with the heavy footwork going on (CCP has been standing since 1969 and truly needs much-deserved rehabilitation, as this writer covered in an in-depth report in 2005). But blessedly, it did not. A couple of times also the actors’ singing were not heard, but it was only a matter of seconds and they were back on track. A couple of times also the ensemble were seen moving behind the props ahead of their part, or perhaps it was because from where this writer was seated, having a very good view of left, right, and center of stage.

There were scenes in the musical and movie that have playful, sexual references. Today’s audience include as young as 5-year-old little girls – and this writer was seated with a girl of about 7 to 9-year-old: the parents or guardians should have been more discerning in bringing their children to programs with such themes. But overall, Mamma Mia! was a feel-good, for the family musical so perhaps they felt it was OK for their children to see such teases.

There were times as well that you would feel the strain among the actors’ singing, particularly with Leah coming from the seemingly easy Our Last Summer, to Slipping Through My Fingers (a powerful duet with Wakefield), and the song of it all, The Winner Takes it All. She started the song strained but claimed it her own and rightfully hit the high and dramatic notes, and in return, received a very appreciative applause.

As the musical ends with the twist of events at Sky’s and Sophie’s wedding, with Sam and Donna getting wed instead, singing I Do, I Do, I Do, and the former couple deciding to explore the world instead, the audience rewarded the cast with cheers and applause.

As part of their staging worldwide, there was the encore of Mamma Mia!, Dancing Queen, and after, Leah said, “Mabuhay, Manila! Gusto n’yo pa?” (Hello, Manila! You want more?) She was answered with a booming mix of yes and “oo” and they sang Waterloo, ABBA’s winning song in April 6, 1974’s Eurovision Song Contest, which started everything for the group.

The souvenir program from which the cast photos in this entry were captured from

By this time, more than half of the audience – from orchestra to the uppermost balcony – were on their feet, waving, singing, and dancing in their place. No one dared though to dance in the aisle, as what other audiences did in staging of this musical elsewhere.

But overall, the audience left CCP happy, mostly, still singing or humming either Mamma Mia! or Dancing Queen. The musical was such a source of infectious, feel-good fuel for your artistic and cultural soul, and indeed, it was worth every peso spent.

Mamma Mia! is staging at the CCP Main Theater until Sunday, February 19, 2012. For tickets, call CCP Box Office at (632) 832-3704 or check Ticketworld.

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