The first time I watched Mamma Mia! the musical, I went along because my parents had free tickets. I wanted to be out there living the “Sex and the City” dream in my own apartment and Manolo Blahniks but instead I was living in my parents’ place, wearing Nine West (remember them?). I was sulking at the beginning of the show and dancing in the aisle by the end of it.
Mamma Mia! first opened on London’s West End in 1999 and has gone on to be a worldwide success with the infectious music of ABBA making it a fun-filled two hours that honestly, doesn’t rely very heavily on a plot. Over the years, it has garnered 65 million viewers in 16 languages and premiered in 450 major cities, faster than any other musical in history.
The story is simple, if slightly outlandish: 20 year-old Sophie is getting married and sends invitations to three of her mother’s former suitors, in order to find out which one of them is her dad. Hijinks ensues when her mother Donna discovers their arrival before the wedding.
Watching Mamma Mia! again at the Sands Theatre after almost 20 years, everything hit different. Now as a mother in my 40s, I find myself identifying more with the intrepid single mother Donna who raises her daughter alone on a Greek island for 20 years. Admittedly besides “mother” and “40s”, I don’t have a lot in common with the show’s protagonist. I only had kids in the last three years, so am much more of an old mum and not as cool.
But I couldn’t help connecting to that underlying feeling that you’ve left a piece of yourself behind in order to focus on the wellbeing of your children, that overwhelming need to keep them safe (why does Sophie need to get married so young anyway?) and maybe that feeling that you’ve left the most colourful, energetic part of your life behind.
For me, the show took on another dimension of remembering my pre-mum life, starting with the signature number “Mamma Mia” that opened with a bang. Accompanied by a live orchestra, the performance was energetic, but the song also served a kind of dread at having to acknowledge the past, which made me think about my own. I wasn’t particularly “havoc” pre-children, but I miss being able to leave the house after 8pm.
Other musical numbers carry more weight now. I found myself identifying more with the multifaceted life and loves of Donna than I did when I was 20 and thought she was “old”. As a 20-something trying to find my place, I wanted to have Sophie’s love story. “Lay All Your Love On Me”, a precursor to the wedding where Sophie and Sky go off on their respective bachelorette and bachelor parties, was surprisingly sexy – and *spoiler alert* the fact that they don’t get married but still end up together was good storytelling.
But it was the songs and interactions between Donna and her two best friends, Rosie and Tanya, that felt the strongest. They were a nod to how important female friendships are throughout one’s life, mother or not. “Chiquitita” – as the two friends support and uplift Donna – seemed to encompass that perfectly. In fact, all their performances as Donna and the Dynamos are major showstoppers, and for many, the highlight of the musical.
Of course, the whole mother-daughter relationship has new meaning for me now. Neither of my girls are anywhere near ready for potty training, let alone marriage, but I still nearly bawled my eyes out at “Slipping Through My Fingers” as Donna reminisces about Sophie’s childhood. Both Sarah Poyzer and Jess Michelmore who play Donna and Sophie respectively are perfectly cast as a mother-daughter duo. The simple set with some smart lighting allows for more of the performance to come through.
The second half of the musical is definitely slower, with less dancy hits and more emoting on stage. Some might find it draggy, though I personally enjoyed the short break from the big dance numbers for the quieter, more thoughtful songs.
It all comes together in the end with an unexpected wedding, glitzy costumes and unbridled dancing. If you haven’t seen the musical before, definitely don’t leave when the story ends or you’ll miss one of the best parts. Overall, it’s a great night out to hear your favourite ABBA songs live, backed with live instruments and a story that touches on the importance of motherhood and friendships in a fun, often bedazzled way.
Mamma Mia! is playing at the Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands, until 5 November, 2023. Book your tickets here.