For those out there who don't know - and there will be very few of you - Mamma Mia! began on the London Stage and soon became a massive hit all around the world. It is the story of a twenty year old girl and her single mother who runs a taverna on a small Greek island. The girl, Sophia, is uncertain of who her father is, and when she reads of three possiblilities in her mother's diary, she invites all three of them to her upcoming wedding in an attempt to find out which of the three men is her real father. Two of Sophia's mother's friends come to the island as well, and the antics which ensue are highly entertaining and stitched together throughout with songs from the Swedish supergroup, ABBA. The production is fantastically fun and high energy, and of course, sentimental for those who grew up fans of ABBA. The musical was made into a film in 2008, starring Meryl Streep and a host of other fantastic actors, which was also a huge hit worldwide.
I was not a fan of ABBA growing up, but my sisters were, as well as a couple of friends, so I knew the music; besides, once I hear a song I rarely forget it and ABBA songs are nothing if not catchy. I saw the film version a few years ago and really enjoyed it. It was just such good fun, although I once heard myself calling the storyline "every menopausal woman's fantasy." Anyway, when the opportunity came to go and see the travelling production I jumped at the chance. I've always wanted to see something like that and just never have, although I've seen a few big rock concerts and plenty of good quality smaller scale productions in good theaters.
After spending much of a hot and sunny Friday up at a local lake swimming and enjoying the natural beauty of the setting with our families, my friend Diane and I agreed to leave for the show at 7 pm that evening. The show would start at 8 pm, but we wanted to get there early enough to find a good parking spot and perhaps buy a drink or something beforehand. We found a good spot for the car in the Cultural Center parking lot next door to Prospera Centre, which is a hockey rink, mainly, but also used for larger events and holds about 5,000 people depending on the event. The only times I had been in the building were for public ice skating, and after the heat wave we've been having, I was looking forward to spending the evening in an air conditioned building watching the show.
We walked into the building and presented our tickets to the friendly ticket-taker. The air in the entrance way did not seem to be cool at all, and we walked a few more metres to the programme seller, thinking the cool wall of A/C would hit us any moment. "So, is Meryl Streep in the show?" asked Diane, very tongue in cheek. "Oh no" the woman replied, most likely thinking these women were true hicks from Hicksville, "this show has all different actors. You can see them all in this programme" (which was in colour and $20). Diane, who'd seen Les Miserables on the London stage a couple of times, walked on with me, shaking her head. The wall of cool air never arrived. We were given the free black and white version of the programme by the usher who lead us to our seats, and we resigned ourselves to spending the evening fanning ourselves with it. Fortunately, I had smuggled in a bottle of iced water, because the line-up for the drinks was pretty long, understandably. The air conditioning either did not exist - perhaps the ice which was there throughout much of the year was kept cold from beneath, or it was broken. I never really found out the truth.
Before long, music indicated to the crowd that the show was about to begin. The lights were lowered and the first scene commenced. We were sitting in section H, row 9, which meant we had to turn to the left to look at the stage, but our view was quite good and we were about half way up the risers. The seats were not very comfortable, just plastic fold-down things, and Diane regretted forgetting the cushion she had intended to bring; she'd sat through hockey games in the centre before. The first half was great. I was intrigued thinking about the whole stage management/production side of things, because the show was highly choreographed, including the set changes. I knew the film, of course, and also enjoyed the little differences in the stage version. The actors were very good, especially the young woman who played Sophia, but of course Meryl Streep was the best 'Donna' I had seen, and comparisons would have been unfair. The first half ended with the song 'Voulez Vous' and a rousing dance number with the entire cast, and then we were able to stand up and stretch our legs during the intermission. Diane also discovered an ice cream vendor and we had something cool to eat. We also went to the Ladies room and splashed cool-ish water on our faces and arms, and even our legs. Diane asked me at one point, "How hot do you think it is in here?" It was probably about 30 degrees, judging by the perspiration running down my back.
The second half was equally entertaining, but every once in a while I would look out over the audience to see a sea of programme fans waving to the beat of the music. The audience seemed to be lagging a bit. A few had even left after the first half, the older gentleman beside me included - I had noticed he did not appear to be feeling well. About twenty minutes from the end of the show, some kind of alarm went off in the back of the building. It sounded like a car alarm, but it was most definitely inside the building. The actors kept right on with the show, being pros, and the alarm kept on, too, 'Wooee, wooee, wooee, wooee," on and on for about five full minutes. Finally, someone managed to turn it off and the audience cheered, albeit tiredly. The final numbers in the show are meant to bring everyone to their feet, and soon everyone was up, clapping and singing along, some even managing to wave their arms back and forth. How the actors endured three hours of that heat, in costumes, under the lights, I'll never know. They deserved a standing ovation just for that.
A fairly subdued crowd filed out of the building, smiling wearily, with thoughts of a rinse-off when they got home, I'm sure. Diane and I chatted during the drive home. We had read in the programme that the Mamma Mia! crew were off to Penticton in south central British Columbia the next day, having presented the show one night each in Lethbridge in southern Alberta, Dawson Creek, Prince George, and Chilliwack, all in BC. as part of their tour. All of these cities are mid-sized with populations of under 100,000. I was quite sure that each of the centres in which they played were hockey rinks. We wondered if any of them had air conditioning.
Mind you, in retrospect, perhaps the heat in the building added to the overall effect of the setting. A Greek Island can be awfully hot, but we could have done with a bit of a cool breeze off the Mediterranean. Yes, 'somewhere in the crowd' there was us, and we, along with the cast, musicians, and crew were certainly 'Super Troupers' for making it through that night!
Here's Meryl, Christine and Julie performing Super Trouper for the film version of Mamma Mia!. Enjoy! (I did)