“Mamma Mia! The Musical” returns to Manila

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The feel-good musical takes audiences away to a sunny Greek island full of ABBA-singing and dancing inhabitants. Photo by JL JAVIER

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “There's a lot of dark stuff in the world in the moment and I think this show just helps celebrate the good things in life,” says Shona White, who plays Donna Sheridan in the international tour of “Mamma Mia! The Musical.”

The show makes its much awaited return to Manila after six years and its timing couldn’t be better. With so much going on in the world today, it’s easy to forget that there are good things in life. The feel-good musical, which takes audiences away to a sunny Greek island full of ABBA-singing and dancing inhabitants, is a reminder of that.

The story revolves around the intrepid 20-year-old Sophie Sheridan, who, set to be married soon, invites three men from her mother’s past to her wedding in an effort to figure out which one could be her father. As she spends time getting to know each one, her mother, Donna, reckons with the fact that her daughter is marrying at such a young age while she catches up with her old gang of friends.

Photo-6.jpg Lucy May Barker plays Sophie Sheridan, the intrepid bride-to-be in search for her father among three possible candidates. Phillip Ryan plays Sky, Sophie’s fiance. Photo by JL JAVIER

Photo-9.jpg The onstage couple (who are also engaged in real life) share a palpable chemistry despite minimal stage time together. photo by JL JAVIER

If the Oct. 2 gala night performance proved anything, it’s that the 2018 International Tour is a romp that’ll get even the gloomiest person to start tapping their feet. The show is brought to life by its cast of charming and delightful performers — most of whom have been part of the production for years, such as White, who’s had the opportunity to play Sophie in the past, as well as leads Lucy May Barker (Sophie) and Phillip Ryan (Sophie’s fiance Sky), whose chemistry is palpable despite the limited time they share onstage. And as it turns out, the couple are engaged in real life as well.

But the musical is more than just an escape from the problems plaguing the real world. “Mamma Mia!” has long been commended for its feminist undertones and its unapologetic take on female sexuality. Juxtaposed with the recent slew of sexual harassment allegations here and in the United States, the world of “Mamma Mia!” stands as a model for the real world, where female characters are unabashedly open about their desires and receive not a word of judgment or rebuke from their peers.

“I think with the #MeToo movement and all that kind of stuff, I think it's really important that the story is heard and that women have a real place in theater, film, and equally to men,” says Nicky Swift, who plays Rosie, one of Donna’s best friends.

Photo-17.jpg Donna and the Dynamos, the ABBA-singing troupe of best friends. From left: Rosie (played by Nicky Swift), Donna (Shona White), and Tanya (Helen Anker). Photo by JL JAVIER

Photo-3.jpg The music of ABBA transcends the generations,” says Shona White. “It's really thrilling to look out into the audience at the end and see tiny tots of five up to ladies and gents in their 80s all dancing along and singing along.” Photo by JL JAVIER

This, perhaps, is part of why audiences keep coming back to the long-running musical, which made its premiere almost 20 years ago. White surmises that the show’s staying power also lies in its music, which features some of ABBA’s greatest hits, including “Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia,” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After midnight),”Super Trouper,” “Money Money Money,” “Chiquitita,” “Thank You for the Music,” “Lay All Your Love on Me,” “Voulez-Vous,” Take a Chance on Me,” and many others.

“The music of ABBA transcends the generations, and for us it's really thrilling to look out into the audience at the end and see tiny tots of five up to ladies and gents in their 80s all dancing along and singing along,” says White.

It is indeed difficult to resist the urge to sing and dance along to the show, and audiences need not wait until they get home. “There's a fantastic opportunity at the end of every show for everyone to join in,” says White, referring to (spoiler alert) the moment the entire cast is done taking their bows, where they jump out to do “Mamma Mia” once more, followed by “Dancing Queen” led by Donna and her bestfriends, the Dynamos, clad in sparkly disco digs.

“We really just want everyone to have a great time because we have a great time onstage,” says Swift. “And the more the audience has a good time, we have an even better time.”


The 2018 International Tour made its Manila debut on Sept. 29 and will continue to run until Oct. 21 at The Theatre at Solaire.