MAMMA MIA! – Partying like it’s 1999

Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ world-famous Broadway musical – MAMMA MIA! was brought to South Asian theatres, for the very first time in history, courtesy of Cinnamon Life. The musical was staged at the Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa International Theatre from 22-30 December.

If you are unfamiliar with the storyline of Mamma Mia! – the play follows the wedding of young Sophie on a magical Greek island. Trouble comes when her plan to invite three men, believing that one of them may be her father, backfires on her.

Since its West End debut in 1999, the smash-hit Mamma Mia! centred on the best-loved songs by Swedish pop group ABBA, remained the ultimate feel good show for years to come.

With over 60 million people in 440 cities around the world, having fallen in love with the characters, story, and songs from this classic theatre performance – it was no surprise that Lankan audiences were ecstatic and quite grateful for the opportunity to witness it first-hand.

Over 75 international cast and crew members from Little Star Services Ltd., were flown down to deliver a total of 10 shows. All of the cast members are internationally acclaimed performers, who have experience in Broadway and West End productions.

As was expected, the show proved to be a pleasantly nostalgic journey, with ABBA’s greatest hits being performed with practised precision, accompanied by tightly choreographed dance numbers – the meticulousness in every sway and step, a testament to the artistes’ dedication and experience.

The main cast, particularly Donnas’ (Shona White) strong vocals echoed gorgeously through the theatre.
The young couple playing Sophie (Lucy Barker) our heroine and her fiancé Sky (Philippe Ryan) were convincingly in love, unsurprising, considering that they happen to be engaged in real life.

Philippe, who was enamoured by the Nelum Pokuna Theatre, also spoke to us about the troupe’s international tour, and how things are going about for them on their first time in Sri Lanka: “We just got here, so we haven’t had an opportunity to explore just yet, but Sri Lankan looks absolutely fantastic, and who knew they have such a beautiful theatre?” adding also that “Everybody loves ABBA, and wherever we go, when we approach the finale and we see the crowd on their feet, getting into it, we know that we’ve done our job.”

However, with the show being so well known, comes certain expectations and while the performances were fantastic, there was a lingering feeling that something was missing.

The concern with Mamma Mia! is that very few people come to the show without a clear image of the movie in their head, and the sense of surprise or discovery has sadly been lost.

While the show is handed as a gift on a platter in the form of its ABBA soundtrack, the production itself felt somewhat dated, underwhelming and the fact that it was a recorded backing track instead of an orchestra accompanying the musical numbers, felt disappointing – considering that people paid a lot to enjoy live music.

We spoke to a few prominent theatre personalities who were present at the show, who echoed a similar opinion of how their expectations were a little higher than what was experienced. Unwilling to comment on the record, many felt that the show played second fiddle to the previous international act brought down by Cinnamon Life, but that is not to say that Mamma Mia! wasn’t entertaining.

There’s no doubt, however, that it still manages to be a good time. The storyline has been custom-built to cram in as many of ABBA’s timeless bops as possible and by the time the finale rolls around, the audience were up on their feet and the party atmosphere truly continued into the auditorium.


By Dimithri Wijesinghe