The hit Broadway show Mamma Mia! will be playing to its final audience on September 12, 2015. Even though I assume that touring companies will probably continue to play to audiences around the world for some time to come, to me, it is the end of an era.
According to my Playbill collection, it appears that I have seen Mamma Mia! 8 times: 3 times in Toronto, 3 in Ottawa, 1 in Las Vegas, and 1 in New York City. I even came close to seeing it once in Stockholm in Swedish which would have been a great time for a student of all things Swedish like myself, but alas, it was not playing the week I was there.
My first time was a rather unique situation in the sense that it was about month after my dad had passed away. This was the first time I had lost a relative who was that close to me. I had a hard time articulating, feeling, validating and working through the range of emotions I was experiencing, and felt up and down like a roller coaster over that time. I was in a very sad place.
My uncle was so kind in that he knew I was going to Toronto for a bit of a getaway, and he so generously offered me a ticket to see Mamma Mia!
He knew I had been a fan of ABBA since I was very young, and he knew how much I enjoyed theatre. It was a pretty safe bet that I would enjoy it. If only he knew what it would mean to me in that moment and for years to come.
Our balcony seat offered us a bird’s eye view of the show and we did not miss a single moment. From the opening scene and the first notes of “I Have a Dream”, I recall goosebumps and chills down my spine with the recognition that this was the closest I would get to ever seeing ABBA music performed live in this lifetime. This was already a dream come true… and the first song just started!
I had never experienced a musical like this before, with favourite tunes mingling within an original script. From that point on, my mind was completely blown in seeing how the story line and my favourite ABBA songs meshed together perfectly with only a couple of words changed here and there. It was one of those pivotal moments in life that also jet propelled my inspiration as a writer.
Mamma Mia! was the show that was successful in taking me out of the sadness and bereavement bubble, even if only for a couple of hours. It was incredibly therapeutic.
As many times as I have gone back to see it, it never got old for me. I truly think I could see it again and again, finances and time permitting, and it will continue to resonate with me on so many levels as I keep noticing new things and nuances with every performance. Each cast member brings their own interpretation to each role, which keeps it fresh for me every time.
I do find myself sometimes getting deeply emotional (or even quite teary) at those performances, remembering the fleeting moment of extreme joy I felt at a time of deep sadness and how it felt like the lights suddenly turned on for me. I don’t know why it strikes such a chord or elicits such a strong reaction but it did then and still does today.
I believe that it was in a similar darkness and sadness that Mamma Mia! was the right show at the right time for Broadway in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy that affected so many. Many of us still remember the chilling images of the Twin Towers and the aftermath which had an unparalleled ripple effect, leaving the country, the continent and the world in a state of shock. The tragedy also left New York City a virtual ghost town in the several weeks that followed. The ripple effect took its toll on tourism and the countless New York City attractions.
I vividly recall newscasts from late 2001 that reported on the challenges New York City was facing in trying to recover from the devastation. I also recall the constant encouragement of television hosts and celebrities pleading with residents and tourists to go out for a coffee, a dinner or a Broadway show to get businesses back on their feet and to help New York City return to the vibrant destination for which it is known.
One show that seemed to help provide that bright spot on Broadway was Mamma Mia! I remember Rosie O’Donnell recounting for viewers on her daytime talk show, how in a time of such great sadness, Mamma Mia!’s audience members were able to completely escape for an evening. They were laughing, they were crying, they were feeling pure joy.
I can only deduce that Mamma Mia! was therapeutic not only for me, but for New York City that was looking for a bright light to help start the healing process.
And clearly the healing continued, as according to the Broadway League web site (broadwayleague.com), since October 2001, the Broadway production played to 7.5 million viewers, and grossed $622 million. That is certainly an amazing run, especially when Playbill.com lists it as the 8th longest running show on Broadway with 5727 performances.
I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude and congratulations to the entire Broadway company over the years, including casts, crews, producers and directors for making Mamma Mia! the memorable and successful show it is and the bright light it has become for so many.
Bravo to you all and thank you for the music!
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