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Student Blog: Thank You for the Music: Mamma Mia is the Gift That Keeps On Giving


Because what other show lets you dance, jive, AND have the time of your life?

Student Blog: Thank You for the Music: Mamma Mia is the Gift That Keeps On Giving "Mamma Mia! could put Prozac out of business," one British critic wrote after the musical's world premiere. Jukebox musicals often get a bad rap among both theatre purists and those who think they are above a good ol' production number with singing and dancing (which, as someone who's writing for a Broadway-centric blog, baffles me). However, not only has Mamma Mia! become a staple for professional and community theatres alike, but the songs of ABBA and the story of Donna and the Dynamos have left a cultural legacy that continues to flourish in 2021.

Mamma Mia! first opened in 1999 on the West End (where it ran until March 2020 - and where it is set to reopen in November 2021), and then began a 14-year run on Broadway in 2001. Its subsequent film adaptations, which came out in 2008 and 2018, catapulted the already popular story of Donna, friends/girl group mates/overall icons Tanya and Rosie, and her daughter Sophie's quest to find her father to walk her down the aisle at her wedding - out of three possible options - further into the cultural limelight. Not to mention, ABBA has been fueling multiple generations of music lovers all across the world since the 1970s. Whether they know the songs from listening to ABBA albums with their families, sitting in an audience at the theatre, or watching the movies on repeat, people can relish in the joy and work of ABBA - without having to know or love musical theatre as a whole.

"Dancing Queen" is one of the most recognizable songs of ABBA's, and Mamma Mia! certainly helped weave it into the fabric of pop culture. Even on social media, I constantly see people throwing Mamma Mia! themed parties, coming up with dances to "Gimme Gimme Gimme," posting cute summery montages with ABBA songs as background noise, and even completing singer Sammy Rae's "Dancing Queen" one-breath TikTok challenge (which is my current obsession... that I may or may not be trying to master as I type). As I scroll on TikTok, I also constantly hear "Chiquitita," as it's a trending audio at the time I write this. Not only does the ABBA original circulate the app, but also remixes and covers - showing the range and everlasting popularity of the songs. "Chiquitita" is also a song that I find to be a guidebook on how to shake yourself off after hard times and keep going. After the past year and a half of hardship and a bit of relief as we're seeing the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, it's a song I'm sure we all ought to hear. And based on how popular Mamma Mia! seems to be on social media right now, the happy endings and upbeat nature of the show (and movie) parallel what many of us are going through right now.

On a personal note, Mamma Mia! was the last in-person show I did, and likely will do for a while as I settle into my post-grad career and life. A pre-COVID, junior fall production that I had no clue would be my final "normal" show for the foreseeable future. Sure, the book and score definitely have its moments of camp and cheesiness, but it was the most commercially successful show we'd done in our company's history - not to mention, a whole lot of fun (I mean, who wouldn't love to get to sing and dance to ABBA songs every day?). People from all walks of life, from families to Greek Life to other students and community members nearby, came out and consistently added to the energy of the room.

Although a good portion of the cast was either injured or ill, you wouldn't know it, because the pure optimism and joy that radiated throughout the room - especially those who would get up and dance and sing along with us during the three encores - fueled us through nearly 2.5 hours of performing at 110% energy at all times. It sucks that I took so much of it for granted, but I look back on the experience so fondly. I will never forget the times spent on and off stage with people I will always cherish. One moment in particular stands out.

My mom had never seen the musical or movie before our campus production, but when "Dancing Queen" started, memories of me and my dad (who's since passed away) dancing together to that very song in our basement - our song when I was a little girl - flooded back to her in an instant. That's something I will never be grateful enough for. Plus, my mom is a single mother, and I was sure to thank her for being the Donna to my Sophie in my Playbill bio. Overall, while not the most complex or serious show, the legacy Mamma Mia! has had on both pop culture and my life is unwavering, positive, and a light. Thank you for the music, for giving it to me.

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From This Author Student Blogger: Alexandra Curnyn