Back in June, a friend and I went to see the traveling show for Mama Mia! in Boston. The scene on the Boston Common was even more chaotic than usual so my friend dropped me off on the sidewalk to run ahead to the theater while she looked for parking. True to my nature, I walked in the exact opposite direction of where I wanted to go. After some reorienting, I finally started heading back in the right direction, though I still really had no idea of where I was going. Then suddenly I was overtaken by a group of women all clad in white cottons, turquoises, and bright pinks. They were wearing flowing dresses with sandals, even though it wasn’t quite warm enough yet. I knew I had hit the right crowd and sure enough, they led me straight to the theater.
It’s not just that Mama Mia! takes place in Greece, it’s a play that encapsulates that indefinable summer feeling. The audience just dressed accordingly. Never in my life have I seen so much white and aqua in a room (or been in a more fun crowd for that matter). Many people will be familiar with the movie version of Mama Mia! starring Meryl Streep. The movie closely follows the plot points of the play, but it projects an entirely different tone. When watching the movie, the audience is given the opportunity to look back on the disco references and laugh, enjoying the hilarious costumes and free-spirited life style from a privileged and distant position. In the play, they pull you in and ask you to embrace the disco silliness and revel in live performances of ABBA’s greatest hits, without a sense of irony. It’s pure nostalgia for the older audience members, but fun for everyone involved.
Mama Mia! (play or movie version) makes you feel young again. I don’t just mean for the audience members who remember disco, but also for anyone who can think back on a childhood summer in the sun. It’s that feeling of having the sun warm you to the core. It’s the summer breeze evaporating the salt water off your skin after a beach swim. It’s care free late nights with your friends when there’s no school in the morning. It’s acoustic guitar playing at a summer bonfire. It’s dining outdoors under the bougainvillea and watching the sun go down.
There’s an exuberance to Mama Mia! that catches these elusive feelings of summer. It helps that the whole premise of the play stems from a series of summer romances, but there’s more to it than just that. It captures the nostalgia many of us associate with summer, with the characters often singing and dancing on the beach, reminiscing about lost loves and old passions. It also gives hope that the world can be at your finger-tips well after you come of age; that dreams can come true, adventures can be had and lost loves can be found. I might be working at a desk most of the summer, but I’m still taking inspiration from Donna and Sophie to get outside at every chance and embrace the freedom of the season.