Timeless Magic: 'Mamma Mia’, a musical delight


Donna, the mama in Mamma Mia with her 2 best buddies in Mamma Mia theatre performance on November 19, 2023 at Brookhouse School in Nairobi. PHOTO | POOL

Theatre may still be an extracurricular activity at Brookhouse school, meaning the student doesn’t get graded in the activity, but still, the learners as well as the faculty throw themselves with a passion into the performing arts.

That could be easily seen last week at the Karen branch of the school when they staged Mamma Mia! The musical is based on the pop music of the Swedish band, ABBA, which took the world by storm in the mid-70s and early 80s. The group broke up in the 80s, but then their album came out years later, and again, they hit number one on the pop charts for weeks.

Then when Mamma Mia! The musical was devised, and it too became a blockbuster. When the show was finally made into a film, ABBA’s popularity got even bigger since not only did the baby boomers know all the words by heart. Their children and grandchildren loved the film and learning to sing along with the elders.

That timeless magic of the music had the same impact on students from the upper school who clambered to be in the musical. Around 150 went on stage as both dancers and singers, to fill the school’s spacious auditorium with joy and reverie.

The beauty of ABBA’s music is that it’s filled with stories simply told and musically rendered by the two composer-lyricists, Benny Andersson and Bjm Ulvaeus who were also members of the ABBA quartet. The music was made to sing along to, which is why it’s been translated into so many languages (even Chinese) and staged worldwide.

The Brookhouse production could easily be the first to be staged in Africa, with the students, mentored and directed by gifted teachers, giving the show their all.

The musical is essentially a romantic comedy with an inter-generational edge since both Donna (Stephanie Muiruri) and her daughter Sophie (Nolwazi Ndlova) are the co-stars of the show.

Their story is set on a remote tropical island where Donna, a single mother, runs an old tavern and has raised her lovely daughter to be as strong and committed feminist as she has always been.

The problem is Sophie has picked up her mother’s independent spirit but reversed her gender ethics. Where Donna grew up just as the sexual revolution in the United States was taking off, Sophie had gone back to the tradition of abstinence until marriage.

Thus, the 20-year-old Sophie plans to be married to Sky (Nate Mwangi), which freaks out her mother who can’t understand how her daughter could make such a radical reversal of all that she believes in, namely freedom, equality, independence and the firm determination not to depend on a man to lead a good life.

The show’s story begins on the day before the wedding. Sophie has always had a nagging curiosity to know who her father is. So when she discovers her mother’s early diary, she gets closer to finding out who her daddy is.

Sophie finds three men who her mom had discussed in the diary. So she secretly writes and invites all three to attend her wedding, which is taking place the following day.

Hoping to have her authentic dad walk her down the aisle, she meets all three as they get off the boat. She then sweetly explains that Donna doesn’t know they are coming because she is the one who invited them. It doesn’t take long for Sam (Leon Muriuki)), Harry (Paul Turray), and Bill (Andrew Momany) to figure out who she is and how they are indeed her father.

Of course, they didn’t know that Donna had slept with all three around the same time. All three are happy to walk Sophie down the aisle!

Sophie faints at the realisation that she has generated a disaster in the making. As it turns out, Donna knows who the father is, and is furious that he has come. But as Sophie reaches the altar, the tide turns sharply and she decides she doesn’t want to get married.

Instead, there’s a reconciliation between Sam and Donna who utilise the pastor who has come to marry Sophie and Sky. Now he’s going to do the ceremony (as spontaneous as it is) for Donna and Sam.

The musical is meant to be a light-hearted romantic fantasy, which is the best way to see this unrealistic resolution. It works for Sophie who now will have a father for the first time and it works for Donna who’s finally back with the love of her life.

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