Mamma Mia
'Mamma Mia!', which features Swedish pop group ABBA’s tunes, will run at the Dubai Opera until September 25 Image Credit: Supplied

“We bring the sunshine,” says ‘Mamma Mia!’ star Lucy May Barker ahead of the show on September 13. And it’s been a year that needs some of that warm spirit what with COVID-19 stretching the limits of human endurance to loneliness, isolation and sickness.

The musical, which features Swedish pop group ABBA’s tunes, will run at the Dubai Opera until September 25, and the actors hope to transfuse some of the cheer on set to the audience. “I think ‘Mamma Mia!’ is a show that every single person who watches it will come out feeling that warm glow of love really…And people can sing along to songs they recognise after a tough time…it’s just really really great,” explains May Barker.

The production, which has a movie counterpart and which is part of UK and international tour celebrating 22 years since its debut, has all the trappings of a fabulous time. In it, Donna (Sara Poyzer), a hotelier in the Greek islands, is prepping for her daughter’s wedding. Her child, played by May Barker, has other plans – she’s called three gentlemen who her mother once dated in order to find out who her real dad is.

The world pressed pause

For the leading ladies, heading back to the ‘Mamma Mia!’ stage was like a homecoming. They’ve played their parts over and over, but last year suddenly the curtains came down on all productions and they were left without a stage.

At the time, as the world reeled from the coronavirus fallout and rallied under the banner of COVID fighters, the only thing to do was stay put. At home. Sometimes alone. Poyzer recalls that her lockdown days were filled with baking. “People had to fill their time productively – particularly actors. So yeah I really like baking and as soon as I got the call for ‘Mamma Mia!’ I knew I was going to be in lycra again, I went back to salad,” deadpans Poyzer in an interview with Gulf News.

'A homecoming'

And when she went back to rehearsals, she says, she was exhilarated. “It’s exciting to be back. It’s been a strange time for actors and to return to a show that I really love and with people I love working with is a real privilege,” she explains.

Which is why she put the bread aside. And the dairy. And the spicy food. “I don’t eat dairy when I’m performing because for me it’s a problem. I don’t eat spicy food. I don’t tend to eat after 4 because when I digest food it’s a problem when I sing,” she explains, adding that all those sacrifices are worth it.

It does take some stamina to belt out songs and dance on the stage over about two hours, she confirms. “Show fitness is a real thing. There is a certain element of it that is not the same thing as running or getting on a bike. But luckily we have weeks of rehearsals so we were able to kind of run out of breath there and sit down have a rest. We have to be careful about our voices and our bodies; we have to rest when we can. I have to do more because I’m older,” she explains.

The actors are nothing if not committed to the roles. There are even fake tans and extensions so they look the part. “I have lovely hair extensions on stage – my hair is obviously super long anyway but I have those extensions to make it fuller and more luscious. My fake tan is great.”

Then there’s “the extra stuff in the costumes – the costumes are amazing for the show- they are a real feast for the eyes….and there’s a surprise in there for people in the finale that maybe they don’t expect,” she adds.

Dubai dreams
Both leads of ‘Mamma Mia!’ are looking forward to a Dubai break. “I love the culture in the Dubai – the people are exceptionally warm – I always like to know the history of a country and I think Dubai has a rich history so there’s loads to explore and it’ll always be with some food in my hand, no doubt,” says Sara Poyzer. Lucy May Barker, meanwhile, is all about the sunshine. “I’m really looking forward to sunshine – our summer has been really dreadful; it’s been raining. And the food [is] amazing,” she adds.

Audience interaction 

To date ‘Mamma Mia’ has been seen by more than 65 million people in 50 productions in 16 different languages – and night after night the performers must crank up the excitement levels. “The audiences and transaction between the audience and the performer – you feed off their energy and also it’s really fast-paced for Sophie; there’s so much going on. Just simply listening to the other actors and telling that story will keep it fresh, because it’s real,” says May Barker.

And when it comes to the finale, both actors say, it’s a grand spectacle. “Everybody’s been on stage for two hours, - and it’s been hard work – the finale is always a real thrill. Everybody in the show is really talented and extremely committed to the show,” says Poyzer.

With musicals that weave famous tunes into their fabric, the showcase can go either way – it can be an unforgettable, magical moment where you hum along or a nuisance your mind divests the memory of.

When it comes to ‘Mamma Mia’ I think we are in safe hands. Get ready to sing because, Mamma Mia! Here we go again.

Don't Miss It!

Tickets to see 'Mamma Mia' at the Dubai Opera from September 13-25 start at Dh295.