Mamma Mia! The Party at the O2, London/Greece
ABBA made me turn 50, that is.
And while we’re throwing blame here, ABBA made me sing and dance to the point I was dripping with gratitude for the music, too.
If you have no idea what I’m talking about, and you’re that oh-so curious ABBA lover, feel free to check it out first https://www.mammamiatheparty.com/gb/en/.
And now for the play-by-play of the night that should have never ended (as you can see from the above photo, they kicked us out).
My husband and I brought new life to me turning 50 when we closed down Mamma Mia! The Party! in September. Alex humored me when I told him I wanted to go somewhere where I could dance. And though he may have been shocked, he went along with it, and so did our friends from back home (my stage husband from our local community production of Mamma Mia! and his wife).
We took a quick jaunt over the pond, enlivened the London streets in our bright 70s costumes, and rode the crowded tube. We had fun conversations with interested onlookers and then partied, dined and danced at the O2 in outlandish Mamma Mia! style.
There we were…the “brilliant Americans”. Everyone kept calling us that, in their adorable English accents that you just wanted to record and keep for prosperity.
They adored our outfits, bought on Amazon, no, as we liked to say, Am A Son. And yes, they even sold me my white boots, which are all the rage right now.
We were chartering new territory as most people, including us, had no idea what to expect. We just trusted that they’d bring Mamma Mia to life in a robust and interactive way.
From the moment we got greeted and our names were checked off of a paper print out of guests (there are no iPads and such in Greece), we knew we were in the right place. The smile on the woman’s face when she saw that we were in our “street clothes” spoke volumes.
We entered the blue barn-like doors and got whisked away into Skopelos, where we were greeted again, with such enthusiasm. “The Greeks” really do love their Americans, but we sure did love them back.
The only sign that we were still in London was the coat check. I checked my raincoat and my friend’s umbrella there, thank goodness. It had only been drizzling outside and my raincoat was so bloody hot it was shielding the rain, all right. The rain that was pouring off of me.
Inside at last. And before us in all its magnificence stood a three-level Greek taverna. We were on the top of it with all it’s twinkling lights set before us, not to outshine the Bougainvillea, Greece’s defining flower, all draped around us like curtains. There were the beautiful potted terra cotta plants. I never touched them to see if they were real or not.
It didn’t matter. Everything was real. We stood in the midst of a 3D experience. a slice of the O2, which my second husband kept calling Oxygen, he’s known for his cheesy jokes, as is my own husband, for that matter, so no wonder they get along so well.
Had the night just ended there, soaking it all in, we would have been just as giddy and enamored as we were at the party’s end.
We went to the bar, with real glasses of sparkling wine and cassis lined up for us to take one. But how to decide? Some were pinker than others, some were more filled than others.
Imagine that! A bartender that doesn’t measure how much he pours. We really were in Greece.
We got escorted down the first set of stairs, past the middle level, and the bottom. It was a grand courtyard with tables spread about in various shapes and sizes with their blue and white checked table cloths.
We strode across the floor and passed the mostly empty tables still awaiting their guests (who were in a long queue outside waiting to get into eutopia).
There was a water fountain and a massive disco ball hovered from the five-story ceiling. Before we reached another series of steps leading to a bar that mimicked the one on the other side, we were led to our table.
Our round table tucked in the right-hand corner seated ten. Already five women of various generations were seated leaving the remaining seats for us. We had one extra seat, which served us well as we were able to spread out a bit.
We had menus. (The closest thing to a program, unless we bought a program from one of the girls walking around selling them, which I never got around to doing).
The table was already set, all of the tables were, in fact. The red tomatoes just popped off of that blue and white background like they had been on a stage of their own. There was a beautiful bowl of tomatoes and feta and cucumbers and another bowl of tomatoes and dips. Slices of bread were laid out in a bowl, along with olives, a water vessel and water glasses and separate cans of forks and knives.
The acoustics were amazing, though you couldn’t hear people unless they were next to you, you never had a sense that 500 people were there. It seems absurd to even think that that number of people would have been there that night. It seemed so intimate.
They had workers like you wouldn’t believe. One would come up right after the other. They didn’t want you to ever feel unattended. Though it was a simple dinner, we felt like royalty. I mostly talked to the staff while Alex talked to the dear women next to him.
One waitress came over and asked me how long did it take us to get to Greece? And then another came over and said, “This is great. You’re groupies.”
I made it clear that we were not groupies, as if that mattered. I said, “I just turned 50 and this is my party.” And she laughed and said, “I get you.” And I said, “I’m so glad you get me.”
“But, the big question was, if we weren’t groupies, how did Alex have on a leisure suit with tigers all over it? “He did that because of the tiger song, right? I think they might play that tonight, even.”
Of course, we played along that we knew ABBA sang a tiger song?
Here check it out for yourself for a fun ABBA moment. Here’s “I am the Tiger”: https://youtu.be/wWQ7wrPyUe0 .
We watched the seats fill up and just as we started to wonder how this night was going to play out, the “theater” part of it started.
A woman came down the stairs on the other side of the courtyard with a microphone. Her name was Kate, not Donna, but she was the woman who produced the Mamma Mia movies and she married a Greek man named Nikos and they were throwing this Mamma Mia! party for us.
She asked who had seen the movies, and we expected a great response off of that, the reviewers would have to be the only ones who hadn’t seen the movies, right? And then she asked who here didn’t? And a man a few tables away from us clapped real loud.
She loved it and went over to give him the mic and he said, “I never saw any of the movies.” They gave him a free drink and he got a lot of applause.
She then asked us to stand up and introduce ourselves to someone we didn’t know. So we met everyone we could. We had the biggest smiles on our face and at that moment we knew that we were all in this together.
The woman also introduced her daughter, who was not Sophie, who was interested in a young man, who was not Skye, but they got to sing all the great love songs as if they were.
There was Debbie, the cook, who had a bad smoking habit, so we were asked to yell, “Debbie don’t” if we saw that she was tempted. And, of course, she was tempted, hence she wound up singing the theme song, Mamma Mia, only this time about a cigarette.
And there was the big drama when the boiler broke and they wouldn’t be able to get our dinner out in time. So they called in Fernando to come and fix it, but there was no singing about him, though it kept us all wondering.
But we were engaged in these moments when they pieced together the threads of both movies and the ABBA songs and it all came to life before us. And right before us, intermingling around our very tables Nikko made the daughter break up with the guy.
They tied in other aspects of the movies at the break when a guy came out in scuba gear, just throwing us a flashback, they didn’t actually sing Lay All Your Love On Me.
The girls sang the typical boy songs from the movies and the boys sang the traditional girl parts. Mamma Mia! was turned upside down before our very eyes.
After we broke and had dinner, they had a woman emerge from the water fountain and she did acrobatics in the air with the water dripped off of her, not unlike me taking off my raincoat.
The lighting fed off of the fantasy of it all. The daughter broke up with her boyfriend and they sang The Winner Takes it All.
Nikko’s mother, the patriarch, came to make sure they got back together again.
But as all of us Mamma Mia! lovers know, it’s not the plot that we are to be concerned with. It’s how the plot dangles before us to be the excuse for the music. It’s the wine that you drink with the meal. And with the band just a table away from us, we were intoxicated with the experience of it all.
They had warned us that our table was going to make way for the dance floor. So after dessert, we grabbed our stuff and headed up to the bar area. There was more dancing, this time to Greek music, but it was upbeat and festive. We watched as the courtyard got transformed into a catwalk.
We were then allowed to pile onto the newly created dance floor. As we were standing in the back of the line, we couldn’t get to the front. That placed us on the side of the catwalk.
I snuck in between the workers. I couldn’t tell if they were bouncers, but by the end, I realized they were there to help take the railings off of the catwalk. They were strategically placed all around where the poles were. And there I was right in the middle of all of them. The only paying customer who had gotten that close. The rest of my party were behind me, but even they couldn’t join me.
We saw the dancers in the white spandex perform and sing and dance. It was incredible. There were three of them dancing on our dinner table. And then the dancers got off the catwalk and the makeshift stage crew turned to me and said, “Do you want to go up?”
I looked at him and said, “You really mean it.” And, I was the first one up on the catwalk. Out of 500 people, I consider that to be quite a special treat, well worth the price of admission. I had three seconds of fame up there before everyone else came and join me. It was the most magical part of the evening as we danced to our beloved ABBA songs that were intermixed together by this fabulous deejay who knew just what to do to make ABBA come to life in a new way.
And indeed, this night was about the 35 ways we could sing and dance to ABBA. Indeed, Thank You For the Music!
The majority of people had left by this point. They let us dance on our catwalk, even though there were just a few of us staggering through to the end. There was the cute couple who danced together, and we were about to leave them to be the last ones on the catwalk. When we started to pass them and I said goodnight, the woman shook her head no and said, “You have to wait (there was a pause of total respect) Fernando”. Indeed, as if she had cued them up, that’s when they played Fernando. There was no way we’re going to miss that.
And then we thought our dancing days were numbered, I was drenched, once more, and we went to get some water but we saw this guy who had been dancing by himself, he was singing the words and miming them as he went. So our friend nudged me and said, “We can’t leave him by himself.” So we went up to him so he could have a dance partner. He had it hard for ABBA. He even knew all the words to Slipping Through My Fingers. So well that he could slide his fingers through the air. He was in good company. We got each other. We had the time of our lives.
Only, it was time to go and our adventure had to be put to rest, it was only 11:30, but they kept their promise. That’s when they warned us the party would be over. We were the last paying customers to walk out of Greece that night. With the voices of the Londoners still rising in our heads, “You brilliant Americans”, this night wasn’t about us at all.
If anyone was brilliant, it was ABBA for writing these songs that seep into our hearts and for this interactive experience that rekindled our spirit. ABBA lovers aside, if you are feeling like you’re too fill-in-the-blank and need to reawaken the life within you, heck, maybe you’re turning 50, then have a jaunt to London and party Mamma Mia! style.
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