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Mama Mia! Why isn’t anyone singing along?
Why do we need controlled substances to unleash uncontrolled fun?

I sang, but under my breath. My friends did occasional seat dances, shuffling their feet and tap-dancing their fingers in time with the music. We all smiled a lot, but otherwise behaved demurely.

Six seats down the row, a man started to sing along to a sappy love song, but was forced to stop mid-emotion by the giggles of strangers. The four white-haired women in front of me didn’t so much as nod their heads. Come to think of it, perhaps they nodded off. Either way, they just didn’t get it.

Maybe none of us in the audience got it that night, although, judging by the light-hearted smiles as people exited the theatre, most would surely say they’d had a good time watching this summer’s musical hit Mama Mia. Who wouldn’t have a good time listening to 90 minutes of the songs of Abba, the energetic Swedish pop band who first took over North American airwaves in the 1970s.

The problem is I think we could have had more than a good time. I think we could have had an over-the-top, laugh-until-you-cry, sing-your-heart-out, rip-roaring good time – and all in the company of strangers, which would have made the experience all the sweeter. We could have had an SDL – a spontaneous display of life – which would have done every one of us, collectively, and individually, so much good. All we had to do was sing. Out loud. With each other.

I’ve been left wondering why we didn’t sing along the way the theatre managed exhorted us to as he explained in a 10-minute monologue that this was the sing-along-version’ of Mama Mia, released because movie-goers watching the previously issued musical version couldn’t help but burst into song themselves whenever actors Meryl Streep or Pierce Brosnan did.

I’d noticed the sing-along-tag on the move advertisement earlier that day when I’d checked the movie listings. I’d even mentioned it to my friends enroute to the movie theatre. “Did you know,” I asked naively, “that this is movie is called Mama Mia, the Sing-Along Edition? You don’t suppose the audience actually sings out-loud?”

It turns out that is exactly what is supposed to happen. The Mama Mia in theatres now is a karaoke version of its former self. If you watched the movie earlier this summer, you did so without bonus of gigantic lyrics racing across the screen (and changing colours to indicate just when to sing each word!).

But that isn’t what happened when I went to the theatre last Friday night. For all the theatre manager’s pleading, there was no chorus of voices singing Dancing Queen, no crooners agreeing in one voice ‘to take a chance’, no one so much as offering a ‘thank you for the music’ back at the movie stars as they belted out the familiar Abba lyrics.

The audience was so restrained it didn’t even break into a chorus of Mama Mia as the credits rolled. Surely we could have done that.

But we didn’t. And I think we missed a moment that every one of us would have remembered for the rest of our lives.

I’m willing to shoulder my share of the blame for being boring and for thinking a sing-along movie is simply silly. To be perfectly honest, I laughed my way through the theatre manager’s speech, imagining how foolish we would all look if we actually did follow his advice and sing as if we were pop stars ourselves.

Who would have the nerve to sing aloud in a room full of strangers? Would six or seven movie-goers take the risk of singing loudly enough so the rest of us would be compelled to join in? Would someone stand up and direct us? What if someone sang off key?

Why, I am wondering, do we need controlled substances to unleash uncontrolled fun? I’m sure an audience drinking something more potent than pop would have been singing raucously out loud, probably even annoyingly so, except that we would all be doing it together, so the annoyance factor would decline exponentially.

My friends and I have talked about getting a big group of people together to go back to the movie theatre to see Mama Mia again. It’s sort of sad, this organized effort towards spontaneity, but we are wondering if we pledged with each other to be embarrassed together, then perhaps others in the theatre would join us.

With everyone singing, it would no longer seem silly to sing along to a movie. We’d all loosen up a bit, which, judging from the theatre crowd I was part of last Friday night, wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

Lynda MacGibbon is a writer based in Riverview New Brunswick and the NB/PEI Director for Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship. She can be reached at

Originally published in Moncton Times & Transcipt, Moncton, NB, September 6, 2008, and simultaneously on




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