The body swap trope is not an uncommon one in film and television, but has it ever been done onstage? With Taiwan’s Godot Theatre Company, not only have they done that with 2017 musical Love Ya Mom!, but did so with roaring success, becoming the fastest-selling show at the 2017 Taiwan International Festival of Arts.
Now, come see the hit show yourself as Godot Theatre Company returns to the Esplanade Theatre to present it in its overseas debut this July, after 2018’s Tuesdays with Morrie. Directed by Godot Theatre Company founder Liang Chi-Ming, with music by Mandopop composer Chris Babida and book/lyrics by Chen Lo-jung, Love Ya Mom! follows a single mother as she juggles her job as an expert mechanic while raising her daughter, who nurses rock star ambitions. When they swap bodies due to an experiment gone wrong, the two end up scrambling to maintain a sense of normalcy while they attempt to figure out how to reverse the swap.
A great many factors were at play that has led to the musical’s roaring success; beyond its star-studded cast that includes Taiwan Golden Bell Award-winners and popular TV personalities Sam Tseng and Phoebe Huang, this was also the first new musical production that Godot Theatre Company has produced in 7 years since 2010, acting as a triumphant comeback production for the company. Commissioned specially for the 2017 Taiwan International Festival of Arts, the show went on to go on a national tour, playing to over 30,000 audience members.
On the script’s origins, playwright Chen Lo-Jung comments: “There was a lot of freedom given as to how and what I was allowed to write. Honestly, it all just started from when director Liang and I were brainstorming, and we arrived at the prompt of wondering what would happen if a mother and daughter swapped bodies.”
Playwright Chen is no stranger to writing plays and lyrics, having been in the industry for about 30 years, with achievements that included having written ABBA’s song Mamma Mia! in Mandarin (while retaining the essence and contents of the original English lyrics), to a musical titled An Accident of Love (搭错车). On his writing process, he explains: “I often stay at home and just type my lyrics out on my desktop. For this project, I treated it like I was writing an album; instead of writing the story first, my process instead started with me figuring out the emotions from the songs to write the scenes, before getting the narrative down. Composer Chris Babida is the same way, and really thinks about the emotions in his music and how it’ll come across in the live performance.”
On what he hopes this musical ends up communicating, Chen adds: “I wanted for audiences to gain a little empathy for their mothers or children as they imagine what it’s like to live life in each other’s shoes, but in a fun way. There is so much emphasis on the relationships in this musical, not just between mother and daughter, and not just between the young couple, but even the romance the mother finds during the show. It reminds us that love can happen regardless of age, and is transcendent.”
Besides Sam Tseng and Phoebe Huang, the cast of Love Ya Mom! also features rising stars Sharon Kwan and Erika Liu, as well as popular actor Bobby Dou, the latter of which we last saw in Story Works’ The Way of Zhuang Zi during the Esplanade’s Huayi Festival earlier this year. On his casting process, director Liang Chi-Ming explains: “I knew Sam (Tseng) and Phoebe (Huang) from over 30 years ago, and we’ve been good friends since. Especially for Kuo-cheng, we’ve worked on multiple productions together over the last 10 years at Godot Theatre, so we have this really good understanding of each other.”
He adds: “As for the younger cast members, Bobby (Dou), Erika (Liu) and Sharon (Kwan), they’re all good friends and have very good musical sense. This applies especially to Sharon, who played the piano and erhu when she was younger, and is also a good singer. Although it’s the first time she was in a musical, she has shown a lot of promise and potential.”
Beyond his role in Godot Theatre Company, director Liang also doubles as a teacher of acting and musical theatre at the National Taiwan Normal University’s Institute of Performing Arts, allowing him to meet plenty of promising new talent he believes will do well in his shows, giving them opportunities to be onstage. Says Liang: “Besides the main cast, I also have 20 ensemble members in the show. Sometimes, casting can be very difficult, so I often ask my friends, who are agents, to help out. The actors and actresses have to sing, dance and act, meaning they have to be triple threats. There’s so much practice and rehearsals that go into this production, and it’s a lot of work. But my actors are definitely proud of what they are doing, and proud to be chosen by such a renowned director.”
This statement is backed up by main cast member Bobby Dou, who comments: “It’s really fun to be onstage in a musical, and to be at the Esplanade theatre two times in a single year, it’s really great. This is a hard show to do, because there’s a lot of singing, dancing and acting. But being on the same stage, in the same performance for so long, you really get this sense of understanding with each other, and there are times we feel so much, that we end up crying together after the curtain call.”
In many ways, Bobby is a perfect fit for the musical, having come from a rock background since 1995, at the tender age of 16. Says Bobby: “As a rocker in the past, I loved the lifestyle. But a musical is actually completely different, since you’ll have to do singing, acting and dancing at the same time. But there’s something very enticing about being onstage, because you can practically feel the audience as you perform. I’m always thinking about how to reach every single person in the theatre and make sure they’re all satisfied with my performance!”
“Rehearsals have just started up again, but since it’s only been about a year since the last time we staged this, it still feels very fresh in my head!” Bobby concludes. “This musical has such a great soundtrack, such a great story, and such a great cast. I’m really proud to be able to share the stage with such great actors like Sam Tseng and Phoebe Huang, and sometimes, I wish I was sitting in the audience so I could see their performance and really appreciate it from that point of view instead!”
No matter whether you’re a rocker daughter, a single mother, or anything and everything in between, be sure not to miss this heart-warming, smash-hit musical. Catch Love Ya Mom!, and walk away with a brand new perspective on familial relationships as you watch just how love and tolerance can resolve any conflict!
Love Ya Mom! plays from 19th to 21st July 2019 at the Esplanade Theatre. Tickets available here