Heartwarming tale that’ll bring anyone closer to their mom.
There’s just some nights you need nothing more than a simple and clean musical to reassure and make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Most recently, that musical happens to be Taiwanese theatre company Godot Theatre’s Love Ya Mom!, which played at the Esplanade Theatre in its overseas debut.
Directed by Liang Chi-Ming, with music by acclaimed Mandarin pop composer Chris Babida, book and lyrics by prominent playwright, author and lyricist Chen Lo-jung, Love Ya Mom! takes the body swap genre and puts a musical spin on it, as a single mother and her beloved daughter get to see things through each other’s eyes with an experiment gone wrong. While its simple storyline often feels at odds with its whopping 3 hour runtime, Love Ya Mom! is buoyed by joyous, energetic performance from its all-star cast and ensemble. Headlined by Taiwan Golden Bell Award-winners and popular TV personalities Sam Tseng Kuo-cheng and Phoebe Huang, along with rising stars Sharon Kwan Si Min, Erika Liu, and popular actor Bobby Dou, there is an effervescence that characterises each scene and number performed, making Love Ya Mom! a relatively easy and light watch throughout.
From the very moment the musical opens, we’re introduced to a high tempo group number that introduces us to most of our main characters, learning of how single mother and car workshop mechanic Kelly (Phoebe Huang) has raised daughter Sandy (Sharon Kwan) alone for the past 10 years. With Kelly engaged to her boss Paul (Sam Tseng), Sandy is unable to accept her new stepfather, but seemingly finds a way to find her original father again when she meets Dr Leo (Hsieh Chung-Ya), who has invented a time travel potion. Things go awry when the instructions aren’t followed, and Kelly and Sandy end up swapping bodies instead. As they attempt to find a solution to the mix-up, both women also learn to adapt to each other’s lives and literally take a walk in each other’s shoes. ‘Kelly’ has to deal with difficult customer Madame X (Chang Yang-Shuan, complete with giant wig), while ‘Sandy’ encounters the charming Xiao An (Bobby Dou), incurring the jealousy of fellow student Jane (Erika Liu).
At the heart of what drives Love Ya Mom! to success is the sincerity and charm with which each of the onstage relationships are portrayed to the audience. Both Kelly and Sandy are already portrayed as already having a strong mother-daughter bond, teasing each other whether in their original bodies or each other’s for their love handles or ‘QQ’ butt, and one that remains consistent throughout the musical. In addition, Kelly and Paul have a fun secret handshake with each other that makes their love for each other evident, while Sharon Kwan stands out with her portrayal of ‘Sandy’, making the swap from youthful schoolgirl to brash older woman in both her speech and mannerisms, charming in her scenes with Bobby Dou, and impressing by playing an erhu live onstage while singing classic songs from the 80s. Similarly, Phoebe Huang does well as ‘Kelly’ in her encounters with Madame X, bringing out a youthful energy and demeanour to cull the difficult client. Sam Tseng, known for his work as a television host, easily charms with his sense of humour and willingness to play the adorkable Paul.
What is also impressive about Love Ya Mom! is its production quality, in terms of visuals, with lighting by Parmerla Chin Ping-Ping, set by Li Po-Lin and media design by Ethan Wang. So much detail goes into every scene, from the school environment to Kelly and Sandy’s home, immersing us completely in the musical’s world, be it scenic projections or entire staircases that appear. In the workshop scene for example, one feels that the visual design is so realistic, it practically pops onstage, while an actual car even pulls up onstage, along with plenty other surprises that give the musical its wow factor. In a particularly fun musical number titled Flip The World (翻转地球), the background projections literally turn topsy-turvy, with the entire ensemble arriving onstage to help amplify the visuals with their presence. On the flipside, one of the most moving moments in the musical utilises an LED screen features a video of Sandy’s father (also played by Sam Tseng), while she ‘speaks’ to him via a teddy bear, and the two engage in a touching duet, expressing just how much they mean to each other.
By the time Love Ya Mom! reaches its closing scenes, as an audience, we have been thoroughly charmed by its vibrant antics and the emotional roller coaster it takes us on. Fiercely relatable in its familiar family dynamics, there is plenty of laughter and plenty of emotion that goes into this simple but effective tale of two hardworking women who learn to empathise with each other. As the show reaches its brilliant closing number involving the entire cast and stunning visual projections across the entire stage, we feel happy inside seeing how the colourful cast and the happy ending they’ve arrived at, each having found their own companion to reunite with. Unabashedly fun, star-studded and with high-production value, Love Ya Mom! is undoubtedly a quality, feel-good Mandarin musical that impresses with its performances and moves with its story, leaving one with nothing but good vibes from a great night out.
Performance attended 19/7/19
Love Ya Mom! played from 19th to 21st July 2019 at the Esplanade Theatre.