About Mamma Mia
Mamma Mia! was written by British playwright Catherine Johnson, based on the songs of ABBA, composed by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, former members of the band. The title of the musical is taken from the group's 1975 chart-topper "Mamma Mia".
The musical was the idea of theatre producer Judy Craymer. After seeing the 1983 musical Chess, for which Andersson and Ulvaeus also wrote the music, and heard their song "The Winner Takes It All," she realized the theatrical potential of the group's pop songs. She had to find a way of unlocking that potential, with a story strong enough to carry them. “I knew from the outset that Mamma Mia! had to be much more than just an ABBA compilation or tribute show. The story had to be as infectious as the music and provide a strong feel-good factor.”
Craymer enlisted playwright Catherine Johnson to write the book. She found that many of the early ABBA songs were more innocent, naive and teenage-orientated, and later on, they became more mature and reflective. And, of course, it was women who sang them. So that suggested a story about two generations of women, namely a mother and a daughter. “I wanted to write about a working single mother who had got her life together and the relationship she had with her daughter who she absolutely adored but fought with.”
Her challenge was that “whatever happens in the story, I always have to come back to the song… We didn’t want to have those awful clunky moments where people burst into song. To me, it was very important that I create believable characters and gave them all a true storyline, and I absolutely worked to get the story and the songs to work together.” The story-telling magic of ABBA’s timeless songs drove the ensuing enchanting tale of love, friendship, and identity set in a Greek island paradise.
Mamma Mia! premiered in London’s West End in 1999. After successful USA West Coast runs, it opened on Broadway at the Winter Garden Theatre in 2001, and then at the Broadhurst Theatre in 2013. After 5,773 performances, Mamma Mia! ended its record-breaking 14-year Broadway run in 2015, making it the eighth longest-running show in Broadway history.
As of 2017, the show continues in London's West End, where it is the eighth longest-running show in West End history. It has been performed in more than 40 countries and across five continents.
A film adaptation of Mamma Mia! was released in July 2008. Featuring much of the creative team from the original London production, it starred Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried and Pierce Brosnan.
Director/Choreographer Mark Martino, when asked why he thinks this show remains such a musical theatre favorite and why it elicits a cult response from its fans, said, "I think there are three reasons. The first is the ABBA music. Except for The Beatles, no one else has sold more records than ABBA. It is music we always love to revisit. I defy anyone not to know how "Dancing Queen" goes. Mothers pass it on to daughters and it comes around again and again so that it becomes family music. Actually, the entire musical writing is very clever; there are complex harmonies; they overdub themselves many times, and all the hooks are so singable and memorable. At the same time, there is an underlying current of Swedish melancholy that is moving. Then, secondly, the story that is built around the music is so sweet, so charming, so unabashedly sentimental, so romantic! It is about love and loss, and all those things which tug at our heartstrings. Lastly, it radiates pure joy. When it opened on Broadway in 2001 right after 9/11, many people thought it wouldn't work, given the tragedy that had just happened. Yet somehow, it proved to be the perfect time precisely because it is so joyful that the audience's enjoyment is directly proportionate to what is on stage. There aren't that many shows where the cast gets to have as much fun as the audience, and this is one of them. That comes irresistibly across the footlights. The plot is really very simple: 'Who's my Dad?' But is has a sweetness and humor; it's accessible and moving, and when it opened, it also helped that you couldn't get a ticket for such a long time.”
"I'd like them to feel when they leave," he says of the Mamma Mia! audiences, "that they have spent a couple hours with people they would like to know better. And, of course, "I would love to have the audience think that they should be dancing, too!"