The world renowned musical “MAMMA MIA!” started out in London, live for the first time in front of a paying audience. Ever since that first showing, audiences have had the same reaction to this musical – laughter and dancing in the aisles along with the cast. In those few years, “MAMMA MIA!” has been performed in 440 major cities and seen by over 60 million people. But wherever it plays, its creators have never lost sight of what they were seeking to achieve, and it helps to explain how and why it has achieved such a remarkable resonance and relevance.
In this case, the songs came first – and it was producer Judy Craymer’s genius to spot their theatrical potential so early on – she also 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,” she comments. “The story had to be as infectious as the music and provide a strong feel-good factor.” That, however, is easier said than done, and thus began Craymer’s decade-long crusade to find it and bring it to the stage.
The producer, who at the time was a stage manager on the original London production of Cats in 1981, had subsequently joined Tim Rice’s production company. It was there, while working as executive producer on the West End production of his and Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus’ first post-ABBA project Chess, that she was first bowled over by Benny and Björn.
The playwright Catherine Johnson, who was commissioned to write the book for “MAMMA MIA!,” fortunately found plenty of drama in them. Not only are they frequently complete stories within themselves, but she also discovered something else important: that many of the early ABBA songs were more innocent, naive and teenage-orientated, whereas later on they became more mature and reflective. And, of course, it was women who sang them. That suggested a story about two generations of women, namely a mother and a daughter.
The show also happily reconciles the worlds of pop music and musical theatre that were once indivisible. “MAMMA MIA!” is a sophisticated, but not pretentious, musical that re-introduces the familiarity of a pop idiom to the theatre. “MAMMA MIA!” provides a thrilling example of how enhanced life can be with song and dance.
MAMMA MIA! will be performed at the Thrasher-Horne Center (THC) on Tuesday, June 20 at 7:30 p.m.