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Thank You For The Music! Mamma Mia! is 25 years young

Author KittyKitty, April 11th, 2024

April 6, 2024, marked a quarter-century since the international superhit made musical history when it began in London's West End. 25 years later and the party is still going strong!

A MAMMA MIA! Her-story

Featuring a soundtrack of Swedish pop group ABBA's greatest hits set to a story of romance, mischief, and misunderstandings on a sunny Greek Islands, Mamma Mia! has become one of the world's favorite musicals, spawning multiple productions (including a history-making 15 year Broadway run) and of course two box office busting movie adaptations!

First seen in London's West End, Mamma Mia debuted on April 6, 1999, Mamma Mia! was produced by Julie Craymer and with a book by Catherine Johnson and direction from Phyllida Lloyd, marking the first hit musical from an all-female creative team. 

An idea that captivated Cramer since working with Benny Andersson & Bjrn Ulvaeus on Chess the musical back in 1993, she saw the theatricality of the duo's songs, although it took a bit of persuading, as even Benny was worried about the band's popularity at the time. But after the release of ABBA's chart-topping Gold album in 1992, things changed launching the former 'guilty pleasure band' back into public consciousness. Benny and Bjorn were a little more pliable, though Cramer still remembers the pair's reluctance: "there was no day when they said, You can do this.' Right up to the wire, on April the 6th, they were like, OK, this could work." Famous last words...

Following a meeting with Johnson over cheese sandwiches, the plot began to come together.  Speaking on the story, where we see single mother Donna blindsided when her daughter invites her three prospective 'dads' to her upcoming wedding, Catherine Johnson recalls "I was a single mother, bringing up two kids. And at that time, politically, there was a lot of press about reckless single parents... I wanted to write about a woman who may have been a single parent, but she worked hard she wanted a good life for her kids. And that's when Donna started to kind of come alive for me." 

Inspiration hit when they began to revisit the songs. Johnston was particularly struck as she heard the poignant ballad 'Slipping Through My Fingers", saying "I thought, 'This is so perfect. I've no idea what it sounds like. Please let it be a beautiful song.' And I played it for the first time, and thought, 'Yeah, this is the heart of Mamma Mia!. This is for me what it's all about: this mother-daughter relationship."

Once the story, and the songs, were combined, director Phyllida Llyod stepped aboard to complete the trio. Coming from the prestigious world of London's Royal Opera House her hiring caused some interest at the time. Lloyd remembers: "People said to me, How can you do this when you're doing opera?' As if this was sort of silly frolics...(but) I'm treating both of them with the same reverence and the same effort and the same energy. And I think we all knew that to make Mamma Mia! work, we had to go at it without any cynicism. We wanted it to be excellent. We wanted it to be really long lasting." 

By opening night, it looked as if the group had something, even if Benny and Bjorn still weren't sure. The press, as expected, were less than enthusiastic. Now Cramer is more forgiving, saying "I don't think they did get what a celebration it was of a particular woman character you don't see centre stage so much. She's not glamorous, she's not tragic, she's just one of us. She's out there getting on with her life."

Cramer concludes "Big massive Lion King was about to open, and people thought, Three unknown women helming a musical with ABBA songs? I give it a few months."

25 years later and Mamma Mia! has been seen by over 65 million people worldwide, with grosses hitting $4 billion.

Quotes from The Making Of Mamma Mia

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