The Tribune (NZ) - - ENJOY! -

MAMMA MIA!, the smash hit mu­si­cal, starts with ABBA and ends with ABBA.

The record-break­ing mu­si­cal, about a vi­brant bride-to-be who wants her ab­sent fa­ther to walk her down the aisle, started in the imag­i­na­tion of ABBA mem­bers, Benny An­der­s­son and Bjorn Ul­vaeus.

They wanted their hit songs to be im­mor­talised in theatre so they ap­proached Bri­tish writer Cather­ine John­ston to cre­ate a pow­er­ful story around their mu­sic.

Af­ter two drafts she pro­duced an ex­cit­ing story line that both Benny and Bjorn ap­proved.

Cather­ine vi­su­alised an idyl­lic Greek set­ting, the dilemma of So­phie, a 20-year-old, who wants her real dad to be part of the wed­ding cer­e­mony and a strong minded, charis­matic woman in Donna, So­phie’s mum, who prides her­self on get­ting through life with­out a man.

Grant Meese, who’s di­rect­ing the Palmer­ston North pro­duc­tion of MAMMA MIA! for Abbey Mu­si­cal Theatre, has re­searched the show and how it be­came such an in­ter­na­tional suc­cess.

He says Cather­ine took a strong and com­plex story about hu­man re­la­tion­ships and care­fully chose ABBA songs that en­hanced the de­vel­op­ment of the story line.

‘‘She ig­nored songs that didn’t fit and chose those that did,’’ Grant says.

‘‘The re­sult is a story that’s be­liev­able and works. It’s a show that peo­ple can re­late to be­cause, in the per­son­al­i­ties and sit­u­a­tions, they recog­nise some­thing in them­selves.

‘‘Cather­ine grasped the whole essence of hav­ing real and dif­fer­ent char­ac­ters that peo­ple can iden­tify with.’’

Grant says pa­trons can come to the theatre af­ter a tough day at work or at home and be trans­ported to the Greek is­land to en­joy a cel­e­bra­tion of fun and life and fun and mu­sic.

He em­pha­sises it’s a com­pelling story in its own right and not just di­a­logue that links a num­ber of ABBA songs.

When So­phie reads pas­sages about three old lovers in her mother’s di­ary she re­alises her dad could be any­one of them.

So she sends them all a wed­ding in­vi­ta­tion and, to her sur­prise, they agree to come.

The most sur­prised, and alarmed, per­son is Donna, her mother, much to the amuse­ment of her two close friends.

The tur­moil of who could be dad and the in­ter­ac­tion of per­son­al­i­ties is played out against the back­ground of the wed­ding prepa­ra­tions as So­phie and Donna at­tempt to find truth and un­der­stand­ing.

While the story un­folds, time­less songs such as Danc­ing Queen, The Win­ner Takes It All, Money, Money, Money, I Have a Dream, S.O.S and Take a Chance on Me are wo­ven into an en­chant­ing tale of love, laugh­ter and friend­ship.

The mu­si­cal ends with a mon­tage of fa­mous ABBA songs that will have the au­di­ence on their feet, if they haven’t al­ready been danc­ing in the aisles.

Grant, who di­rected the pre­miere of MAMMA MIA! in Auck­land, says it’s a show that stands alone and doesn’t need ex­pen­sive gim­micks such as a he­li­copter or chan­de­lier to bring the magic.

‘‘It could be per­formed on an empty stage,’’ he says, ‘‘how­ever, we have a great set and won­der­ful cos­tumes.’’

Just as ABBA ap­pealed to a 1970s and 80s au­di­ence and have been re­dis­cov­ered by young peo­ple 30 years later, so too do the char­ac­ters come from dif­fer­ent age groups. Ages range from 16 to 50.

‘‘The mu­si­cal of­fers roles for young peo­ple of So­phie’s age and then there’s a dif­fer­ent and older gen­er­a­tion of peo­ple. You don’t of­ten see three mid­dle-aged men dressed in ly­cra on stage,’’ Grant says.

MAMMA MIA! has been per­formed in 40 dif­fer­ent coun­tries in six con­ti­nents and Grant be­lieves it’s suc­cess is due to the book, the strength of the mu­sic, the qual­ity of the char­ac­ters and the pos­i­tive na­ture of the show.

‘‘It ranks in the top five shows I’ve di­rected along with Phan­tom and Beauty And the Beast,’’ he says.

‘‘The au­di­ence knows they’re go­ing to have a good time and be en­ter­tained right from the open­ing beat of the or­ches­tra.

‘‘I’m hav­ing a blast, the cast couldn’t be work­ing harder and we will present an awe­some and en­er­gised pro­duc­tion.’’

It ranks in the top five shows I’ve di­rected

Grant Meese

MAM­MAMIA! di­rec­tor Grant Meese.

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