THE SMASH HIT MUSICAL
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
MAMMAMIA! director Grant Meese.