THERE’S a mother, a daughter, three possible dads and a very memorable trip down the aisle… yes, Mamma Mia! and Abba’s songs are currently on stage at the Brighton Centre.
The smash hit musical based on the songs of Abba, first seen on the London stage in 1999, famously hit the big screen in 2008 with a star-studded cast including Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Colin Firth, Julie Walters and Pierce Brosnan.
Now musical that first triumphed in London and then conquered the world has come to Brighton, where back in 1974 a little-known Swedish band called Abba won the Eurovision Song Contest with their song Waterloo.
They became the biggest band in the world and it is through its greatest hits that the story of Mamma Mia! is told.
To the catchy beats of Dancing Queen, Voulez Vous, Chiquitita, Waterloo, Thank You For The Music, Does Your Mother Know, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!, Lay All Your Love On Me, Mamma Mia! (of course) and many other Abba favourites, the the sunny, funny musical tells the story of Donna, the owner of a Greek hotel, and her daughter Sophie, who brings three men from her mother’s past to the island for her wedding to find out which one is her father. It stars Helen Hobson, Lucy May Barker, Gillian Hardie, Emma Clifford, Jon Boydon, Jamie Hogarth and Christopher Hollis.
Mamma Mia!’s creator Judy Craymer explains how the musical evolved. “The story begins more than 25 years ago when I first met Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, the songwriting geniuses behind Abba.
“I was working for Sir Tim Rice at the time, who was collaborating with Benny and Bjorn on his musical Chess, and I was immediately smitten – after all, these were the men who had written Dancing Queen, one of the greatest pop songs of all time.
“It was their song The Winner Takes It All that first suggested to me the potential of an original musical using Benny and Bjorn’s classic compositions. The lyrics revealed a rollercoaster story of love and loss that struck me as extraordinarily theatrical, but how was I to bring this to life?”
She approached Benny and Bjorn but they weren’t convinced at the time and it wasn’t until 1995 that “my tenacity finally paid off”, she says.
“Bjorn said, ‘If you can find the right writer and story, well, let’s see what happens…”
Judy teamed up with playwright Catherine Johnson, who by the end of the year had produced the first draft of a script, and then Judy persuaded Phyllida Lloyd to come on board as director. Unusually, it was a project with three women forming its collaborative creative force, mirroring the three strong women featured in the story of Mamma Mia!
“We have a lot of laughs about who is who in real life and, as time goes by, it’s a little worrying that we have become even more like those characters on stage,” says Judy.
She adds that although “Bjorn was enthusiastic and shared the vision for the musical, Benny was a little more cautious and at any time either could have put an end to the whole project”.
Nevertheless, the world premiere of Mamma Mia! took place in April 1999 and it has been a worldwide hit since.
“For me, the whole experience of Mamma Mia! has been totally life-changing,” says Judy.
Mamma Mia! is at the Brighton Centre, Kings Road, Brighton, until Sunday September 3. Evenings 7.30pm, matinees 2.30pm and 3pm. Tickets £15-£50. Phone 01273 292695 or visit brightoncentre.co.uk.
Pictures by Brinkhoff M+Âgenburg