Mamma Mia – ABBA - Benny Anderson – Bjorn Ulvaeus – Stig Anderson
Way back in 1999 I saw the musical Mamma Mia, which is still running at the Prince Edward Theatre. It is based on the songs of the Swedish pop group ABBA, the music and lyrics written by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus; with additional songs by Stig Anderson. The book was written by relatively unknown Catherine Johnson. A real rags to riches story of a hard-up single mother who had her lucky break when her agent told to contact Judy Cramer, a producer, who wanted someone to word with her and write the story of Mamma Mia. NOT the ABBA story but a brand new musical based around their songs. Judy and Catherine hit it off at once.
ABBA is the most successful pop-group ever and certainly the most enduring. They won the Eurovision contest at the Brighton Dome in 1974 and, 350 million record sales world-wide, are still in the charts 20 years later, despite their break up.
The musical is set on a tiny Greek island, where a wedding is about to take place. The songs are about relationships – the young, falling-in-love kind with songs such as “Honey, Honey” and the older, falling-out-of-love songs such as “Winner Takes All”, so the show needed two generations, mother and daughter. The daughter is getting married and wants her dad to give her away. Her mother doesn’t know who her daughter’s dad is as she has slept with three different men. They are all invited to the girl’s wedding… As the saying goes, “all the world loves a lover” and in Mamma Mia they get half a dozen, old and new!
Act I features “the day before the wedding” and Act II features “the day of the wedding”. The musical numbers are all taken from ABBA’s magnificent hits and include Chiquita, Dancing Queen, Thank You for the Music, I Have a Dream, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Super Trouper, Winner Takes All and, of course, Mama Mia etc etc.
In fact, ABBA is also gay icons – loved in gay nightclubs. And in Sweden, ABBA have become the second-largest export after Volvo and richer than their own King Gustav!
Although the girls left the group, Bjorn and Benny still continued to collaborate and teamed up with Tim Rice to write the musical Chess produced at the same theatre in the mid-80s.
ABBA is really the soundtrack to all our lives: so let us just say “thank you for the music”.
(NB: In 1930 the Prince Edward Theatre was built named after the then Prince of Wales (Teddy as he was often called!) so that it would not be confused with the Prince of Wales in nearby Coventry Street. In 1936 it re-opened as the London Casino. From 1942 until the end of the war it was the Queensberry All Services Club. Around 1986 it was once again re-named the Prince Edward Theatre. (Not to be confused with the Queen’s youngest son, Prince Edward!) And the re-naming was simultaneous with the theatre’s biggest hit, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, starring Elaine Paige who, six years later, starred in Chess by Tim Rice who had now severed his connection with Andrew Lloyd Webber and begun to work with other lyricists such as Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson who wrote the music for Chess, a much under-rated musical says my friend Georgina who has seen it twice!!! )