Mamma Mia! was billed as the world's number one show! Catherine Johnson took 21 ABBA songs and wrote a mother/daughter story around them. Her story is appropriate as women's issues are a major theme of songwriters Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. Detractors called Mamma Mia! a jukebox musical. If nothing else, it is a means of perpetuating the ABBA catalog, a body of 110 songs that surpasses The Beatles in quality. Indeed, ABBA was the Swedish Fab Four! Mamma Mia! stayed on tour and found a home at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. It was refreshing to see a musical whose every song is a hit. "Dancing Queen," "Take A Chance On Me" and "Waterloo" transport us back to the late 1970s, that halcyon interlude between Vietnam and 9/11. We will never relive that period, but Mamma Mia! offers an over-the-shoulder glance.
Answering critics, ABBA music being 30 years old is not a legitimate complaint. Mozart is older, and Shakespeare holds up when modern playwrights falter. ABBA produced the brightest, most positive pop music ever! Their songs carry two hours even if the plot around them is thin. The songs are three and four minute dramas! They are character-based. Benny and Bjorn went into theater after ABBA and wrote the CHESS musical with Tim Rice. They staged Kristina fran Duvemala in Sweden. They tended in this direction from the beginning. That songs appear randomly placed in Mamma Mia! is a matter of perspective. If each of us had written a book around ABBA songs, the show would have come out different every time. Catherine Johnson had the idea first, and her sequence stands. A critic called Mamma Mia! a party, and he was right!
Benny and Bjorn wanted to do one more musical. They did not realize they had already done it. Bjorn said that after CHESS bombed on Broadway, he never wanted to go back to New York. Mamma Mia! eased his pain! It is set on a Greek Island. There are the mother, the daughter and three possible fathers. I saw the show at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center in Nashville in 2002.
It is true that the plot of Mamma Mia! is thin and contrived in such a way as to tie ABBA songs together. The jukebox musical had its day! Mamma Mia! works where the others fail because of the nature of ABBA's catalog. The songs are mini-dramas in themselves! There is a feminist attitude, and mother/daughter themes permeate. Agnetha and Frida were mothers in the ABBA years, and Benny and Bjorn wrote the songs around their wives.
CHESS bombed on Broadway, although its soundtrack was brilliant. The story remained in flux and changed with each production as it moved around the globe. Benny and Bjorn wanted a concrete story and adapted four novels by Swedish author Vilhelm Moberg for their second musical. Kristina fran Duvemala is about the Swedish emigrants who came to America. It was a hit in Sweden but was four hours long and in Swedish. Benny and Bjorn's goal was to get an English version to Broadway. Mamma Mia! helped. It gave them a worldwide hit and a success on Broadway. Mamma Mia! looks back at our youth and has possibly paved the way for Kristina.
MAMMA MIA! THE MOVIE
July 19, 2008. I just returned from seeing Mamma Mia! I laughed and cried for two hours. The audience loved it, and as I exited the theater, some girls were singing "Dancing Queen." Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan were amazing, and I understand why Streep is called a great actress. She told Benny and Bjorn she wants a part in Kristina if it becomes a movie.
Three women carried the musical to the screen. Judy Craymer conceived the idea for Mamma Mia! while she was working with Benny and Bjorn on CHESS. They were skeptical but gave her the go ahead. Catherine Johnson wrote the book, and Phyllida Lloyd directed. Mamma Mia! is set on a mythical Greek Island. There is water and a blue sky. Ex-hippie Donna Sheridan, played by Streep, owns a villa on the island. Her daughter Sophie (Amanda Sigfried) is about to be married. Sophie has never known her father but wants him to give her away at her wedding. She gets into her mother's diary and finds the names of three men who could be her dad. She invites all three to the island. They arrive wearing shades! We suspect that Pierce Brosnan is Sophie's dad because he is the biggest name. Brosnan is Sam, Colin Firth is Harry and Stellan Skarsgard is Bill. As it turns out, the real dad is not revealed. Each guy gets one-third credit.
It is the songs that make this project viable. Sophie sings "I Have A Dream" as she takes the boat to mail the letters to her potential fathers. Streep offers a stirring rendition of "The Winner Takes It All," and Brosnan does "When All Is Said And Done," an underrated song and one I was glad to see included. It was slowed down, and although Brosnan took some heat for his singing, he was not bad.
"Money Money Money" works its way in, and Streep sings it as she shows us her run down villa. A shutter falls from the window. Using binoculars, she looks out to sea at a boat owned by a wealthy man. She fantasizes the Titanic scene.
The music is an orgy! Sophie and Sky sing "Lay All Your Love On Me" on a beach as Sky brandishes a cigar. Sophie swoons at the end of a frantic "Voulez-Vous."
Sophie and her friends typify today's airheads. Sophie is 20 and looks younger. The movie opens with the girls in an attempt to appeal to a young audience. The music was 30 years old and had to work to bring in the kids.
Donna was a swinger in her day and fronted a trio called Donna and the Dynamos. The Dynamos are Tanya and Rosie, and they show up for Sophie's wedding. Sky is the groom-to-be.
I wanted the Dynamos to not be so plain. Maybe they were cast so as to not upstage Streep, whose career was built on talent, not looks.
Mamma Mia! has its share of zany dialog and wild dancing! There is one scene I considered tacky. Tanya sings "Does Your Mother Know" to an African-looking kid after having flirted with him the night before.
Ironically, it is not Sophie and Sky who get married, but Donna and Sam. The youngsters go off to explore the world! The whole piece comes off as Shakespearean comedy with ABBA songs.
Mamma Mia! was lucky to get Meryl Streep. She is respected worldwide. Tom Hanks is credited as the Executive Producer, having bought the movie rights.
Benny is shown once. Bjorn is shown twice. Look quickly or you will miss them! Benny is at the upright piano for "Dancing Queen" as women run through the streets to a pier and jump in the water. Bjorn is a Greek god at the film's end.
Benny recorded the backing tracks for Mamma Mia! with the same musicians who worked with ABBA: Lasse Wellander, Rutger Gunnarsson and Per Lindvall.
The songs in Mamma Mia! drew from seven albums. Certain lyrics were modified to suit characters and plot. For the most part, the lyrics remained intact.
2 Honey Honey
3 Mamma Mia!
5 I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do
6 Dancing Queen
7 Money Money Money
-from ABBA The Album
8 Take a Chance On Me
9 The Name Of The Game
10 Thank You For The Music
12 I Have A Dream
14 Does Your Mother Know
15 Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!
-from Super Trouper
16 Super Trouper
17 The Winner Takes It All
18 Our Last Summer
19 Lay All Your Love On Me
-from The Visitors
20 When All Is Said And Done
21 Slipping Through My Fingers