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Broadway Series South Preview: Mamma Mia! Features More Than 20 Songs from the Swedish Pop Super Group ABBA

March 9, 2004 - Raleigh, NC:


Broadway Series South will bring the U.S. Tour of the international musical sensation Mamma Mia! to Raleigh Memorial Auditorium March 9-14. This West End and Broadway mega-hit features a book by Catherine Johnson and a score of more than 20 pop songs from the Swedish 1970s and 1980s super group ABBA.

ABBA which combines the first letters of the Christian names of Agnetha Faltskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad rocketed to international stardom on April 6, 1974, in Brighton, England, when the group won the Eurovision Song Contest with "Waterloo." Some of the group's other chart-toppers, on both sides of the Atlantic, include "Mamma Mia" (1975), "Fernando" (1976), "Dancing Queen" (1976), "Knowing Me Knowing You" (1977), "The Name of the Game" (1977), "Take a Chance on Me" (1978), "The Winner Takes It All" (1980) and "Super Trouper" (1980).

"ABBA had a gift for melody so prodigious they couldn't stop themselves," claimed Rolling Stone writer Joe Levy.

ABBA songsmiths Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus also collaborated with Andrew Lloyd Webber librettist/lyricist Tim Rice on the musical Chess, which employed the ancient game as a metaphor for East-West conflict and romantic rivalries. Chess debuted May 14, 1986 at Prince Edward Theatre in London's West End and ran for 1,209 performances. The musical made its Broadway debut on April 28 1988 at the Imperial Theatre, but it only ran for 68 performances.

Björn Ulvaeus told the Albemarle of London West End Theatre Guide that the idea for Mamma Mia! "has been talked about for several years but it was only when I was with my wife and kids at the West End production of Grease that it struck me we could do it. I thought that if we could make it like that, with a proper story where the songs come into the story naturally, it could be family entertainment. There is so little of that and I thought it would be a wonderful idea to do it."

Ulvaeus explained: "Those lyrics of ours were always about relationships and they were little stories within themselves. Twenty-five years ago, I didn't have a clue anything like this would happen and I didn't even like musicals. We only did Eurovision because it was the only way for a Swedish group with ambitions to get heard outside Sweden. We were not a typical Eurovision group but we had to use that vehicle."

Librettist Catherine Johnson set this mother-daughter story in the present, on an unnamed Greek Island, on the eve of the daughter's wedding. Fortyish single mother Donna Sheridan (played by Lauren Mufson in the current U.S. Tour) runs the local taverna. As she prepares for the wedding of her twentysomething daughter Sophie (Sara Kramer), Sophie begins to question her about her father's identity. Donna, who was something of a wild child when Sophie was conceived in the 1970s, doesn't know who fathered Sophie. But she can narrow it down to three old flames ignited during one magic summer of love. Meanwhile, Sophie, who has learned the men's identities from clandestine peaks at her mother's diary, has invited all three men to her wedding and for one unforgettable weekend in which the men get the surprise of their lives!

Mamma Mia! made its West End debut on April 6, 1999 in London's Prince Edward Theatre, where it is still playing to packed houses. The show will close there on May 22 and reopen on May 27 at The Prince of Wales Theatre, where it is already taking ticket orders through March 5, 2005.

Mamma Mia! opened on Broadway on Oct. 18, 2001 at the Winter Garden Theatre, where it is still playing. On March 4, it celebrated its 1,000 performance there.

Phyllida Lloyd directed the West End and Broadway productions and the current U.S. Tour. The rest of the Mamma Mia! creative team includes choreographer Anthony Van Laast, production designer Mark Thompson, lighting designer Howard Harrison, sound designers Bobby Aitken and Andrew Bruce, and musical supervisor Martin Koch. The show's producers are Judy Craymer and Richard East.

In reviewing the original production of Mamma Mia! The Daily Mail of London wrote: "The lovely surprise of a thoroughly enjoyable new musical with two dozen old ABBA songs is a proper story which exploits the jangling, nostalgic score to great effect.... The songs of Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus are linked to dramatic scenes and encounters neatly devised by the playwright Catherine Johnson. Phyllida Lloyd's production is far happier than previous attempts to hijack the pop music of, say, the Kinks, or even Madness, to the musical stage. Much as I quite like ABBA's carefully-crafted, anthemic songs I've discoed bravely to 'Dancing Queen' in my time, like the rest of you they do have a branded, poppy sameness about them. But we can now relish their calculated melody, up-front beat and surging tingle factor."

In reassessing the show last Dec. 27th in The Times of London, David Sinclair gave the show the newspaper's highest rating (5 stars!) and noted: "With productions currently playing in Tokyo, Broadway, Las Vegas, the Netherlands and elsewhere, a whopping ten million tickets have been sold since Mamma Mia! opened on April 6, 1999. Ten million tickets to hear a bunch of old ABBA songs folded into a wilfully implausible wedding yarn exploring the themes of middle-aged regret and puppy love? Surely some mistake. But this is a production of tremendous warmth, vitality and technical excellence that offers an evening of unbridled fun without entirely ignoring the cares of the modern world."

Sinclair added, "The music of ABBA has benefited beyond all expectations from the passage of time. Songs that were considered irredeemably naff and instantly disposable in their day... have since turned into pop standards. But they were not written to form part of a single narrative thread, and it is a tribute to the scriptwriting skill of Catherine Johnson that they are slotted so naturally into the storyline of Mamma Mia!"

Second Opinion: Raleigh, NC News & Observer staff writer Orla Swift's March 5 preview: http://newsobserver.com/features/story/3391291p-3015443c.html [inactive 5/04].

Broadway Series South presents Mamma Mia! Tuesday-Friday, March 9-12, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, March 13, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, March 14, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $21-$75. BTI Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates: 919/231-4575, tickets@priorityseating.net, or http://www.priorityseating.net/. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2003-2004/broadway.html#mm. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/production.asp?ID=12925. Mamma Mia! (Official Web Site): http://www.mamma-mia.com/index.html. Mamma Mia! (U.S. Tour): http://www.mamma-mia.com/ustour/ustour.asp. ABBA: http://www.abbasite.com/start/.