My, my, how can we resist Mamma Mia!, the international musical sensation which has been captivating audiences around the world for 14 years. Employing the chart-topping catalogue of Swedish supergroup ABBA, the show tells the story of a former pop-singer turned hotel owner on a Greek Island. On the weekend of her daughter’s wedding, she is reunited with the former members of her girl group and three ex-beaus, one of whom is the father of the bride-to-be. But the plot is not what draws in fans by the thousands. It’s those ABBA favorites. In addition to the title song, the selections include “The Winner Takes It All,” “Lay All Your Love on Me,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” “SOS” and “Take a Chance on Me.”
The show opened in London’s West End on April 6, 1999 at the Prince Edward Theatre and eventually transferred to the Novello, where it is still playing. After runs in Toronto, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Chicago, the Broadway production opened at the Winter Garden on Oct. 18, 2001, where it’s been getting audiences to dance in the aisles like super troupers ever since. For the first time in over a decade, the Broadway Mamma Mia! will be boogey to another home, the Broadhurst, later this year. In celebration of its upcoming move as the show nears its 5,000-performance mark, here are ten fun facts about everyone’s favorite “Dancing Queen” musical.
1. At over 4,700 performances Mamma Mia! is the tenth longest-running show in Broadway history. It has only been surpassed by Phantom of the Opera, Cats, Chicago (current revival), Les Miserables (original production), The Lion King, A Chorus Line, Oh Calcutta! (revival), Beauty and the Beast and Rent. The Broadway production opened with an advance sale of over $27 million and to date has grossed over $600 million.
2. Mamma Mia! has been seen by over 50 million people worldwide and has grossed over $2 billion internationally. It has opened in more major cities faster than any other musical in theater history. So far, it has had productions in over 325 cities including Melbourne, Barcelona, Stockholm, Tokyo, Seoul and Moscow.
3. Mamma Mia! isn’t the first attempt at employing the ABBA catalogue for a stage musical. Abbacadabra was originally a French TV special that employed ABBA songs with altered French lyrics to tell classic fairy tales. In 1983, it was adapted to the London stage and ran for eight weeks. It’s probably most notable for being the first show that British stage star Elaine Paige did after Cats.
4. According to Variety, the play’s original producer Judy Craymer and writer Catherine Johnson “were broke when they first tried to put the show together and were even snubbed by the Swedish pop group whose music formed the basis for the show. They are now two of the wealthiest women in England.” Craymer met ABBA’s songwriters Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson when the two were working on the musical Chess with lyricist Tim Rice in 1983. Craymer was inspired by “The Winner Takes It All” to use the ABBA songs in a musical-theater format. The Swedish team were not initially enthusiastic about the idea, but they did not rule out the idea. In 1997, Craymer commissioned Johnson to write the book for the musical.
5. Mamma Mia! is one of the few smash-hit musicals in which the major collaborative behind-the-scenes roles of lead producer (Judy Craymer), book-writer (Catherine Johnson), and director (Phyllida Law) were undertaken by women.
6. The 2008 film version of Mamma Mia! starring Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Pierce Brosnan, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth, Julie Walters and Stellan Skarsgard is the highest-grossing live-action movie musical of all time in terms of worldwide gross, taking in over $600 million.
7. During one particularly loving year (2005), eight female cast members of the Broadway company got engaged and three cast members got married.
8. The London company of Mamma Mia! supplies Lycra for the Super Trouper costumes for all the international productions. Their orders for the fabric saved an Italian mill from going out of business.
9. The original Broadway production was nominated for five Tony Awards including Best Musical and three Drama Desk Awards.
10. Mamma Mia! was the first Mandarin-language production of a Western musical in China when it opened at the Shanghai Grand Theatre in July 11, 2011. The production then toured to Beijing, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Chongqing, Xian and back to Shanghai.