At the end of the Chinese premiere of Mamma Mia!
in Shanghai last Friday, the whole audience was on its feet swaying along to the music. The moving story of a daughter who does not know which one of three men is her father hit a chord with the crowd, who were also taken by the music - a collection of ABBA's best-loved songs.
Before the musical's tour of China, some wondered whether it would be well received, because ABBA and their songs are not so popular among today's Chinese people.
But Nick Grace, the associate producer of the International Tour of the show, says that the show is about more than showcasing ABBA's back catalogue.
"The original producers of Mamma Mia! were very clever in avoiding the pitfalls of setting up a 'tribute show' to ABBA's music," he says. "Mamma Mia! is very much not about that. The audiences see an evening of a beautifully written plot, directed with much poignancy and comedy, and performed by some of the best singers and actors in the business."
"Not having produced a show in China before, I cannot be sure whether Mamma Mia! will smash Beijing and Shanghai. But I do know that Chinese people have mothers, have relationships with their families, and want to live happy fulfilled lives, like every human on the planet! You don't need to know the music to hear how well composed it is."
The performance and audience's reaction in Shanghai have proven Grace to be right.
"At the heart of the show is a warm story of family and relationships, the witty and ingenious script weaves the famous ABBA songs around characters you care about," says Wang Yuping, a 23-year-old student who watched the show.
"It is a production of tremendous warmth, vitality and technical excellence that offers an evening of unbridled fun," says Yao Shuo, manager with China Performing Arts Agency, the company presenting the Mamma Mia! Beijing tour.
"The fun of this show lies in the skill and wit with which ABBA's songs are fitted into the story, not just as decorations, but moving it along, almost as if they had been written for it," comments Lun Bing, critic with Beijing Youth Daily.
"The creative team personalizes ABBA's songs in a fresh, vital and immediate way that simultaneously retains their pop integrity yet also does something more that is an essential requirement of good musical theater: to advance an appealing story and comment on it."
With music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus and choreography by Anthony Van Laas, Mamma Mia! is written by Catherine Johnson and directed by Phyllida Lloyd. The sunny, funny tale of family and friendship unfolds on a Greek island paradise. On the eve of her wedding, a daughter's quest to discover the identity of her father brings three men from her mother's past back to the island they last visited 20 years ago.
The production features 22 of ABBA's hits including: Dancing Queen, The Winner Takes It All, SOS, Knowing Me, Knowing You, Take a Chance on Me, The Name of the Game, Money, Money, Money and Super Trouper.
The musical opened at London's West End on March 23, 1999. Before the debut, the creative team "really had no idea how it was going to be received," says producer Judy Craymer whose initial concept in 1987 had been to use existing ABBA songs within the format of a new, original musical. But happily, she remembers: "The audience went wild. They were literally out of their seats and singing and dancing in the aisles - and they still are. Every night."
And now, they are doing so all around the world. It has become a global entertainment phenomenon, with currently 11 productions playing worldwide. Over the last two years, the International Tour has already performed in many cities across the world and has been seen by over 1.3 million people.
"I can vouch for the fact that everywhere we've been, the people have taken Mamma Mia! to their hearts," says Grace.
"We're thrilled that the Mamma Mia! International Tour is coming to Beijing and will play at the prestigious Beijing Poly Theater. We hope that Beijing audiences will also embrace Mamma Mia! and we very much look forward to visiting this exciting city," says Craymer.
After the Shanghai run till August 2, the international tour production with 75 tons of props will move to Beijing for a two-week run at the Poly Theater from August 7 to 19.
(China Daily July 12, 2007)