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Ian Cheeseman: Break-a-Leg

You’ll probably be aware that Mamma Mia! the Musical opened on 6th April 1999, which means that it will soon be twenty-five years old.

It’s one of the top five longest running shows in West End history, it’s also in the top ten longest running Broadway shows. The idea came from producer Judy Craymer, who was inspired by the theatrical nature of Abba’s number one single The Winner Takes it All.

She approached Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, the song writing half of Abba, with her idea for a Musical told around their songs. They were initially doubtful, having seen a similar project called Abbacadabra fail to capture the World’s imagination.

Abbacadabra was a musical, based on Abba’s songs but with French lyrics telling a story based on classic fairy tales. It was produced for French television and produced by Alain and Daniel Boubill.

Alain Doubill was the lyricist for Les Miserables, so maybe it’s not that surprising that theatre producer Cameron Mackintosh brought Abbacadabra to the UK where Mike Batt, Don Black and David Wood wrote new lyrics for a new version of the story. It ran at the Lyric Hammersmith for eight weeks to sell out audiences. I was one of the lucky ones who saw it with a cast that included Elaine Paige, Michael Praed, Syvester McCoy and BA Robertson, who had a minor hit with a new original song from the show balled “I am the Seeker”.

The show wasn’t the big success Mackintosh had hoped for, but undeterred Judy Craymer convinced Benny & Bjorn to get on board for her idea of a show based around the story of a mother who doesn’t know which of three potential men is the father of her daughter. Siobhan McCarthy was the original Donna when it opened at the Prince Edward Theatre in 1999 and although it’s moved theatres, it’s still running today.

It’s estimated that over 65 million people have seen the stage show, so far, which has played all over the World. A film version seemed inevitable and in July 2008 it opened with Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried leading an all-star cast, as they played Donna and her daughter Sophie. The film became the highest grossing live-action musical of all time.

The sequel, Mamma Mia! Here we Go Again was released in 2018 and was another huge success. There are rumours that there will be a third part to the trilogy. My guess would be Mamma Mia! How can I Resist You.

In late 2023 ITV ran an audition talent show called Mamma Mia! I Have a Dream in which fourteen very talented Musical Theatre performers competed to be the new Sophie and her boyfriend Sky in the West End show for a year. It was fascinating to watch the process. Among the TV judges were West End superstar Samantha Barks but my guess is that Mamma Mia! creator Judy Craymer would have had the last say.

Right from the first show, I picked out Stevie and Tobias as my favourites and after several weeks of narrowing down the field, they were indeed the winners.

This week you’ll hear my exclusive interview with the new West End Sophie, Stevie Doc. She was such an amazing guest and talked about the ITV programme, her own story and what it means to her to be in such an iconic role. I’ll be playing lots of songs from the show of course and you’ll also hear my interviews with Benny & Bjorn when I was on the Blue (Red) carpet at the Premiere of the film in Leicester Square.

Benny & Bjorn have written other musicals, so the second hour of the show will feature songs from their shows Chess, Kristina and from Abbacadabra.

Please join me for Break-a-Leg, my Mamma Mia! special, on Tameside Radio 103.6FM from 7pm on Sunday – Mamma Mia! I could never let you go!

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