How ABBA Songs Made a Great Musical

 

The most successful jukebox musical of all time, Mamma Mia! owes much of its success to the tunes of ABBA.  With more than a dozen of their singles reaching the top of the charts around the world, there was no question about the popularity of their music. But how did the team behind the musical translate this success to the stage?

The Dance Hits

Alongside bands like The Bee Gees, ABBA is credited with defining the sound of disco, and their dance classics are some of the most enduring songs of the 70’s.  One of their greatest hits, “Dancing Queen” still gets people on their feet when it is heard at weddings, parties or dance clubs around the world. “Mamma Mia,” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme”, and “Voulez-Vous,” are just a few of the other disco tracks that contributed to the band’s success.

These songs translated easily to the stage, enabling the director, Phyllida Lloyd, and choreographer, Anthony Van Laast, to create spectacular production numbers. The musical’s Greek summer settling also allowed the design team to create vibrant colourful sets and costumes that allow these songs to shine. The finale of the stage show features a mini-concert that sends the audience out on a high with reprises of the title song and “Dancing Queen” along with “Waterloo”—the song that first put ABBA on the map—as an encore.

Here the Sugababes join the cast of Mamma Mia! for a one night performance of “Dancing Queen” in support of BBC Children in Need:

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The Love Songs

Whilst best known for upbeat disco tracks, ABBA did have some soulful love songs that made it into the charts as well. Some tracked the tumultuous personal relationships within the band; for most of their existence ABBA comprised of two married couples. Two of their most heartbreaking songs are said to be inspired by their subsequent divorces, with “When All Is Said and Done” inspired by the break-up of Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson, and “The Winner Takes It All” thought to be based on Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog’s divorce in 1979.

“The Winner Takes It All” was ultimately the inspiration for the musical.  Producer Judy Craymer says of the song, ‘[it] first suggested to me the potential of an original musical using Benny and Björn’s classic compositions. The lyrics tell a roller-coaster story of love and loss: it is extraordinarily theatrical.’ That roller-coaster of emotions is evident in some of the other great songs that are used to chart Donna and Sophie’s parallel love stories, including “Our Last Summer”,  “Lay All Your Love On Me,” and “Thank You for the Music”. These finely-crafted love songs provide the soul at the heart of Mamma Mia!

Here is ABBA performing the song that would end up inspiring Mamma Mia!:

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