Page last updated at 08:29 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 09:29 UK

Mamma Mia! from stage to screen

By Genevieve Hassan
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Mamma Mia! is the latest in the line of musicals to be brought from the West End to the big screen.

Mamma Mia! cast
Mamma Mia first hit the stage in 1999

Featuring 22 Abba songs including The Winner Takes It All and Dancing Queen, Mamma Mia! the stage musical takes a staggering 4 million a week in ticket sales around the world.

Yet some may not have realised the musical actually had a storyline and was not about the Swedish pop group.

Now in its ninth year, it tells the tale of Sophie, a young bride-to-be who invites three men, one of whom she believes to be her father, to her wedding in Greece.

As musical adaptations go, the film stays pretty faithful to the stage production from the script to the choreography, right down to the encore.

The three women who created the stage show - producer Judy Craymer, writer Catherine Johnson and director Phyllida Lloyd - repeated their roles in bringing it to the big screen. And it shows.

"There had always been interest from Hollywood in making this a movie," says Craymer.

"I think Universal Pictures knew there was a spirit and essence in Mamma Mia! and therefore wanted the collaboration of Phyllida, Catherine and myself."

Relationships

Stellan Skarsgard, who plays one of Sophie's prospective fathers along with Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth, agrees.

Mamma Mia
Christine Baranski (left) with co-stars Meryl Streep and Julie Walters

"Julie was fantastic. She knew exactly what the tone of the film had to be because she had tried it out on stages all over the world," he says.

Co-star Christine Baranski thinks there is another reason why the musical translates so well on to the big screen.

"The story is very strong. The relationships are very deep from daughter to father, daughter/mother, old friends, ex-lovers - there's real stuff you can act," she says.

"Plus it takes place on a Greek island, so you get locations that are spectacular, romantic and sensuous."

The film is just under an hour shorter than the stage show, so cinema-goers miss out on seeing Pierce Brosnan and Meryl Streep sing a duet of Knowing Me, Knowing You.

Challenges

"Time works in such a different way on screen. We wanted every song to really earn its place in the story," says Lloyd.

Cast of Mamma Mia
We wanted every song to really earn its place in the story
Director Phyllida Lloyd

"Dancing Queen - which had taken place all in a bedroom - became an epic pied piper journey and really filled the space that was allowed for it.

"But Knowing Me, Knowing You or Name of the Game just didn't move the story forward in the end.

"With film in this day and age it's so much about keeping the story moving and not letting the audience get bored," adds Christine Baranski.

One thing that is conveyed better on screen is the relationship between the whole cast.

"In most movies people fly in and do their bit and fly out again," says Meryl Streep.

"But because we were incarcerated in a barn trying to learn the dance for Voulez Vous for three weeks - Colin Firth was so worried about it, Stellan was beside himself and Pierce was drenched in sweat every day - we all bonded."

'Vortex of terror'

Cast of Mamma Mia!
Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgard play prospective fathers
"Blind terror is really bonding," Firth adds of the studio recording sessions.

"I turned around to be introduced to Pierce and he was staring into a vortex of terror and it was the same with Stellan.

"I suddenly realised we weren't alone and within half an hour we were like the Andrews Sisters around the microphone."

Abba members and songwriters Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus said they were initially reluctant about the idea of a Mamma Mia! musical, but were eventually convinced by Craymer.

"After the stage version had become a big hit people started to talk about a movie," says Anderson.

"It was only a matter of time when we would do it - but we were not reluctant this time."

And what does Andersson think the secret of the film's success is?

"Phyllida Lloyd, a bunch of wonderful actors and a great sounding soundtrack!"

Mamma Mia is now showing in UK cinemas.


SEE ALSO
In pictures: Mamma Mia! premiere
01 Jul 08 |  In Pictures
Stars go Greek for Mamma Mia! gala
30 Jun 08 |  Entertainment
Actor Brosnan swaps Bond for Abba
30 Jun 08 |  Entertainment
Brosnan set for Abba show movie
07 Mar 07 |  Entertainment
Streep 'to star in Abba musical'
11 Jan 07 |  Entertainment

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