‘Mamma Mia’ Wasn’t the ABBA Hit That Inspired the Musical ‘Mamma Mia!’

For years , the legacy of ABBA’s music has been colored by Mamma Mia!, a musical named after one of the band’s biggest hits. However, “Mamma Mia” was not the song that inspired the idea for an ABBA musical. In addition, the song that inspired the concept of Mamma Mia! had a significant impact on the musical’s story.

ABBA near a building
ABBA | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Where the idea for ‘Mamma Mia!’ came from

Part of what made ABBA so compelling is they were so eclectic. They gave the world everything from disco songs to pop ballads to a war-themed sea shanty. Some of their music was pretty theatrical for a mainstream pop band. In an article she wrote for the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, producer Judy Craymer discussed the origin of Mamma Mia! and how a particular ABBA song inspired the musical because of its theatricality.

“As Creative Producer of Mamma Mia!, my job started long before any script had been written,” Craymer revealed. “The story begins more than 25 years ago when I first met Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, the songwriting geniuses behind ABBA. I was working for Sir Tim Rice at the time, who was collaborating with Benny and Björn on his musical, Chess, and I was immediately smitten — after all, these were the men who had written “Dancing Queen,” one of the greatest pop songs of all time — but it was another of their songs, “The Winner Takes It All,” that first suggested to me the potential of an original musical using their compositions. The lyrics revealed a roller-coaster story of love and loss that struck me as extraordinarily theatrical….”

“The Winner Takes It All”

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How ABBA’s ‘The Winner Takes It All’ inspired the story of ‘Mamma Mia!’

The theatricality of “The Winner Takes It All” isn’t just its lyrics. It’s also its composition. It sounds much more like a Broadway ballad than any other ABBA hit — and even many other pop ballads. The sound of “The Winner Takes It All” didn’t just inspire the idea of an ABBA musical — it inspired the musical’s story in a major way.

Craymer worked with writer Catherine Johnson on Mamma Mia! Craymer and Johnson felt ABBA’s songs belonged in one of two categories — youthful songs like “Dancing Queen” and “Honey Honey” as well as more mature fare like ‘The Winner Takes It All” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You.” Because of this, Craymer and Johnson decided the story of Mamma Mia! should focus on multiple generations. Perhaps that’s why the show succeeded — because it appeals to different age demographics.

the trailer of Mamma Mia!

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How the public reacted to the musical’s film adaptation

According to Box Office Mojo, the 2008 film adaptation of Mamma Mia! earned over $600 million at the box office. That’s incredible for a movie that’s not a CGI-laden action  movie. Craymer’s idea for an intergenerational ABBA musical was a winner and it took it all.