Mamma Mia! First the musical, now a movie

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The Independent Culture

When Abba fan Judy Craymer persuaded Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus to let her turn their back catalogue into the musical Mamma Mia!, no one predicted it would become a multimillion-pound international hit.

And now the blockbuster show is set to win an even wider audience on the big screen, after it caught the imagination of the actor Tom Hanks and his production business partner Gary Goetzman. Their company, Playtone, has signed a deal with Craymer and the Abba songwriters for a film version, scheduled for release late next year.

Catherine Johnson, who was an impoverished single mother when she wrote the original script, is to produce the screenplay, which will stick closely to the stage plot, Variety magazine reported yesterday.

The show tells the story of a young woman who, on the eve of her wedding, invites three men from her mother's past, any one of whom could be the father she has never known, back to the Greek island where she has been brought up. In a riotously entertaining evening, a couple of dozen Abba hits including "Dancing Queen" and "Take a Chance on Me" propel the narrative along.

Craymer, who has become a millionaire in the wake of productions in 130 cities, will be an executive producer on the film project, alongside Andersson and Ulvaeus. She had previously rejected movie offers but admired the approach of Hanks and Goetzman. She particularly liked their transformation of Nia Vardalos's one-woman stage show into the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding. "The time felt right. The partnership with Gary and Tom helped everything to fall into place," Craymer said. Deals on financing and distribution have not yet been finalised, so it is too early for details of casting. But Craymer said they were already considering their options. "We've never had stars in the show, the music has always been the star, but we are certainly thinking about names as we take this from the stage to the screen."

More than 20 million people have seen the show, which has grossed $1.6bn (£900m). It has been regularly one of the top five productions on Broadway since it opened in New York just after the 9/11 attacks.

Johnson and the show's director, Phyllida Lloyd, whose major productions include Wagner's Ring Cycle for the English National Opera, both had their finances transformed by its success, like Craymer. Craymer first worked with Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus on the West End musical Chess but left the world of theatre for film and television for several years, working on features such as the films White Mischief and Madame Sousatzka. But she was always convinced Abba's songs were pop masterpieces and badgered the songwriters to allow her to use them for the musical.

Super Troupers

* Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Agnetha Faltskog began working together in 1970 but released their first single, "People Need Love", only in 1972.

* "Waterloo", with which they won the Eurovision song contest in Brighton on 6 April 1974 was the first record to be released under the name Abba.

* Although they were together for only a decade before finally splitting in 1982, official estimates in April 1999 showed that ABBA had sold more than 350 million records. Only the Beatles and possibly Elvis have sold more.

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