China takes a chance on a mandarin Mamma Mia!

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The Independent Online

The infectious music of Abba reached a little bit further round the globe last night, as the first Mandarin-language version of Mamma Mia! opened in Shanghai, with producers hoping audiences will indeed thank them for the music and deliver them a blockbuster.

Slipping into the blue dungarees of leading character Donna Sheridan – memorably played by Meryl Streep in the film adaptation – is Tian Shui, a well-known musical actress in China, who predicts that the legendary Swedish pop group's sounds will help pave the way for other Western imports.

"The musical will be accepted by Chinese audiences, especially younger people, because of fashion and pop, plus the themes resonate with audiences. This is a great start for the musical in China," she said.

Ever anxious to tap the potentially huge audiences in the world's most populous nation, Broadway and the West End have been out here before. In 2007, the British producer Sir Cameron Mackintosh announced plans to stage legendary shows such as Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera and Miss Saigon in China, while audiences have taken to Western-style musicals such as Hairspray and The Lion King.

But this is the first time a contemporary musical like Mamma Mia! has been presented in Chinese in China, staged by a local company in a new translation.

It is under the direction of the creative team who put on the musical in London, and the show's creator Judy Craymer is banking on Chinese audiences embracing classics such as "Super Trouper", "Lay All Your Love On Me" and "Dancing Queen".

"There's virtually no infrastructure for commercial musical theatre in China, so finding the talent we needed – the actors, technicians, stage crew and musicians – proved extremely difficult, locating a theatre to accommodate us took a long time and even translating the lyrics into a tonal language was a major challenge," she said.

"It's amazing that Mamma Mia! has been chosen rather than something more traditional. The previews are going very well, the audiences are having a fun time, clapping and singing along."

More than 45 million people, in over 300 cities have already seen Mamma Mia! on stage. Given that China's population is more than 1.3 billion, that figure could mushroom if they get the formula right. This is the first time that a licence deal has been agreed with a Chinese company for a localised version of a production, and it could form the basis for future expansion of commercial theatre in China.

The plan is to tour Mamma Mia! for at least a year. Then it will tour more of mainland China next year before heading to Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and Singapore.