"We danced on the beach, and we kissed on the beach, and... dot, dot, dot".—Amanda Seyfried as Sophie in Mamma Mia!
Mamma Mia! is a musical based on songs from the band ABBA. Not only was it a popular stage musical, it was adapted into a blockbuster hit movie starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried as mother Donna and daughter Sophie as they prepare for Sophie’s wedding. Unbeknown to Donna, Sophie uses the occasion to bring together the three men she thinks might be her father. What follows is an enjoyable romp about love, family, friendship and the moments that define us. Here are 27 musical facts about Mamma Mia!
1. Jukebox Musical
Though Mamma Mia! wasn’t the first, it did spark a sort of craze for jukebox musicals—when a band’s catalogue is repurposed to create a musical theater experience. With the success of Mamma Mia! came an influx of other jukebox musicals like Queen’s We Will Rock You, Green Day’s American Idiot, and Elvis’ All Shook Up.
2. Can I Major in ABBA?
So pervasive is all things ABBA in gay culture that they inspired a professor to teach an entire course about its influence. At the University of Alberta in 2015 Prof. John Eason introduced a course entitled “Mamma Mia (Queer) I Go Again!” It centered on understanding ABBA from a cultural and sociological standpoint. “ABBA is really gay culture in microcosm,” says Eason. If you want to learn all about how ABBA exemplified escapism and inspired a marginalized community to live their dreams, get on out to Edmonton.
3. Swedish Pride
Stellan Skarsgard really made the role of Bill Anderson his own. In the stage production, Bill is a carefree Australian, but in the film Bill is a Swedish sailor and travel writer. Skarsgard himself, a native of Sweden, just like ABBA, shows respect for his homeland by flying a Swedish flag on Bill’s boat.
4. So European
Mamma Mia! is an English musical featuring the music of a Swedish band, that was shot in Greece and has an Italian title. Defying borders and melding cultures, can’t get much more multicultural than that. It even has an Irishman in it!
5. ABBA Faithful
Phyllida Lloyd directed two versions of Mamma Mia! Not only did she direct the film with Meryl Streep, she also directed the original Broadway play. She must be a really big ABBA fan to get that involved in it.
If the plot of Mamma Mia! seems familiar, that’s probably because it is. The main storyline has been used before in the 1968 film Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell starring Gina Lollobrigida. In that film, the main character is an Italian woman uncertain of which American that she had dalliances with could have impregnated her. She requests each of the three men send financial support, without the others knowledge. This all comes to a head when they come back to Italy 20 years later to attend a reunion of their squadron, each hoping to meet their daughter. As you can imagine, some lighthearted shenanigans take place thereafter.
7. Miraculous Meryl
For the film, Meryl Streep performed all her own songs. When it came time for recording one of the tracks she had to fly to Stockholm, Sweden. “The Winner Takes It All” was successfully recorded by Streep in one take. Benny Andersson, the member of ABBA who had composed the track, called Streep “a miracle” for being able to finish so quickly.
8. Capable Cast
The cast of Mamma Mia! consists of some pretty talented people—Meryl Streep, Amanda Seyfried, Julie Walters, Christine Baranski, Colin Firth—and not only can they act, they can sing. The cast all performed their own singing for the film.
9. Streep Sends Support
Meryl Streep first saw Mamma Mia! on Broadway with her daughter and her friends in October 2001. She was so delighted with how uplifting it was that she sent an email to the producers where she praised their ability to brighten the lives of New Yorkers after the devastation of 9/11.
10. Take a Chance on Seyfried
Though Amanda Seyfried eventually snagged the role of Sophie, it wasn’t without stiff competition. She was up for the role against Mandy Moore, Amanda Bynes, Rachel McAdams, and Emmy Rossum. Personally, I don’t see anyone else being able to play Streep’s daughter with the same lighthearted sweetness.
11. Ancient Greece
The film was structured after ancient Greek comedies—think Lysistrata—involving costumes matching the characters moods, masks and all. Strophe and antistrophe choral patterns were also utilized, which consisted of background actors representing the common people. And let’s not forget all that phallic imagery the ancient Greeks were known for.
12. Sounds Fishy
ABBA is a bit of a curious name for a band. If you’re wondering what it means allow me to enlighten you. Some people have mistakenly claimed that the name ABBA is derived from the first initials of each member of the group— Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Thought this makes perfect sense, the truth isn’t so neatly packaged—well, only sort of. The band began referring to themselves as ABBA as a joke, as it’s actually the name of a Swedish fish canning company. They liked it so much that it stuck.
13. Too Many Palindromes
The name ABBA is a palindrome, meaning it’s spelled the same backward and forward. Their hit song “SOS” is also a palindrome. In 1975, when the song was released, ABBA became the first band with a palindromic name and song to reach the charts. The song lyrics were also written as a palindrome, and the length of the song is two minutes and 22 seconds. You’ve got to respect the way they stick to a theme.
14. A Real Dancing Queen
Dame Julie Walters, AKA Molly Weasley, the mother none of us deserve, played Rosie, one of Donna’s childhood friends who travels to Greece for Sophie’s wedding in Mamma Mia!. Walters is featured on multiple songs in the film, but there was something special about her performance in “Dancing Queen". According to Meryl Streep, while filming the scene with that song, Walters managed to trip over some rocks on a cobblestone street, injuring herself. But like a true star she knew the show must go on, and Streep said that despite the injury, Walters “soldiered on".
The song “Super Trouper” was not only performed live by Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, and Christine Baranski, but it was also sung a cappella. That jolt of ecstasy you get every time you hear it, that’s from pure talent and harmonization.
16. New Groove
All of the songs for the film were re-orchestrated from both their original recording and stage adaptations. Certain songs from the Broadway arrangement were scrapped: “Under Attack,” “One of Us,” and “Knowing Me, Knowing You” (unfortunately) do not appear in the film. The song “Name of the Game” was filmed, but didn’t make it to the final cut of the movie.
17. Money, Money, Money
The opening weekend for Mamma Mia! saw the film raking in a record-setting $27.6 million. That number bested Hairspray’s $27.4 million opening weekend, and set a new record for movie musicals.
18. Oldies Only
Early in the production process producers of the film approached members of ABBA to ask them to create a new song so that it would qualify for the Academy Awards’ Best Original Song category. As all of the songs that would be in the movie were previously published by ABBA, they didn’t qualify for that category. Former ABBA members Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus refused to submit to the studio’s request, nullifying their chances. You gotta stand for something, and sometimes that something is refusing to write a new hit song.
19. Lycra Suits Assemble
For the “Super Trouper” song, a total of 400 meters of Lycra was needed for the costumes worn by Donna, Rosie, and Tanya. If you don’t know what Lycra is, think of The Simpson’s Flanders when he’s skiing and says that he feels like he’s wearing “nothing at all…nothing at all…nothing at all…”
20. What Could Have Been
With a perfect cast of actors, it’s sometimes hard to imagine anyone else in certain roles. What if Olivia Newton-John or Michelle Pfeiffer (stars of Grease and Grease 2, respectively) had played Donna and we never got to see Meryl Streep in those overalls? Tragic. Fortunately, we avoided that reality, though we did simultaneously lose out on seeing Bill Nighy in one of the father roles. I would have loved to get more of Love Actually’s Billy Mack singing some chart-topping tunes.
21. Amanda Everywhere
There were traces of Amanda Seyfried all over the set. Her professional headshot was in the corner of the mirror in Donna’s bedroom, which I find absolutely adorable. In the scene for “Our Last Summer” when Donna is reminiscing about the past, looking through old photos, she’s actually holding Seyfried’s baby picture.
Christine Baranski did a great job playing the role of Tanya—but she almost lost it to none other than the Queen of Twitter herself, Cher. Imagine Cher thirsty for a young man, splayed out on the beach, drinking a cocktail. Now that’s something I dare say the world could have used. Alas, she had to decline due to tour commitments. Don’t spend too long being bummed out though, there’s always the sequel.
23. Blink and You'll Miss It
A film adaptation of a runaway success Broadway musical is bound to attract some big names to the cast—and behind the scenes too! ABBA members Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson were executive producers, along with none other than Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson! In fact, Rita Wilson briefly appears in the film as a member of the Greek chorus.
24. Here We Go Again
There will be a sequel! 10 years later, the story will follow a pregnant Sophie as she struggles to run the villa and learns more about her mother’s past from her pals Rosie and Tanya—including how she came to front The Dynamos. I sense more Lycra body suits on the horizon. Not only will Cinderella herself, Downton Abbey’s Lily James be appearing as the young Donna, Cher will finally make an appearance as Meryl’s mother.
25. The Big Question
By the end of the film—spoiler alert—we haven't actually found out who Sophie's father is. And that's ok! Everyone appears to be fine with it—after all, three dads are better than one. That said, director Phyllida Lloyd and screenwriter (and playwright of the original play) Catherine Johnson did reveal that Bill is Sophie's father. This is hinted at in the film when Sophie mentions to Bill that she is named after a Sophia who lived in the village where she grew up—that would be Bill's aunt Sophia, who must have known, as she appears to have been the one who left Donna the money to open the hotel. Also: check out those flowing blond locks. Pure Sophie!
26. Anything for Meryl
When Pierce Brosnan signed on for his role in Mamma Mia!, he had no idea what he was signing up for. Literally, all he knew about the film was that it was filming in Greece and he would star opposite Meryl Streep. Brosnan would have agreed to anything Streep was in, calling her "that gorgeous blonde I fancied terribly in drama school". So next time you criticize him for not being able to sing, just remember he was only there to bask in Meryl Streep’s charismatic brilliance.
In one notable scene in the movie, Stellan Skarsgard’s character Bill is cooking on his boat, only to turn around and flash the camera. It was a surprise for everyone on set with Skarsgard that day. He said: "We decided I should be cooking on the boat. I thought I should have an apron on. The director did not know I would be undressed under there, and have those behind tattoos. So when the camera rolled, I turned around right in front of it. The cameraman jumped and screamed, while Phyllida keeled over laughing". How cheeky—literally.