Mamma Mia!’s Composers Benny and Björn on Their ‘Trojan Horse’ Hit and Why the Musical’s Success was a Shock

In Mamma Mia!, Sophie’s dilemma of discovering who her father is out of three possible candidates on the eve of her wedding is a staggering task. But the premise equated to a massive musical hit, currently running 10 years on Broadway, and an international tour that has played over 50 foreign cities. takes you on a look back on a conversation we had with the show’s songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus before the national tour comes to Cincinnati from May 1 through May 6. The Swedish duo discussed what their hopes were (or weren’t) for Mamma Mia!’s success, who they think the credit should go to, and why audiences keep coming back.

Did you ever imagine Mamma Mia! would be such a monster hit all over the world?

BENNY: Absolutely! [Laughs]
BJÖRN: Well, I didn’t, no.
BENNY: Nobody did.
BJÖRN: I honestly thought it would be a small show in London—if even. I thought it would run for a year perhaps.
BENNY: [We are] very grateful to Catherine Johnson, who wrote the thing.

Why do you think it works so well?
BENNY: You can say the music is actually a Trojan horse for a very intricate story that is told. There have been so many attempts at doing this kind of musical after Mamma Mia!—some of them not so bad, most of them bad. It’s not like you take a heap of songs and put them together and hope for the best. It takes a clever writer.

You are being modest. These are some of the catchiest songs of all time.
BENNY: We don’t mind that, you’re right. But that’s not the thing with Mamma Mia!—it’s just the help.
BJÖRN: It could have been an ABBA cabaret, but it’s not.

It certainly has opened up new audiences for the ABBA songbook.
BJÖRN: The strange thing is people seem to know these songs wherever you go around the globe. How that happened is a mystery to me.
BENNY: After the movie and especially after the DVD, there are a lot of children all of a sudden learning these songs. They [don’t] treat it like ABBA stuff, they treat them like Mamma Mia! songs.

Your careers are so long and varied.
BJÖRN: The first national hit we had was more than 35 years ago, and we’re still here!

You’ve been very successful, you could have rested on your laurels. Did you ever consider retiring?
BJÖRN: It’s not fun to retire.
BENNY: We haven’t tried really, maybe it is.
BJÖRN: We haven’t tried, but I’m sure it’s extremely boring. When you’re writing, you [might end up] writing for an ever smaller audience, but you still go on. You die with your boots on.

Get your tickets and dance on over to Mamma Mia! today.

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