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Oh Catherine, what have you started...?

Apr 20 2006

Western Mail


CHICAGO'S runaway screen success has prompted a decision to turn the hit Abba stage musical Mamma Mia! into a movie.

The former band's songwriters, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, and cinema star Tom Hanks want to release the Abba spectacular by the end of next year, almost 10 years after the birth of the stage juggernaut in London's West End.

It follows the huge box office success in recent years of movie versions of musicals such as Chicago, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Renee Zellweger. Chicago, for which Welsh-born mother-of-two Zeta-Jones, won an Oscar in 2003, is said to be "the highest grossing and most profitable movie ever released by Miramax", taking about $300m (£171m).

Hollywood's leading names are expected to star in the Mamma Mia! film, while the Swedish pop group's songwriters Andersson and Ulvaeus will be its executive producers.

The Da Vinci Code and Saving Private Ryan star Hanks and his actress wife Rita Wilson have also signed up to be the film's executive producers, American movie bible Variety said yesterday.

The screenplay will be written by Catherine Johnson, who penned the hit musical's original showbook about a bride who begins a search for her father which leads to three men from her mother's past.

She is expected to stick to the original story of the musical, which has been seen by more than 24 million people worldwide.

Judy Craymer, who came up with the concept of the stage production, will be involved in the movie after rebuffing film offers for years.

When she first approached Ulvaeus in 1987 with the idea of a musical based on old Abba hits, he turned it down immediately. She continued the pressure for 12 years, and eventually Ulvaeus relented, taking a share in Littlestar, the company she founded to produce the musical.

The first production of Mamma Mia! opened in the West End of London in 1999 to wide acclaim, and Craymer went on to take the show to 130 cities around the globe.

The musical, which features 22 Abba tunes, such as Dancing Queen, Take A Chance On Me and The Winner Takes It All, has grossed $1.6bn worldwide.

Craymer is said to have liked the pitch from Hanks and his partner, Gary Goetzman, at his production company Playtone.

As co-producer with Goetzman, Craymer will be as closely involved in the new film as she is in the 11 productions of the show currently playing in 115 cities worldwide, according to Variety.

She said big name stars were now being considered for the show.

"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.

"The time felt right. The partnership with Gary (Goetzman) and Tom (Hanks) helped everything to fall into place," she said.

Hanks's company Playtone made My Big Fat Greek Wedding, which was originally a one-woman stage show. But the star is better known for his work in front of the screen and Hanks's new film The Da Vinci Code will open at the Cannes film festival next month.

Chicago, out in 2002 also starring Richard Gere, was based on a play by the late Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb. They based their work on an earlier play written by Maurine Dallas Watkins. The musical centres on two women in 1920s Chicago who achieve notoriety while awaiting trials on separate murder charges.

The producers behind the new Abba title are in talks with Universal to finance and distribute the movie.


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