The spotlight beams upon the 20 cast members on stage. A familiar tune strikes, and the cast of Mamma Mia! bursts into song and dance, their costumes and smiles dazzling the audience.
Mamma Mia!, which debuted in London, is celebrating its 15th birthday this year. It is the world's first "jukebox musical", a production which connects pre-existing songs with a storyline. Featuring 22 songs by Swedish pop group Abba, including Waterloo and Dancing Queen. Mamma Mia! focuses on Sophie, who invites her mother's three former boyfriends to her wedding, in hopes of learning who her father is. Conveniently, the songs help to tell that story.
"There was this wonderful catalogue of Abba music, but it was about finding the thing that would unlock that, so it wouldn't just be a tribute show," says resident director Nick Evans. "Otherwise, people can just listen to the album."
The show was officially sanctioned by the band, with the two male members, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, serving as executive producers. "They were able to advise and talk about a few lyrical changes, and about how the music fits into the journey," says Evans. Because the four Abba members started off as friends, then dated, married (Andersson to Anni-Frid Lyngstad, and Ulvaeus to Agnetha Faltskog) and finally divorced, their songs covered many aspects of love, family, and life.
Abba found fame when it won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, with the hit Waterloo. They went on to release five Top 40 albums and 14 Billboard Hot 100 singles, selling more than 380 million albums worldwide. The band broke up in 1982, but their musical presence is still strong.
"I'm 40, and [Abba's song]'s have been with me all my life. I remember hearing it at the school disco, at weddings I went to, at university. It's kind of like the soundtrack to our lives," says Evans.
Abba's timeless songs also resonate with the younger members of the cast. Niamh Perry, 24, who plays Sophie, says she also grew up with Abba. "It was always playing in my kitchen on a Sunday, and … my mum used to play [the Abba Gold album] all the time."
Perry first saw the musical when she was 12, and bought the soundtrack immediately. And she wasn't the only child to love it; she says children as young as five come up to the stage to sing along. "They know every word to every song!"
But you don't have to be an Abba fan to enjoy the show: Bart Edwards, 25, who plays Sophie's fiancé Sky, heard Abba music for the first time when he saw the show in London.
The two have performed the show more than 300 times since last November, and are yet to grow tired of it. Seems they really mean it when they sing Thank You for the Music.