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On Stage: 'Mamma Mia' and Jukebox Musicals


Whatever your opinions might be on the subject of the jukebox musical, there is no question that Mamma Mia took the creative form to a level of success not previously enjoyed by many of its predecessors, and not replicated by many of those that came after.

The Beggar's Opera by John Gay, is considered by most to be the first of this sub-genre, which is generally defined as a script imposed on a series of already popular songs. John Gay referred to his creation as a ballad opera, in which spoken dialogue alternates with song lyrics set to music already familiar to the audience, such as folk tunes, and also parodies of well-known songs from other operas. It premiered on January 29th, 1728.

Jukebox musicals tend to divide between musical biographies, like Jersey Boys, which told the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, The Buddy Holly Story, and Hank William's Lost Highway; and those that, like Mamma Mia, weave a new story using the music as guideposts for characters and plots. 

The success of Mamma Mia is undoubtedly based in large part on the bouncy, dancey, hook-y hits scored by ‘70s Swedish pop band ABBA. The tunes are sunny and ear-wormy, even when hearts are breaking. The original Broadway production was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Musical and three Drama Desk Awards. In 2008, it was made into a film starring Meryl Streep.

You can catch Mamma Mia onstage at Century II on August 19th to the 21st, courtesy of Music Theatre Wichita.

Sanda Moore Coleman received an MFA in creative writing from Wichita State University in 1991. Since then, she has been the arts and community editor for The Martha's Vineyard Times, a teaching fellow at Harvard University, and an assistant editor at Image. In 2011, she received the Maureen Egan Writers Exchange prize for fiction from Poets & Writers magazine. She has spent more than 30 years performing, reviewing, and writing for theatre.