Thursday, May 8, 2014 | 1:59 a.m.
It is an extraordinary worldwide theatrical phenomenon, and even the producers still scratch their heads sometimes wondering how a Swedish pop group’s madcap music became such a global spandex smash.
The statistics are stunning: More than 54 million people have seen “Mamma Mia!” performed in 14 languages on six continents in more than 400 major cities. Still going strong in its 15th year since opening in London on April 6, 1999, “Mamma Mia!” has hauled in more than $2 billion at the box office.
It’s been running for 12 years in New York and has earned more than $600 million as the 10th longest-running show on Broadway with more than 5,000 performances and remains one of the Great White Way’s top shows.
When it opened in Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay on Feb. 13, 2003, it set a new house record on the Strip in one week. After six sell-out years, the musical closed on Jan. 4, 2009, and still holds the title of the longest-running, full-length Broadway show to play the Strip. Disney’s “The Lion King,” and then Cirque du Soleil’s “Michael Jackson One,” replaced it.
Now the phenomenon of “Dancing Queen,” “The Winner Takes It All” and “Take a Chance on Me” is returning to make more “Money, Money, Money.” After four weeks of rehearsals, a cast of New York and Las Vegas actors and musicians opens it for previews tonight at the Tropicana.
The new Las Vegas cast is Christine Sherrill as Donna Sheridan, Kimbre Lancaster as Sophie Sheridan, Mary Callanan as Rosie, Alison Ewing as Tanya, Trey Ellett as Harry Bright, Steve Judkins as Bill Austin, Sean Allan Krill as Sam Carmichael and Jordan Bondurant as Sky.
The Las Vegas production also features Devin Archer, Virginia Cavaliere, Sasha Ely-Judkins, Kasie Gasparini, Danielle Marie Gregoire, Ashley Elizabeth Hale, Karl Hamilton, Brittney Johnson, Riley Krull, James Lee, Kent M. Lewis, Joe Moeller, Patrick Ortiz, Bradford G. Rahmlow, Matt Rivera, Nadine Roden, Marcus Shane, James Tolbert, Santina Umbach, Jason Watson and Kaci R. Wilson. “Mamma Mia!” has its official red carpet gala premiere Friday, May 16.
My interview with producer Judy Craymer just before rehearsals began was posted on Feb. 26. She reveals the worries of staging the show 15 years ago and why she thinks its formula of weaving a non-existent story around a series of disconnected pop tunes worked so successfully.
She told me: “We didn’t have a ‘we must get back to Las Vegas’ plan. The show has always taken on its own journey. ‘Mamma Mia!’ ended its Las Vegas run and then the film came out and the show blossomed all over again with a new audience and a different generation. It just seemed a perfect opportunity with the Tropicana, and it seems great.
“We were one of the first Broadway shows to break the rules by going to Las Vegas, and people were doubtful way back then. I remember we were very nervous going from Broadway into Las Vegas, but we succeeded, and so once again you will get the full show— the Broadway bells-and-whistles production.”
The hit movie adaption starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth raked in $600 million at the box office worldwide as one of the most successful movie musicals ever and breathed new life into the theatrical version.
I asked Judy how the four members of ABBA felt with the show starting up a second time in Las Vegas. She told me: “They were excited. They wanted to know everything and were like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ They trust our team of people who wouldn’t do anything that we didn’t really think about or consider. They’ve always been very cautious. They’re generally excited. We’ve been running the show and company for 15 years now.
“It was a great decision to come here, and the Tropicana and owner Alex Yemenidjian have been fantastic partners. It all started with them saying we want to open the new theater with a show like ‘Mamma Mia!,’ and Alex said, ‘Well, why don’t we get ‘Mamma Mia!’ So that was how it all started. I think it’s important that there is a vibe there that reflects ‘Mamma Mia!’ on the beach. I think the new Tropicana has been beautifully done.
“We know that there’s a lot of competition in Las Vegas and things have changed for the younger audience with nightclubs in the last six years. But ‘Mamma Mia!’ has its audience following it, and we are not a new, unheard-of show. We are a brand now. I think we’ll look very nice there. It’s a great match, and we’ll be an asset for the hotel.
“It will fit on the Strip as a big show that’s loved in a way and has certainly built up its audience. Our brand has expanded, and ‘Mamma Mia!’ will be reflected throughout the property with its own distinctive, immersive feel.”
So now add Las Vegas once again to the London, New York, Germany and Austria resident shows, plus continuing international tours in China, France, Korea, Denmark, Sweden, Israel and a dozen other countries.
“Mamma Mia!” plays the new Tropicana Theater seven times a week at 7:30 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, dark Fridays and two performances at 5: 30 and 9 p.m. Saturdays.
Judy had the last word: “It’s pure escapism. People know they that will get clean-cut entertainment and will leave singing and dancing.”
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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Tropicana Las Vegas sits on the south-east corner of Tropicana Avenue and Las Vegas Boulevard, an intersection which has the most adjacent hotel rooms in the world, also making it one of the most busy. The hotel has 1,658 rooms, three restaurants, a 62,011-square foot casino and a spa.