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When British producer Judy Craymer first came up with the idea for MAMMA MIA, a musical set to the famous tunes of Swedish pop group ABBA, she could not have dreamed that more than 20 years later 30 million people worldwide would have viewed and loved her innovative creation. Or that seven years after its premiere at London's Prince Edward Theater, the show would still be drawing in upwards of $8 million per year in performances from London to New York, Budapest to Doha, Dubai to Dublin, Hamburg, Helsinki, Beijing and Moscow.
With a plot written by playwright Catherine Johnson and creative input from former ABBA members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Anderson, the successful show's International Tour is set to make its debut in Tel Aviv, Israel in less than three months.
"We are bringing the real deal to Israel," Marek Lieberberg, the international producer of what is likely to be the biggest entertainment production of the year and perhaps the largest international music event Israel has ever seen, told The Jerusalem Post during a recent trip to Dublin to see the same show and meet the cast that will arrive here on June 11.
"Israel is a great market and its about time they got the great shows," said Lieberberg, who himself is Jewish and has relatives in Israel. "It's a massive logistical task, the whole set will be in Helsinki right before it comes to Israel but we plan to transplant all the equipment from there to Israel exactly the same as it is."
Lieberberg's company will not undertake this task alone. Mobile phone company Orange is sponsoring part of the production and local producers Shmuel Zemach and Uri Ofer will also facilitate the huge operation, which includes transforming the Nokia basketball arena in Tel Aviv, the only location here large enough to house the show, into a theater and providing local audiences with simultaneous translations to Hebrew.
Not that the storyline is too complicated, even those with the most limited of English should have not problem understanding it.
It is set on an anonymous Greek island, where young Sophie is about to marry her beau Sky. But before she gets hitched, she is determined to find out the identity of her father, which her mother has kept secret from her. Her mother is former wild child Donna, who Sophie finds out had three lovers around the time she was conceived. Sophie decides to invite all three - Harry, Bill and Sam - to her wedding in the hope that when she meets them it will be immediately clear which one is her father. What follows is a typical farce, with people falling in love, leading to much confusion but ultimately a happy ending.
While the light plot borders on a spoof, what keeps the show going are the eternally catchy ABBA songs. They won over millions of fans worldwide back in the 1970s and, in Ireland earlier this month, they brought the audience to its feet. All the favorites are packed into the show - "Chiquitita", "Dancing Queen", "Does Your Mother Know", "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!", "S.O.S", "The Winner Takes It All", "Waterloo" and, of course, "Mamma Mia".
"I never get tired of singing ABBA songs," said Jeffrey Harmer, who plays Bill in the show and who is among the cast members set to perform in Israel this summer. "We always get such a fantastic reaction from the audience."
"We have performed in so many different places to numerous audiences and the reaction does vary," admitted Steven Paling, who as well as performing in the show's chorus, is also its artistic coordinator. "But the show is what it is and no matter what language one speaks, people usually understand it."
Paling said that the cast usually tailors its ad-hoc humor and dance moves to the local theater-goers (in Ireland there was a hint of Riverdance thrown in to fire up the audience) and that the Israeli audience would be no exception. "We might need some help coming up with some more ideas though."
As for the question of whether Israel's volatile security situation could stop the cast or crew from making its historic debut here, Morag Stiller, who plays Donna's best friend Rosie, said that she is really excited about the opportunity to perform in Israel.
"I have some good friends who have just moved to Israel and they say it is beautiful," she said.
"We are all looking forward to coming, it will be a real adventure for us. That is best part of our work that we get to see different places and cultures," agreed Paling.
Producer Lieberberg said he had no indication that anything would prevent this international show from coming here, as happened with his last big production in Israel in 2006, when the technical staff for music group Depeche Mode backed out at the last minute.
"This time I have taken every precaution to ensure that it does not happen," he promised.
The Israeli performances of MAMMA MIA begin on Tuesday, June 12 through 23, with shows running Mon-Sat. (not including Fri.) at 8:30 pm, Fri. at 1:30 pm, Wed. and Sat. at 4:30 pm.
So far, more than 50,000 tickets have been sold for the 24 shows, with 3,000 people expected at each performance.
Tickets cost NIS 250-475 and NIS 169-349 for Orange customers and can be bought via ticket agency Kastel 03 604 5000, 02 622 2333, 02-623 7000, 04-838 4777 and 04-8662244 or via the internet at www.tkts.co.il