‘Mamma Mia’ Producer Judy Craymer is Working On Third Movie

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When producer Judy Craymer persuaded ABBA to allow her to make a musical out of their back catalogue, she never imagined the show would still be running twenty-five years later – not to mention spawn two hit movies starring Meryl Streep. To celebrate the stage production’s quarter century anniversary, Craymer is now bringing “Mamma Mia” to British TV screens with a new talent competition show, titled “Mamma Mia! I Have a Dream.”

Produced by Fremantle-owned Thames and set to air on ITV1 in the U.K. from this Sunday, the show aims to find a new Sophie and Sky (played by Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper in the movies) to star in the West End. After holding open auditions, which saw thousands of wannabe Sophies and Skys apply, applicants were whittled down to 500 and then to a final 14 (seven boys and seven girls) who were swiftly whisked off to “musical bootcamp” on a picturesque Greek island.

After being put through their paces by some of Craymer’s longtime collaborators (including choreographer Anthony Van Lasst, musical maestro Martin Lowe and casting supremo David Grindrod) the contestants strut their stuff in front of a panel of judges, comprised of “Glee” star Amber Riley, singer Jessie Ware, West End star Samantha Barks (who currently plays Elsa in the London production of “Frozen The Musical”) and comedian Alan Carr.

The series also includes a few cameos from the movie to cheer the contestants on. The winning Sophie and Sky – who will each be awarded a year-long theater contract – will be decided by a public vote in the final live show of the season.

Craymer describes the competition series as a cross between the stage show and the movie – made for television. “We’ve never done a live TV production of the musical,” Craymer, who spent a month in Greece overseeing proceedings, tells Variety. “I love the idea of a new challenge.”

Read on to find out Craymer’s plans for a third “Mamma Mia” movie and why she thinks Greta Gerwig might be a fan of the musical.

Why did you feel the time was write to do something with “Mamma Mia” on TV?

Over the years people had approached me about various television ideas or casting ideas, and it definitely wasn’t something that I felt was right. The difference [this time] was the stars were aligned. Thames Fremantle got the idea of making the show on location, which really gave a unique feel to it — it really took it into another realm of a hybrid of the stage show and the movies — and so that really appealed. And it was building up to 25 years. I was thinking, basically, how can we celebrate “Mamma Mia”?

The prize is a year-long contract to star in the show on the West End, which is a huge undertaking for the winners and a big risk for you. Is it keeping you up at night at all?

No. This is not a normal [talent] show where somebody goes up and sings a song and then they get chosen for the following week or not; they have to show that they do have the chops. So that was part of the process: you had to feel that they were going to be able to do eight shows a week, they were going to work within the discipline and everything that goes with being in a show. I mean, it’s a big deal. It’s a big deal being on television but then actually to follow through and be a lead performer and work with 32 other cast and the band and the crew and to be out there doing it every night takes something special that we will see these 14 contestants could possibly have.

The production values seem very high for a competition show.

I think it was very important to me it had high production values. I would never have let it happen if it hadn’t. I think taking it on vacation was a whole new thing and there hasn’t really been a casting show like that. I mean, of course, people go, “Is it like ‘Love Island’?” Well, yes, there’s romance because of Sophie and Sky, but it’s definitely not “Love Island.” It’s on location but it’s all singing and dancing. We had an incredible production team out there, I think 180 crew. It was like a mini movie, really, apart from in a movie you don’t have 19 cameras. It was quite extraordinary.

Will there be a U.S. version of the television show?

I hope so. I think so. We are about to open the U.S. [stage] tour — we hadn’t been on tour since the last movie, because then we all had the pandemic to deal with — so I’m excited for that, that opens in November. But we’re talking about a Broadway run in maybe 2025 and we would love to do the same [TV] production. So we have been in discussions but there’s quite a lot of elements that I have to put in place.

Meryl Streep has expressed an interest in returning for a third movie, so where are you with that?

I am so hands on with everything that I can only do so much. So the TV show has been a big priority. I’m sure [the third movie] will happen. I’m in the privileged position that I have Universal Studios wanting to do it, who I love working with, and I have a storyline. It just always takes a certain amount of time with “Mamma Mia.” Bjorn and Benny always take a certain amount of convincing. I don’t know how much more convincing they’re gonna have because everybody wants another film. But they had ABBA Voyage and then they wanted a rest from ABBA staff. But it will happen. We’ve done the television show and now maybe I’ll focus on the movie. Maybe that’ll be a second 25-year celebration.

25 years of “Mamma Mia” is a tremendous achievement. Did you have any idea the musical would be so popular?

No, no idea at all. I definitely would not have envisaged this as the master plan of everything. I mean, to do an eight-part TV series for ITV or two very successful movies… “Mamma Mia” has brought so many different generations to the theatre, I think that’s its great legacy. Some people say, “You haven’t done the stage musical of ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ yet” and I’m like, “Ok! I will, I will!”

You also memorably did a Spice Girls musical, “Viva Forever,” back in 2021. It wasn’t as well received as “Mamma Mia” but there’s a renewed interest in the band – would you ever consider bringing it back?

I love “Viva Forever” – maybe it was too early [for the show]. That was an interesting time. It’s interesting watching how the Spice Girls have evolved, not only as women but their place in popular culture. They’ll never go away. They’re very, very important to that moment in time. And the songs are great. I have had interest [in a revival] but I’m always busy. But when I started with “Mamma Mia,” people weren’t that hot on ABBA. People were very hesitant. I mean, if anyone thinks this was easy, it wasn’t. This was the ‘80s going into the ‘90s when I was trying to pursue my idea. “Mamma Mia” was created by three women [Craymer along with writer Catherine Johnson and director Phyllida Lloyd] I think that was very unusual then. But of course, what we’ve done is we’ve created roles for women for the last 25 years in movies and on stage.

It feels like “Mamma Mia” did usher in a new era in terms of musicals, particularly those aimed at women. Recently there’s been a Britney Spears musical, “Once Upon a One More Time,” and “& Juliet,” which features pop songs from the 90s and 2000s.

Even a bit of “Barbie” in a way. I’d like to think that Greta Gerwig grew up on “Mamma Mia.” Obviously, she’s brilliant but I mean, there is something there, something [about making projects for women] that was more difficult 25 years ago.

This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.

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