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ABBA mania in full swing with ‘Mamma Mia’

How can ABBA fans resist "Mamma Mia!"?

The ABBA-inspired musical romance has earned $100 million at the worldwide box office after just two weeks of release, with the No. 2 opening in North America this past weekend kicking in $28 million.

The accompanying soundtrack debuted at a staggering No. 7 on the Billboard 200 album chart Wednesday, doing much better than any ABBA album ever did.

The Universal Pictures film stars Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried, Colin Firth and Christine Baranski, who did all the singing -- both in the film and on the Decca Records album.

The projects boast new versions of nearly two dozen songs from the enduring Swedish quartet, including "Dancing Queen," "S.O.S.," "The Winner Takes It All" and "Take a Chance on Me."

The movie is based on the Tony Award-nominated stage musical, which tells the story of Sophie (Seyfried), who hopes to discover her father's identity before her wedding. She invites three past lovers (Brosnan, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgard) of single mom Donna (Streep) back to the Greek isle they last visited 20 years ago. Obviously, mayhem ensues.

Decca Label Group chairman Chris Roberts believes the film's allure comes down to its sunny disposition. "There's a wonderful feel-good factor when you experience 'Mamma Mia!' and these great songs. If you're young, it just makes you happy; if you're older, there's nostalgia, and it all ends on such a positive note," he says.

Universal said just over one-third of the overwhelmingly female audience for the movie had seen the underlying play, and that almost one-third of moviegoers were aged 30 and older.

The stage version launched in March 1999 on London's West End and opened at New York's Winter Garden Theatre in October 2001. According to Crain's New York Business, "Mamma Mia" ranked No. 5 for the 2007-08 Broadway season, while the original cast recording has sold 1.4 million copies. Around the world, the play has been pitched in 170 cities in eight languages and seen by a reported 30 million people, with a $2 billion total gross.

The movie soundtrack was produced by group co-founder Benny Andersson, using musicians who recorded the original tracks. In addition to debuting at No. 7 in the United States, it reached No. 3 in Britain and No. 4 in Australia. Meanwhile, the 1992 collection "ABBA Gold" is currently No. 6 on Billboard's Top Pop Catalog chart (its 441st week). Total U.S. sales for "Gold" are 4.4 million, and worldwide, 25 million.

Clearly, ABBA, whose 1972-82 legacy of hits has tallied worldwide album sales of more than 350 million, never lost its mojo: Three million albums still sell annually.

Universal Music Enterprises president/CEO Bruce Resnikoff says, "There is an instant connection between the story of 'Mamma Mia!' and the music, especially in this case where the music became the story rather than the other way around. Clearly, we are seeing that advertising for the film is producing organic growth in demand for ABBA's catalog."

Resnikoff adds that the label already experienced a sales uptick as the theatrical show unfurled around the globe. "With the film tie-in, we established retail alliances and Internet-based marketing campaigns six months ago, with the belief that the same excitement generated by show openings would be generated by the film," he says. "Advertising for the movie is effectively advertising for ABBA."

Universal's mass-appeal campaign has been lapped up by TV, where cast members have taken turns on "The View," "The Ellen DeGeneres Show," "Today" and "Live With Regis and Kelly." Online initiatives with social networking sites and such destinations as Allmusic.com, Broadway.com and About.com, have delivered 18 million impressions, while mobile carriers are promoting ABBA ringtones/ringbacks.

Other media outlets are also cashing in. VH1 broadcast a "10 Most Excellent Things" feature, while Sirius Satellite Radio launched a 24/7 ABBA Radio channel for two weeks beginning July 7.

ABBA itself thrived live for only a decade, while the theatrical version of "Mamma Mia!" has lived almost as long, with no signs of waning. Now the movie is destined to extend that reach, while ABBA's catalog seems destined for infinity.

Ask Andersson what his reaction might have been 30 years ago to the notion that the group's music would endure in such fashion today, and he responds, "I'd say, 'You're out of your mind.' It really is amazing, isn't it? All artistic work is about communication. That's the only aim any artist has. Re-creating these songs for the movie was a joyful journey. I'm just grateful that there is still so much life remaining."

Judy Craymer, who conceived the play and is the movie's producer, notes that the goal of adapting the theatrical phenomenon to the big screen "was to make a movie that the millions around the world who have enjoyed the stage show would want to see -- and remind new audiences of those great ABBA songs. Their writing is innately theatrical, telling romantic stories that make the songs highly effective in a movie setting."

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