It might not be groundbreaking to present the popular ABBA musical Mamma Mia! in Mandarin, but the cost and length of its run with an exclusive copyright license distinguish it from other foreign musicals performed in China.
Produced to the same strict standards as Broadway shows, Mamma Mia! has conquered Chinese audiences in its continuous run of more than 100 performances since July.
The musical by British playwright Catherine Johnson based on hits by the Swedish supergroup ABBA will next be staged in Guangzhou, Guangdong province from Oct 28 to Nov 24.
It will then tour the provincial capitals of Hubei and Shaanxi provinces – Wuhan and Xi’an – and Chongqing, and return to Shanghai where it started.
The cast, production company and many of the crew are Chinese.
“We bring a completely new musical operation mode from the production to performance and marketing – it is path-breaking in China,” said Judy Craymer, overseas producer of the copyrighted work.
The 33-centimeter-thick copyright agreement contains details down to the lighting, acoustics and ticket distribution required.
Shanghai-based Asia United Co Ltd gained the rights to adapt Mamma Mia! into a Chinese version after three years of hard negotiation.
“The production costs are 40 million yuan ($6.28 million) and the copyright license is only five years,” said Tian Yuan, general manager of the company.
In addition, “there is a strict article in the agreement that says the contract can be terminated at any time if the copyright owners believe the Chinese Mamma Mia! does not meet the standards of live Broadway shows, no matter how much money and effort our company has already put in,” Tian said.
Despite the risks, Asia United accepted the clause because they said it is just such uncompromising standards that could enable the musical to generate 15 billion yuan in ticket sales over 12 years.
To maintain the original style and English humor, the Chinese producers employed a famed Taiwan songwriter to translate the lyrics. Every sentence was subject to deliberation by both Chinese and foreign experts.
They combined Internet-spawned vernacular and local dialects, and also reinterpreted the 22 ABBA songs featured in the original musical, work that satisfied the copyright owners.