Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again - and the small world of musical sequels and prequels

As the wise ABBA once said, the winner takes it all…

And this summer, the Swedish super troupers certainly came out on top, as they invited us dancing queens to take a chance on Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (HWGA), ten years on from the first film.

What happened? Audiences yelled gimme, gimme gimme! – and we thanked them for the music (or in non-ABBA speak, it was a success).

The name of the game was to try and squeeze out a second musical – when they’d already used most of their major hits. So how could they do it?

The cast of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again
Turns out they either had to reuse some of the same songs, or make the most of second-tier tunes.
So when all is said and done; while there was clearly money, money, money to be made from a sequel, was it a good idea?  

Well Mamma Mia! HWGA had a lot to offer in terms of backstory. You might remember that in the first film, bride-to-be Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) invites three mystery men from her mother Donna’s past – all of whom could be her father – to her wedding on the Greek island where Donna (Meryl Streep) runs a hotel.

The new film shows the adventure young Donna (Lily James) embarks on after graduating university, and how she meets Harry (Hugh Skinner / Colin Firth), Bill (Josh Dylan / Stellan Skargard), and then eventual husband Sam (Jeremy Irvine / Pierce Brosnan).

Meanwhile there’s a parallel ‘present’ story, in which Sophie is preparing for the relaunch party of the Hotel Bella Donna, but desperately missing partner Sky (Dominic Cooper), who is working away – possibly permanently.    

Omid Djalili’s fleeting appearances as a dithering Greek customs officer were genuinely very funny (and suspenseful) each time the men attempted to cross the border to the island.

The Lady Boys take on ABBA in the Wonder Women tour
But the biggest highlight is of course the appearance of Cher as Donna’s mother, who unexpectedly appears at the hotel relaunch party. And though her acting may be a little more stilted these days, the way she serenades hotel manager (Andy Garcia) with ‘Fernando’ makes for a spellbinding conclusion to the movie.

Surely to prevent them having to reuse some of ABBA’s songs they could have dipped into Cher’s vast songbook? With themes of turning back time and so on, they would have slipped in seamlessly. An ABBA/Cher musical hybrid – who could resist that!

Cher has teased that she's releasing an album of ABBA covers though...

And even doggie 'Maxdonna' is in on the action, with this spoof of Madonna's 'Hung Up' video, which samples Gimme, Gimme, Gimme!

I feel it was lacking the more spectacular group song and dance numbers, and the quality of the singing was a mixed bag, but the second instalment is an easy and enjoyable watch, that musical fans seem to have really embraced.

But this got me thinking about the lack of musical sequels and prequels. Why are there so few of them? Let’s take a look at some examples, and maybe we’ll see why…

Grease 2

In this gender-reversed 80s remix of the original story, student Michael (Maxwell Caulfield) tries to impress new-generation pink lady Stephanie (Michelle Pfeiffer) and win her heart.

Unfortunately though, trying to name even one memorable song from Grease 2 is very difficult. It’s a cheese fest, but without the charm of the first. Let’s just say the original Grease is ‘The One That We Want’…
Spinning off from another Grease-inspired yarn, High School Musical 2 picks up the story after Troy (Zac Efron) secures a job at the country club owned by Sharpay (Ashley Tisdale) and Ryan’s (Lucas Grabeel) dad. But he runs into difficulty as he realises Sharpay’s parents could help him get a coveted basketball scholarship, but doesn’t want to risk losing Gabriella (Vanessa Hudgens) and the rest of his friends.

This movie provided tweens with a treasure trove of ‘singing into the hairbrush’ songs, including What Time Is It, Fabulous and You Are The Music in Me. And the franchise even went as far as a third film!
Probably the most ‘Popular’ musical spin-off of all time, Wicked – a prequel to The Wizard of Oz – details the untold friendship between Elphaba (the Wicked Witch of the West) and Galinda (Glinda the Good Witch), and also how the scarecrow, tin man and cowardly lion came to be – long before Dorothy ever ‘follows the yellow brick road’.

Wicked has been going strong in the West End for over ten years, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a school talent show that doesn’t feature a rendition of ‘Defying Gravity’.
The Phantom of the Opera is the second longest-running West End musical of all time, and even sparked its own film starring Gerard Butler. But perhaps part of the problem with Love Never Dies is that the name doesn’t scream ‘follow-up to Phantom’. It was an impressive, big-scale show which sadly had limited success in the UK.  It is currently touring in America. 

Coming Soon – Mary Poppins Returns

Despite Dick Van Dyke’s questionable cockney accent, Mary Poppins is an enduring Disney favourite. Mary Poppins Returns, with Emily Blunt in the lead role, is set to hit cinemas this Christmas.

Fifty-four years after the original, it will feature new songs and be directed by Rob Marshall, who has a history of movie musical adaptations including Chicago, Into the Woods and Nine. 
A tribute to Mary Poppins in the Wonder Women tour

Intriguingly you'll also see much of the Mamma Mia! HWGA cast, such as Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, and Colin Firth. 

Have you seen any of these musical sequels or prequels – what did you think? And are you looking forward to Mary Poppins Returns?

Meanwhile, the Lady Boys have been getting in on the ABBA / Mamma Mia! action, with a special homage to the band in their Wonder Women tour. And they also take on Mary Poppins! Find all the tour dates and buy tickets here.