Before curtain up, the queue to enter the Prince of Wales theatre for the tenth birthday performance of Mamma Mia! stretched around the block, as theatregoers attempted to make their way past the throngs of fans and onlookers desperate to catch a glimpse of Abba hitmakers Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, who’d flown in to take part in the celebrations.

Since the catalogue musical premiered in the West End, at the Prince Edward Theatre in April 1999, Mamma Mia! has spawned 19 international productions, including on Broadway, crossed over to the big screen in the 2008 Hollywood release starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan, and been seen by more than 30 million people around the world.

Set on a Greek island, Mamma Mia! centres on 20-year-old Sophie who, on the eve of her wedding, launches a quest to discover the identity of her father. After reading her single mother Donna’s diary, she invites three men from her mum’s past back to the island they all last visited 21 years ago. Mamma Mia! has an original book by Catherine Johnson and a score comprising some 22 Abba hits from the 1970s, including “Dancing Queen”, “Chiquitita”, “Honey, Honey”, “Super Trouper”, “Take a Chance on Me”, “Thank You for the Music” and the title song.

The musical is directed by Phyllida Lloyd, designed by Mark Thompson and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast, with lighting by Howard Harrison, sound by Andrew Bruce and Bobby Aitken and musical arrangements and supervision by Martin Koch. It’s produced, globally on stage and screen, by Judy Craymer, Richard East and Bjorn Ulvaeus for Littlestar.

In addition to Bjorn and Benny, the tenth birthday performance was attended by Craymer and Johnson, two of the three women behind the musical’s birth (director Phyllida Lloyd was unable to attend as she’s in New York preparing for the Broadway opening of Mary Stuart) and many members of the original cast led by Siobhan McCarthy and Hilton McRae, who created the roles of Donna and her lost love Sam.

At last night’s curtain call, after a dazzling display of streamers, confetti and pyrotechnics and several enthusiastic encores that got the audience up on their feet (ending, as per usual with “Waterloo”), Craymer and Johnson joined the company on stage. Craymer saluted “our flagship production” where “our Mamma Mia! family started” and marvelled at reaching “ten bloody years, darling”. She added that “none of it would have been possible without those Abba songs, those irresistible songs” before introducing Ulvaeus and Andersson.

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The Abba founders recalled that 2009 marked another major milestone for them – it was “35 years ago exactly now” that they were waiting for the votes to come in at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, which they went on to win with “Waterloo”. “There’s nothing like Eurovision to launch a long and successful career,” Bjorn joked last night. And, with the evidence at hand, who was going to argue with him?

The tenth birthday cast of Mamma Mia! is led by Linzi Hateley and Katie Brayben as mother and daughter Donna and Sophie Sheridan. It also features Jane Gurnett (as Tanya), Joanna Munro (Rosie), Richard Laing (Sam), Andrew Hall (Bill), Paul Ryan (Harry), Oliver Hembrough (Sky) and Giovanni Spano (Pepper).

- by Terri Paddock