Donna and the Dynamos get their name from the musical Mamma Mia! that has been seen by over 50mn people in over 300 major cities worldwide. Told through the songs of ABBA, the story of Mamma Mia! revolves around three friends - Donna, Tanya and Rosie, who used to be a girl group called Donna and the Dynamos. They are meeting after many years for Donna’s daughter Sophie’s wedding on a Greek island.
The massive success of Mamma Mia! the musical led to the formation of Donna and the Dynamos featuring the three Swedish performers who have performed in many cities around the world. Donna and the Dynamos in Muscat will feature Gunilla Backman and Charlott Strandberg, who were in the original cast of the Swedish edition of the musical when it was staged in 2005. Anna-Lena Hemstrom - the understudy to the third leading actress in the Swedish cast - will join Gunilla and Charlott for the concert here, along with four musicians from the Benny Andersson Orchestra. Among other celebrated performances, Gunilla played Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard, which won her a Swedish national award in 2010.
But the opening night of Mamma Mia! in Stockholm remains her most memorable. “The four members of ABBA were in the audience. When I came off stage, I cried out, ‘I’ve just sung The Winner Takes it All in front of Agnetha (Faltskog).’ I was almost in tears.” The Winner takes it all, not surprisingly, is Gunilla’s favourite ABBA song. She had received a call from ABBA's Benny Andersson himself, offering her the role after three auditions.
“I had waited for an answer for quite some time, and then the phone rang and I heard, ‘This is Benny Andersson. Do you want a fun job?’ I just cried out, ‘Wow, yes I do!’” For Charlott, who trained at the Ballet Academy of Musical Education in Gothenberg and also starred in Woody Allen’s Central Park West, ABBA’s music has followed her through life like ‘a very close and reliable friend’. This is her second trip to Oman. “I have a close friend living in the country. I am very happy to return since I really loved the beautiful country and always felt so welcome by the friendly and open Omani people. It feels extra exciting that I get to perform this time.”
Anna-Lena believes every Swede growing up in the 70s has a connection with ABBA. “I remember seeing them on television in 1974 when they won The Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton with Waterloo. It was a huge event at that time.
Before that they were just an ordinary song group in Sweden,” she said. The 25th anniversary of that victory also marked the first ever staging of the musical – written by Catherine Johnson, produced by Judy Craymer and directed by Phyllida Lloyd - at the Prince Edward Theatre in London’s West End. Nine years later, the film adaptation of the musical premiered in London and made history as the highest grossing movie of that time at the UK box office and the highest grossing musical film worldwide.
The characters of the three singers of Donna and the Dynamos are believed to be based on the three women behind Mamma Mia! as Judy once said in an interview, “We all see ourselves as those three women on the stage, because Catherine is the slightly chaotic single mom, I’m the high-maintenance one, and the pragmatic one is Phyllida.” And this holds true for the band too, according to Charlott. “I am a chaotic single mom, Gunilla is highmaintenance and Anna-Lena the more pragmatic one,” she said.
Asked to choose between the two distinct phases of ABBA’s songs - innocent, naive and teen-orientated in the early phase or mature and reflective in the later stages - Anna-Lena said, “It’s a bit difficult to answer that because I got a lot of memories of the early songs. Many of them were first recorded in Swedish. “But the older I get, I understand more of the loneliness and the anxiety in the lyrics of the later songs. Even the music got more complicated but I must say that I like both type of song.