Haworth, Catherine (2017) Star quality? Song, celebrity and the jukebox musical in 'Mamma Mia!'. In: Contemporary Musical Film. Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, pp. 107-122. ISBN 9781474413121

The 2008 film adaptation of ‘jukebox’ stage musical Mamma Mia! garnered mixed reviews. Its reception ranged from wild enthusiasm to outright condemnation, with many critics expressing confusion at the film's often unusual mixture of slick professionalism and cheery, improvisatory exuberance. Despite this lack of critical consensus, Mamma Mia! was a huge box office hit, and has enjoyed particular success amongst female audiences – often partially attributed to the trio of women at its helm: screenwriter Catherine Johnson, producer Judy Craymer, and director Phyllida Lloyd. But this particular understanding of authorship is only half the story in a narrative based around the music of Swedish superstars ABBA, and with leading roles performed by recognisable A-list stars in a cinematic – and musical – environment far outside their usual context.
The potential for simultaneous pleasure and discomfort engendered by these dual registers of musical and personal celebrity is a key way in which Mamma Mia! destabilises conventional registers of ‘quality’, embracing ideas of performativity and literal role-play whilst also fostering the appearance of genuine, unfiltered (although sometimes uncomfortable) realism. Mamma Mia intensifies the musical’s oft-noted juxtaposition of artifice and transparency, using the disco-inflected Europop of ABBA’s familiar hits as a backdrop to the audible ‘imperfections’ of highly personal vocal performance. The film’s aesthetic of enthusiastic amateurism provides a forum in which individualised, and potentially queer modes of engagement are actively fostered. I propose three registers of performance central to this balancing act: the sincere, the camp, and the celebratory. These registers, which can frequently be found in the jukebox musical more widely, foreground musical performance as an axis around which shifting character, star, and audience subjectivities are constructed.

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