JUDY Craymer is one of the three women who turned the hits of ABBA into the international blockbuster musical Mamma Mia!.

The producer teamed up with director Phyllida Lloyd and scriptwriter Catherine Johnson to work closely with ABBA’s songwriters Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

Judy spoke about the process in advance of the show coming to the Grand Theatre in Leeds from November 24 to December 5.

The show has been going since 1999, but its producer first had the idea for a film or a stage show based on Abba’s songs many years earlier when she was Tim Rice’s assistant on Chess, the musical he wrote with Bjorn and Benny.

Cramer said: ““I started talking to them about it in the mid-80s, and then in about 1995 Bjorn said: ‘If you can get the right story, maybe.”

By then she had worked as a producer in television and come across Johnson, a scriptwriter who had also written a couple of hit plays.

“I explained my thoughts and Catherine said: “What about a mother and daughter story?’ And that was it. We tentatively pitched it to Bjorn and Benny and it kind of worked from there. They trusted me.

“They weren’t saying, ‘Bring in a star team. We’ll only do it with Tom Stoppard and Hal Prince.’ They let us nurture it. I think timing was everything. It probably wouldn’t have worked ten years before in the same way.”

Craymer is resistant to the idea that Mamma Mia! is just another jukebox musical.

She said: “To me those songs were written by Bjorn and Benny for Mamma Mia! In fact they were increasingly written about their own failing marriages to the band’s two singers, Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.

“The Winner Takes It All was the inspiration for me. I kept thinking, that is a great 11 o’clock number, as the producers say on Broadway. It’s ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina’. But what’s the story?”

The story centres on the search for a father. Twenty-year-old bride-to-be Sophie has grown up on a Greek island where her mother Donna runs a rackety taverna.

Sophie doesn’t know who her father is, so she rummages through her mother’s diary from 20 years back and secretly invites three potential candidates.

As a feelgood plot it is a long way from the doom-laden blockbuster musicals which dominated the 1980s and 1990s, and Judy thinks that helps explain its longevity.-

“The show has a big heart and people love it so they return. It’s also a show that people like to see in a community atmosphere. They like to bring friends and family.”

Visit leedsgrandtheatre.com or call 0844 848 2700 to book tickets.