Mamma Mia! Abba A Hit With Chinese Audiences

Holly Williams, Asia correspondent

Mamma Mia! - the first ever blockbuster musical to be translated into Chinese - has opened in Beijing to sell-out audiences.

The show has proved a hit with everyone, from Chinese teenagers to retired Communist officials.

Performances have regularly ended with the crowd on its feet, dancing to the Abba songs featured in the musical.

"It's the first time I've seen anything like this in China," said veteran actress Shen Xiaocen, who plays one of the three female leads in the show.

For many in the audience it is the first time they have heard the music of Abba.

Western pop music was effectively banned in China during the 1970s.

But the songs - all meticulously translated into Mandarin - seem to have a universal appeal.

"It was so great. Everyone should come and see it," said Lily Ren, who flew to Beijing from the city of Shenyang to see the show with her husband.

"I loved the music, it made me want to dance," said one elderly lady, who confessed she had never heard of Abba.

The show is one of Britain's most successful exports - the brainchild of producer Judy Craymer and playwright Catherine Johnson.

The original West End production opened in 1999 and the film adaptation, starring Meryl Streep and Colin Firth, is the highest-grossing British film of all time.

Some of the themes in the musical - including sexual promiscuity, single motherhood and homosexuality - are still considered controversial in China.

But government censors left nearly all of the script intact, and audiences seem to be unfazed by the subject matter.