IT has been seen by 60 million people worldwide, there have been 50 different productions and now Mamma Mia! the musical based on the songs of Abba is heading back to Manchester.

Judy Craymer is the producer, responsible for one of the most successful musicals of all time and yet she is one of the least demonstrative super-producers on either side of the Atlantic.

Hers is the only mega-musical to have proved itself unstoppable without any assistance from anyone called Lloyd Webber or Mackintosh or Nunn or be affiliated in any way to Disney or any other film franchise. Or indeed get any help from men at all (unless you thank Bjorn and Benny for the music). The three queens of Mamma Mia!, aside from Judy, are director Phyllida Lloyd and book writer Catherine Johnson.

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 Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson.

“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,” she said.

By then she had worked as a producer in television and come across Johnson, a scriptwriter who had also written a couple of sparky hit plays. One of them was Shang-a-Lang, about three women who hit 40 in a holiday camp where their girlhood idols the Bay City Rollers are playing.

“I explained my thoughts and Catherine said, ‘What about a mother-daughter story?’ and that was it,” said Judy. “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.’ They let us nurture it.

“I think timing was everything. It probably wouldn’t have worked 10 years before in the same way.”

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

“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 Winners Takes It All was the inspiration for me. I kept thinking, that is a great 11 o’clock number, as they 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 rummages through her mother’s diary from 20 years back and secretly invites three potential candidates.

As a feel-good plot it is a long way from the doom-laden blockbuster musicals which dominated in 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,” said Judy,

One thing that has changed is the power of social media to make or break a show. Mamma Mia! had good reviews but it mainly conquered the world by word of mouth – and, of course, wonderful songs.

The show’s creators had no real idea how deep those songs are in all our bloodstream until they first launched them upon an audience.

“They stood up and cheered at the end and everybody was dancing,” said Judy.

“Somebody said to me, ‘This is just the first preview audience. Don’t expect this to happen again’.”

How wrong they were.

Mamma Mia!, Palace Theatre, Manchester, Tuesday, July 3 to Saturday, July 14. Details from 0844 871 3019 or