By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) - The Spice Girls reunited for a few hours on Tuesday to launch a new musical based on songs that made them one of the biggest bands of the 1990s, but there was time for plenty of laughs, avowals of mutual love and even the odd catty aside.
"Viva Forever!", written by British comedian Jennifer Saunders and produced by "Mamma Mia!" mastermind Judy Craymer, opens at the Piccadilly Theatre in London's West End on December 11.
Victoria Beckham, Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisholm and Geri Halliwell -- or to use their more familiar monikers Posh, Scary, Baby, Sporty and Ginger Spice -- were back together 12 years after they split and seven years since their reunion tour.
Any appearance by all five Spice Girls is a major media event in Britain, where they introduced the concept of "girl power" and were hailed as modern-day feminists by some and "sugar-pop" pin-up girls by others.
Tabloids delighted in unearthing behind-the-scenes tensions and tantrums between the members when they were a major force in pop, but, for the most part, Tuesday's appearance was harmonious.
"I don't think it took (us) any convincing at all," Chisholm told a small group of reporters who met the band members before they appeared on stage to present the musical.
"It's something we've spoken about a lot over the years. I think that our music lends itself really well to theatre and when we reunited in 2007 that was when we started to talk about it more seriously."
Beckham, in a black outfit made by her own fashion brand, added: "We always said if we do this we want to work with the best people, because that's what we've always done. Everything we've done we've done properly and we've got the 'A-team.'"
HANDS OFF APPROACH
The Spice Girls' level of involvement in the musical was not fully clear, although they were consulted on the storyline and have seen early workshops.
"As much as we've written the songs, we also didn't want to creatively stifle Judy and Jennifer," Beckham said.
"So, somewhat, we have let them do what they do. Their success speaks for themselves. We really gave them the freedom to do their thing. We had a lot of faith in them."
Beckham, who has remained in the limelight since the band went into hiatus in 2000 due to her success as a designer and style icon and marriage to soccer star David Beckham, hoped Viva Forever! would bring girl power to a new audience.
"We talked about girl power for a long long time and we're hoping to introduce a whole new generation. What we do individually as well is empower women and it's fun - we want to have fun and we're excited."
Viva Forever! is not a re-telling of the Spice Girls' meteoric rise to global fame after they formed in 1994 having answered an advertisement to form a girl band.
While it does feature their hits, which include "Wannabe", "Spice Up Your Life" and "Viva Forever", it centers around four characters who audition for a TV talent show.
"It's not about actually us, it's the essence of the Spice Girls," said Halliwell, who, like the other four Spice Girls, is a mother in her late 30s.
"There is a talent show in there, but actually, really what it's about is about friendship, it's about motherhood and then there is a little bit of how do you juggle between success and friendship?"
Asked about how they had got along since coming together to promote and work on the musical, Halliwell replied: "We actually do have quite a good time together when it's just us lot."
Dinner was out of the question, however, as Beckham was leaving on a flight soon after the promotion.
Brown bantered with reporters, calling their questions "crap" and asking why no one had asked why they all looked so good. She also stated on stage that at the musical workshops the performers "sing it better than us."
"Well, that's not hard," Chisholm replied to loud laughter.
Chisholm also interrupted Halliwell as she praised the other Spice Girls, referring jokingly to "Ginger Spice's" shock 1998 exit from the group amid reports of a bust up.
"She's only saying that because she left."
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Steve Addison)