By Mike Collett-White
LONDON (Reuters) - The Spice Girls hit the red carpet in London on Tuesday for the world premiere of a musical based on their meteoric rise to fame in the 1990s, and will discover if "Girl Power" still appeals to the next generation.
"Viva Forever!" opens at the Piccadilly Theatre with a star-studded launch including all five members of the band, and hundreds of die-hard fans are expected to block the streets to get a glimpse of the girls who once ruled the charts.
Renowned for their sassy attitude and trend-setting sense of style, Victoria Beckham, Melanie Brown, Emma Bunton, Melanie Chisholm and Geri Halliwell recorded a string of hits including "Wannabe", "Spice Up Your Life" and "Viva Forever".
Although the storyline of the new production is not strictly based on the Spice Girls, their music will feature and the plot of a girl's overnight celebrity and how it affects her family and friends has clear parallels with the group.
Viva Forever! was written by British comedian Jennifer Saunders, who was a big enough fan of the band in its heyday to call herself the "sixth" Spice Girl.
"We used to travel around everywhere to see them and they were so great with my kids," said the 54-year-old, best known for playing a self-absorbed, eccentric mother in the popular comedy series "Absolutely Fabulous".
"The thought of a Spice Girls musical written by somebody else was not acceptable," she told the Daily Mirror newspaper. "Because I was so close to them, I couldn't let it slip through my fingers."
Saunders did much of the work on the new musical while undergoing treatment for breast cancer, although she said she was "getting through the worst" by the time she started.
Saunders was the first choice of producer Judy Craymer, who was also behind the global hit "Mamma Mia!" based on the tunes of ABBA which has taken a reported 1.2 billion pounds ($1.9 billion) in ticket sales and spawned a successful movie.
The Spice Girls are now all young mothers in their late 30s or early 40s, but are affectionately known by the nicknames they adopted in the band - Posh (Beckham), Scary (Brown), Baby (Bunton), Sporty (Chisholm) and Ginger (Halliwell).
When they coined the phrase "girl power" they were hailed as modern-day feminists by some and dismissed as vacuous pop princesses by others.
The band broke up around 12 years ago, and internal bickering among the members was long the delight of Britain's celebrity-obsessed tabloids.
Perhaps surprisingly, given the bust-ups and hissy fits, the group is united in its backing of the new musical, and underlining the Spice Girls' lasting popularity they played a major part in the closing ceremony at the London Olympics.
Only Beckham has gone on to become a global celebrity in her own right, however, partly through her marriage to England soccer player David and a career in fashion design.
The band got back together briefly in late 2007 and early 2008 for a world tour, and some members have said they would not be averse to reuniting again.
"I've always been punchy when saying I never wanted to be part of it again but it's getting to the point where we're happy together," Chisholm told the Mirror.
"The door's not closed these days."
(Reporting by Mike Collett-White, editing by Paul Casciato)