Behind the scenes of 'Mamma Mia! The Musical'


  • Arts
  • Thursday, 09 Oct 2014

The revolving set transforms from Donna's Greek taverna to her bedroom

In Mamma Mia! The Musical, the backstage may be a chaotic area but much magic happens too.

They say it takes a village to raise a child. Same goes in staging a West End show like Mamma Mia! The Musical.

Hundreds of costumes and props, dressing and make-up areas and stagehands running up and down to make sure everything is running smoothly.

Sounds like a lot of hard work, yes, but you see there is as much magic happening backstage as is on stage.

To quote Aladdin, a visit to the backstage of the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, where the musical is currently playing, conjured a “whole new world” and offered a “fantastic point of view” in the makings of a big production such as Mamma Mia!

The musical, based on the songs of Swedish pop group Abba, is set to dazzle the Malaysian crowd when it opens at the Plenary Hall in Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre on Dec 18.

Wigs may not play a big role in Mamma Mia! but these elegant hats make the leading ladies even more beautiful.

Mamma Mia! follows the story of bride-to-be Sophie Sheridan who invites three men, one of whom could be her father, to the wedding, unknown to Donna, her mother.

All hell breaks lose when Donna stumbles upon her past lovers a day before Sophie’s wedding.

Before you know it the curtains will rise here for Mamma Mia! The Musical and you’ll be dancing in the aisles. But for now, get to know the miracle workers behind the scenes and the magic that happens backstage.

A spoonful of sugar

Resident director Nick Evans is the all seeing eye of the production. Helming the tour, this 40-year-old Brit is responsible for every aspect of the show, from the acting and singing to the lights and sets.

The cheery Evans said it would be foolish of him to try and change a working formula.

“When you get a group of new actors, the key is to work with their personalities. They bring their own sense of humour to their role and I have to respect that.

“It’s like being a chef. You have the recipe to follow but you add a little more spice and a little more flavour. What you are essentially doing is slightly reinventing what is a known and working recipe,” says Evans in a recent interview in Hong Kong, where the touring production of Mamma Mia! is currently showing.

The famous feather boa and sunglasses used by Donna in the catchy Dancing Queen number, nicely arranged and labelled.

Costumes, glorious costumes

A bulk of the backstage is divided into a male and female quick-change area, storing all the costumes for the 25 actors. The principal cast has a minimum of six costume changes while the ensemble has a minimum of four.

That’s nearly 200 costumes or maybe even more! Now, you may be wondering, wouldn’t that make things complicated backstage? What a disarray it would be! This is when Head of Wardrobe Alison Breakwell comes in.

The tireless English lady has a small team under her belt that is in charge of steaming, ironing and repairing, if need be, the two hundred odd costumes. They also make sure the costumes are placed and arranged in the right compartments to make things easier for the actors.

“Things can either get very chaotic or very calm backstage. For instance, when the three Dynamos have to get into their Super Trouper costumes, it can get rather chaotic.

“Since those costumes are tight, it takes three stagehands to help each actor to get into it. But once that’s done and they’re on stage, everything is calm again!” jokes Breakwell.

Some props, like this beach umbrella, beach bar and dress, are placed by the stage wings, making them easily accessible for the actors during quick scene changes.

Let’s get physical

Preparing for a musical is no easy task. With such dynamic songs and energetic dance numbers to perform, the cast go through nearly an hour of vocal and physical warm-ups every night before the show.

Building blocks

The props play an equally important role in the musical. From a boat to a bed and tables and chairs, the items are labelled and arranged by the stage wings.

The main set itself is always on stage and is multifunctional. For the most part, they form Donna’s Greek taverna. But when turned, they either transform to a beachside area or the interior of the taverna.

To stand a chance to win free tickets to the musical, enter our online contest at http://contests.thestar.com.my/mammamia/. Seventy-five pairs of tickets are up for grabs. The online contest will end on Oct 31.

Mamma Mia! The Musical will be staged at the Plenary Hall, Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, from Dec 18-21.It is organised by Yvents! and presented by Maybank with Star Publications (M) Bhd as the media partner. Tickets, priced at RM190, RM290, RM390, RM490 and RM590 (excluding a RM3 ticketing fee), are available from TicketsPeople. For details, call 03-2287 2727 or visit ticketspeople.com.

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