'Mamma Mia!' cast talk about their characters and the quest for love

  • Arts
  • Saturday, 15 Nov 2014

Mamma Mia! The Musical is a fun musical at heart but it also deals with elements like love, lost friendships, jealousy and fear.

Get to know the three lead actors of hit musical Mamma Mia! before it opens in Malaysia next month. 

She is not your everyday woman. Donna Sheridan is plucky, unabashed and resolute. Her strength is to be envied.

She single-handedly raised her daughter without a husband or a life partner and established a flourishing tavern on a beautiful Greek island.

She never asks for help. She has never needed it. Self-reliance has been her forte and besides, she has to be strong for Sophie, her daughter.

Both characters – Donna and Sophie – are central to the Mamma Mia! The Musical storyline.

“I think she is more vulnerable than people realise. She puts on a front, we all can do that in our lives,” says British actress Sara Poyzer, 44, in a recent interview in Hong Kong.

Poyzer plays Donna Sheridan in the international tour of acclaimed musical Mamma Mia! The Musical. She was in Hong Kong two months ago for the show’s tour dates there.

The vinyl single cover of Mamma Mia, the Abba hit from 1975, that has made the musical of the same name such a beloved piece of pop theatre to savour worldwide.

Mamma Mia!, which last played in Kuala Lumpur in 2008, is returning to town with a whole new cast and is ready to get the Malaysian crowd up and dancing when it opens at the Plenary Hall in Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre on Dec 18.

“You see glimpses of her vulnerability when she sings Slipping Through My Fingers or The Winner Takes It All. You also see this sweeter, more vulnerable side of her.

“She’s a woman who’s frightened ... a woman who’s guilty that she made mistakes. She’s just not a rock chick. There’s more to Donna than that,” she adds.

In the Mamma Mia! story, Donna is part of a three-member rock group called Donna and the Dynamos but retires from the scene upon conceiving Sophie (the Dynamos’ Rosie and Tanya are played by British actresses Sue Devaney and Geraldine Fitzgerald respectively). And it is Sophie, played by the lovely Irish actress Niamh Perry, who puts into motion a chain of events that makes up the beloved tale of romantic entanglements in Mamma Mia!.

In the show, bride-to-be Sophie grows up not knowing her father and after stumbling upon Donna’s old journal, she plays detective and narrows down three men who could possibly be her father. She invites them, unknown to Donna, to her wedding and all hell breaks lose when Donna encounters her past lovers just a day before the wedding.

Mamma Mia! The Musical is a fun musical at heart but it also deals with elements like love, lost friendships, jealousy and fear.

“Sophie is a strident woman like her mum but she has a naivety about her that I think makes her make silly, spur-of-the-moment choices,” says Perry about her character.

Perry played Sophie in the 2009 West End production of Mamma Mia! and played Fleck in Andrew Llyod Webber’s Love Never Dies, the sequel to the hit musical The Phantom Of The Opera. She has the experience to pull of her role convincingly.

Mamma Mia! is essentially a story about female empowerment, something rare in the theatre scene.

“Musicals are usually male-led and I think that’s kind of the beauty of Mamma Mia!. It has an empowering female presence,” says the 24-year-old Perry.

Based on songs by Swedish pop group Abba, Mamma Mia! opened in London’s West End in 1999 and celebrates its 15th year anniversary this year.

In 2008, a film adaptation of Mamma Mia!, starring Meryl Streep as Donna, Pierce Brosnan as Sam and Amanda Seyfried as Sophie, was released to commercial acclaim.

Niamh Perry (centre) says though her character Sophie is a strident woman like Donna, she has a naivety about her that makes her make silly choices.

“I play Sam, one of the three possible dads. Traditionally, it is played by someone who is shorter and not as good looking!” quips British actor Richard Standing, who plays Sam Carmichael, at this same interview.

Sam was Donna’s ultimate Romeo but their love story was cut short when Sam had to leave her to get married with someone else. Bruised and broken-hearted, Donna meets two other men – Bill and Harry – and embarks on a wild fling with them ... separately of course!

Standing, or Stan as he is fondly called, opined that one of the factors that lends Mamma Mia! its universal appeal are the songs themselves.

“It’s the music of Abba and the strength of the songs. They cross all sorts of boundaries. The songs are also powerful and story-based. They appeal to all ages and the stories are universal. We have all been in love, we have tried to find out who we are,” shares Stan, 47.

Stan has previously acted in Brit productions Othello, The Merchant Of Venice and The Flag and even in popular Brit soap opera Coronation Street.

For Poyzer, whose past credits includes Billy Elliot The Musical, The School of Scandal and The Merchant of Venice, one such song she savours from Mamma Mia! is The Winner Takes It All.

“Without going into my personal history, I get what she is saying. I understand it. If you took away the melody and just said the words, it’s a beautiful monologue.

“And it feels like, for me, the denouement of Donna’ story, the moment when the tough exterior falls away and she expresses how she feels and most of the nights, I’m moved to tears. It’s such beautiful storytelling and I feel utterly privileged singing that song,” says Poyzer. The actress also feels that this honesty and realism of the story is what hooks people to the musical.

“I have said this before and I say it with caution. Shakespeare does what Mamma Mia! does! He deals with the human condition in the same way and that’s why people relate to it.

“For it deals with love, lost friendships, anxiety, jealousy and fear. There’s something in Mamma Mia! that, at some point, everybody in the audience goes, ‘I get that! I understand what that character is going through!’” explains an enthusiatic Poyzer.

Poyzer and Stan definitely know what their characters are going through for just like Donna and Sam, they have been in love before and are still in love – with each other. The real-life husband and wife just celebrated their fourth wedding anniversary. They got hitched in 2010.

“We met as colleagues. We were colleagues and friends first. That always has been a good functioning part of our relationship. Everything else is much more complicated!” says Stan with a cheeky grin.

Ever the romantic couple – on stage and in real life, Poyzer says she is glad to have her “best friend on tour” with her.

“It’s fantastic but you know, couples argue. In fact I will tell you a secret: we were arguing the other day and I didn’t realise I did it but in the argument I actually said ‘I don’t want to talk’ and suddenly we both went whoa! Art does reflect life and life does reflect art,” says Poyzer referring to the lyric from the song The Winner Takes It All.

“But I wouldn’t want it any other way. I look into his eyes every night and we get married,” she adds with a smile.

And that is the charm of Mamma Mia!. It’s a simple story about falling in love, losing love and finding it again. It is a story about heartaches and finding one’s identity. Most importantly, it is a celebration of life and all things bright and beautiful.

The curtains will soon rise here for the musical and before you know it, you will be screaming: “Mamma Mia! Here we go again!”

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.

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