When Mamma Mia! opens in Canberra later this year, it will literally be a case of “Mamma Mia, here I go again” for its leading lady, Natalie O’Donnell. Mamma Mia! first premiered in Australia in 2001, with Natalie O’Donnell in the role of Sophie, the young girl raised by a single mother and desperately wanting to discover the identity of her father to walk her down the aisle at her wedding. O’Donnell played the role for the Melbourne and Brisbane seasons.
O’Donnell said she was hoping she “might get a look in!” when auditions were announced for a new Australian production of Mamma Mia! Indeed she did get a look in and when Mamma Mia! embarks on an Australian tour Natalie O’Donnell will take on the role of Sophie’s mother, Donna. Playing her daughter, Sophie, will be Sarah Morrison.
“It’s lovely. And now that I’ve met Sarah and we’ve started the wheels in motion with everything it’s even more exciting! It’s beautiful,” said O’Donnell.
The principal cast recently had their first photo shoot and O’Donnell admits the experience was surprisingly emotional.
“I had a moment – I got a little bit teary. We were standing, having our photos taken, and then Alicia Gardiner and Jayde Westaby came out – and, actually, both of them were in the show when they were younger – and I think we had that moment, at the same time, when we looked at each other and thought, ‘This is really happening! Look at us! Here we are – Donna, Rosie, Tanya!’ It was really special,” shared O’Donnell.
“It was amazing to pop on that costume for the first time and go, ‘Oh there she is!’,” O’Donnell said.
Sarah Morrison added, “That was such a cool day! That was the first time I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s real!’ As everyone came out in their costumes you could just see the puzzle coming together. So exciting!”
Playing Sophie’s three possible fathers will be Ian Stenlake, Phillip Lowe and Josef Ber.
“There was many a twinkle in the eye! I think it’s going to be an absolute hoot!” laughed O’Donnell.
“The whole cast already has such a great chemistry – the room was just buzzing!” exclaimed Morrison.
While Natalie O’Donnell is already very familiar with the show, she said her approach will be different this time round.
“This time, with Donna, I’m very much approaching it from the story perspective,” commented O’Donnell, impressed by the intricacy and depth of the storyline.
Now older, and a mother herself, Natalie O’Donnell is reading the Mamma Mia! script through different eyes, admitting she is discovering new aspects of the story she hadn’t considered last time.
While there is a sense of Mamma Mia! alumni amongst a number of the cast, for Sarah Morrison, it will be her first time in the hit musical. However, it’s a show that already has a special place in her heart.
Sarah Morrison was about 11 or 12 years old when she went to see her first two musicals: Rock of Ages and Mamma Mia!
“Mum and I went on theatre date together,” said Morrison.
It was watching Mamma Mia! that gave Morrison the “musical theatre bug”.
“I think I was just at that age when you start noticing boys – I loved the ‘Voulez Vous’ scene where all the boys and girls are dancing – it really stuck with me! I was at that age where I was looking at them and thinking it was so cool, and realising this was their job. They get to do this every day – how cool is that!”
Upon hearing this, O’Donnell immediately looked at Morrison and commented, “Oh! It’s going to be so special for you!”
“Totally!” replied Morrison.
Mamma Mia! will be a considerable contrast to Morrison’s recent role as Lisa Miles in Ladies In Black.
Apart from playing someone a few years older and a very different set of costumes to wear, it will be Morrison’s first romantic role. Sarah Morrison will play opposite Stephen Mahy, a dear friend.
“I can’t wait to launch into that with him – it will be a lot of fun. It’s so very exciting!”
The cast are now busily preparing for their roles. Natalie O’Donnell doesn’t intend to watch the movie version of Mamma Mia! ahead of rehearsals commencing in October.
“But having said that. I probably will watch it – because my daughter loves it, and inevitably it will be on the screen at some point!” O’Donnell laughed.
O’Donnell’s daughter is nearly 11 – about the same age Sarah Morrison was when she first saw Mamma Mia! and was inspired to pursue musical theatre as a career.
“It will be the first show she can come along and really enjoy,” said O’Donnell. “I can’t think of a better show for that intergenerational, family experience. One of the things I’m looking forward to the most is when Molly comes and when the mums from school come with their girls. I’m such a Mum these days!”
The movie version has broadened the Mamma Mia! audience, and Sarah Morrison commented there will be many people coming to see the live stage show for the first time but are already familiar with the movie. For fans of the musical, who remember it from last time, this will be a whole new production of Mamma Mia!
“The script is the same, as far as I’m aware of, but the sets and costumes are all new and our approach will be new – and (Director) Gary Young is taking us on a fresh journey with it all,” said O’Donnell.
Producer Louise Withers has assembled an all Australian creative team that will bring this new production of Mamma Mia! It’s something O’Donnell is very grateful for.
“It’s interesting, coming back from London, I’m always reminded of the calibre of Australian work and that what we have on stage here is extraordinary. I am probably biased, but in a lot of cases, its superior, because our work ethic is so strong – the industry is small and there isn’t as much work. So it’s great that Louise is really pushing forward with that.”
“I don’t think you can ever see this show too many times! It’s such a feel good show in the really true sense of the word. That itself is a good reason to come back!”
MAMMA MIA! NATIONAL TOUR DATES
TICKETS ON SALE NOW www.mammamiathemusical.com.au
Canberra Theatre, Canberra Theatre Centre
From November 24th 2017
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Lyric Theatre, QPAC
From December 26th 2017
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From February 11th 2018
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From May 15th 2018
From July 10th 2018
Festival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
From October 9th 2018