Over the last 18 years, “Mamma Mia” has emerged as one of the most popular musicals of the modern age. It has been seen by over 54 million people all around the world, and has been performed in more than 50 countries. Celebrating the music of Swedish super-group ABBA, “Mamma Mia” kicked off the surge of “jukebox” musicals that have dominated the early 21st century. This Broadway juggernaut is now drawing to the end of its Farewell Tour, making a stop at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts on July 17th and 18th. I had the opportunity to talk to the star of “Mamma Mia,” Betsy Padamonsky, about the life of a traveling performer, how playing Donna has changed her life, and the joy of local coffee shops.
KF: What’s a day in the life of a travelling performer?
BP: If it’s a day where we’re in a sit down (where we’re somewhere for a few days), in my life: I wake up, I have a cup of coffee, go to the gym, meditate, warm up, go to the show and come home and try to unwind. And then do it all over again; rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat. For me it’s really important to keep the show fresh, to keep myself healthy, to keep my voice healthy and keep everything feeling great. I try to avoid going out and drinking, because I just can’t – I know my body and I know what my limits are. If it’s a travel day, sometimes we’ll spend 4 hours on the bus, sometimes 10 hours on the bus – it can vary. Sometimes we can do an 8 hour bus day, get to the hotel and warm up, and go and do the show. When I first started, I wasn’t sure that I could do it, but your body, if you treat it well and take care of it, it will work for you. That’s super important, I think; keeping our heads in good places, which the meditation helps, and I think we all try to experience the local flavors of the cities we visit. For me, that’s the local coffee shops. On days that we have time off, I’ll try to visit the local downtown area, or sit in a coffee shop and just be. And actually my friend that plays Harry in the show (Andrew Tebo), he always scouts out a gym in every city we visit where we can work out, which is huge. It’s always nice to have a big space to use to take care of ourselves. And yoga classes, etc. I think travel on the road is all about self-care. We love all of all of our fans that come to see us, and we’re so thankful that they’re there for us, but we give so much onstage that we also have to make sure to keep balance and get in the right head-space for the next show. It can be exhausting, but I wouldn’t choose any other life; this has been the most rewarding, amazing experience of my life and I’m so happy things turned out the way they did.
KF: “Mamma Mia”‘s been around for such a long time, generating a successful film adaptation (and there has just been an announcement of a sequel) and has been performed all over the world. Why do you think people have such a connection to this story?
BP: I think that it’s a beautiful story about love, about friendship, about family, about love found, love lost, love re-found again. I think the think the humanity of the show is what truly brings people back. I think a lot of people first come through the door as massive ABBA fans and leave really enjoying the show. We’ve turned people into theater lovers with this show and I think that’s one of the true legacies of “Mamma Mia.”
KF: What’s your favorite part of the show to perform?
BP: You know, I really like singing “One of Us,” and I like doing “S.O.S.” because I feel like those are moments in Act II where Donna’s layers start to unpeel a little bit. It lets people see a softer side of her. I also love doing “Our Last Summer,” with Harry because it’s such a sweet moment; again, you see a softer side of Donna, where as most of the first Act she kept her walls up, she’s guarded, a lot of crazy stuff is happening and there’s a lot going on for her, so it’s when she really starts to show a more vulnerable side. These moments are also another reason why I think the show is so relate-able; to sit down with old friends and lovers and think about those moments you shared 15, 20 years ago and it’s such a beautiful part of the show.
KF: What do you think is the song that most people come to hear?
BP: I think “Dancing Queen.” When you ask people what their favorite is, that’s usually what they say. But, and this is wild, people go crazy for “S.O.S”- people in the audience have screamed during it and it just blows my mind. It’s sort of a softer, rock ballad and people are screaming and I get thrown sometimes – people are just feeling it!
KF: So this is called the Farewell Tour, and it’s actually coming to a close soon. What are some memorable experiences that you’ve had on the tour?
BP: Wow – there’s so many things that have happened. We’ve had incredible audiences and we’ve had those moments; if we had a blooper reel it would be amazing. We’ve had fun moments onstage, the audience usually isn’t clued into it, but fun moments where things have happened. We’ve had such a great fan base and turnout at all of the cities we’ve been to this year, so the memories of that are going to last a lifetime. And the moments at the end of the show, during the finale when they are up on their feet and cheering, screaming, singing is just breathtaking and unforgettable. We’ve been really lucky – we just did show 260 and there hasn’t been anything too crazy.
KF: What are some of your favorite places that you’ve gotten to visit on the tour?
BP: I loved Victoria, Canada, Salt Lake City was amazing – it was my first time there, I always love Seattle, Seattle was incredible. I had never been to Philadelphia before, if you can believe it (Betsy is a Pennsylvania native.)
KF: Would you say that Donna is one of your favorite parts you’ve ever had the chance to play?
BP: I think so; I think Donna has been such a challenge, but such a gift at the same time. I’m so lucky that the creative team and the producers believed in me and instilled this inner sense of confidence. They made me believe that I could do it on days that I didn’t think that I could. There are times that Donna has challenged me in so many ways and I almost feel like I’m Donna now in real life, because she’s such a strong woman and I had to challenge myself to be that strong woman. And take on massive responsibility and just go with it, because I knew it was the best for me and it was the best for the show. The most important thing to get Donna right is being strong, but you also have to access that softer side, and you have to be able to flip those emotions so quickly.
KF: As the tour comes to a close and you move on to other roles, what do you think “Mamma Mia’s” impact has been on you?
BP: I can’t even begin to describe what the impact is. Two weeks after the show ends, I’m just going to sit in my house in Florida and let it wash over me a bit. I’m bowled over with a sense of gratitude, I’m so completely thankful for everything. It’s introduced me to this beautiful cast – we get to be together every day. Cast, crew, band – we have had a year that’s just been wonderful, it’s such a great group of people. It couldn’t have been a better group of people. It’s been a great ride. And a reintroduction to the New York theater world has been priceless – working with some of the top people in the industry has been priceless. Getting to see the country and reaching out to all of these people who are “Mamma Mia” and ABBA fans has been awesome. Getting to do something I love everyday and get paid for it? There are no words – you can’t put words to something that remarkable.
KF: Very important question – what’s your favorite ABBA song?
BP: I loved ABBA growing up – the first CD I got when we got our CD player was the two-disc “ABBA Gold” album. I loved “Knowing Me, Knowing You”- that was my big acting moment as a child. And “Money, Money,” those were the two that I would go berserk in the basement when they came on. I would hit play, and then just go.
KF: What would you like to let the Maryland Theatre Guide audience know before we end the interview?
BP: We are so excited to come and play Wolf Trap and are really thankful that you guys are having us!
KF: Thanks so much, Betsy!
Betsy and the rest of the phenomenal cast of “Mamma Mia” will perform at Wolf Trap in Vienna, VA this upcoming Monday and Tuesday night, July 17th and 18th. To purchase tickets, click here.