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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 16, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 11
This winner takes it all: An interview with Kaye Tuckerman from Mamma Mia!
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This winner takes it all: An interview with Kaye Tuckerman from Mamma Mia!

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN Contributing Writer

Mamma Mia! is the smash hit musical that features a fictitious storyline set to music from the real group ABBA. One of the first 'jukebox' musicals, Mamma Mia! burst onto the theater scene of the West End in 1999, and exploded on the Great White Way in 2001. Spreading across the world, the show has universally been accepted as one of the greatest musicals of all time. Preparing for the musical's successful return to the Emerald City, the Seattle Gay News interviewed the extraordinary Australian actress Kaye Tuckerman, who plays the main character, Donna Sheridan.



Eric Andrews-Katz: Who were your earliest influences as a performer?

Kaye Tuckerman: Really, it was ABBA. ABBA is huge in Australia. I was in love with them and wanted to marry Benny Andersson. I don't think I could ever meet him because I think he is so hot! Growing up, I also had Roger Whittaker and John Denver records. The first theater I saw was Annie, and I knew that's what I wanted to do. If Annie could sing ABBA, it would be fantastic!

Andrews-Katz: What was the first show you appeared in?

Tuckerman: It was Oliver! I was 13 and was cast as a rose seller. I was the one who sang, 'Who will buy my beautiful roses?' I was desperate to be the best rose seller ever. It was a beautiful show, but I was very nervous.

Andrews-Katz: You've said that you have worked closely with Broadway composer Andrew Lippa. What is it about his work that attracts you?

Tuckerman: I was really involved with an amazing festival called the Adelaide Cabaret. Every year they bring a Broadway composer and do a series of concerts. The second year, I worked with Andrew Lippa. I became obsessed with his The Wild Party. It's so vibrant and he writes such strong songs for women. I got a call asking if I would work with him and then the contract came through for a show called Friends of Andrew Lippa. It's funny because that's how we became friends and he's been a great friend and champion of my work. I think he's a wonderful human being and a wonderful talent.

Andrews-Katz: You've won several awards for your cabaret performances. Do you prefer cabaret acts or performing in a book musical?

Tuckerman: They are quite different. Cabaret allows me to explore my voice as a performer, while doing a book musical you're trying to interpret their work and get into their heads. In cabaret you are trying to find your own interests. I think it's important actually for anyone interested in performing to explore cabaret. You're doing something for 20-100 people as opposed to 2,000. It gives you a sense of not being fake or too schmaltzy, and keeps you in check. Cabaret allows you to take an audience on a more personal journey. They're very different, but both important.

Andrews-Katz: What was your audition for Mamma Mia! like?

Tuckerman: It was amazing and kind of weird. Being from Australia, I dreamed about having a green card for over 20 years. Then I had one. I moved to New York and started auditioning. I would go through Equity general auditions and went in for a call for Mamma Mia! I sang well and by the afternoon, my agent said he received the word for me to read for Donna for the tour. I prepared over the weekend and went in for the callback on Monday. It was pretty intense. I had to do scene work, and sing the same song three times. I had to take direction in different ways and then, after all that, I had to wait a week. It was a hellish week. Then that Monday it was my birthday, and they offered me the role.

Andrews-Katz: In your opinion, what is it about the music of ABBA that has allowed it to become so universal?

Tuckerman: I think they are such great musicians to begin with. They are all very well-trained, which gives them understanding to a musical's structure. On top of that they have such fun songs that attest to their longevity, and also their ballads. 'Slipping Through My Fingers' was written about Bjorn's 8-year-old daughter. 'The Winner Takes it All' is about Agnetha's divorce. The lyrics in 'Super Trooper' are just one indication that the band was heading towards breaking up. They were just going and going all the time, and finally they got to the point of burning out. You have all these fun songs and then these poignant and moving songs that deal with life. At the end of the day it's all just fun and the music is so infectious.

Andrews-Katz: What is the most fun you've had on stage with Mamma Mia!?

Tuckerman: That's kind of every show, really. There are two things that stand out. With the very first tech rehearsal it all seemed to be in place. Then the stage manager said there was one cast member missing - the audience. We didn't know what that meant until we were finishing the first show in front of a crowd. Then we understood. The show is so vibrant when the audience is with you. It becomes electric. This little show has had a huge effect on audiences. You get people who sing along and even bring tambourines!

Andrews-Katz: What's the greatest challenge with appearing in Mamma Mia!?

Tuckerman: Of course there is the onstage stuff, and being able to connect emotionally with every show. It's also a great challenge to see where the show physically travels. It's a challenge to meet the travel schedules; sometimes we travel by bus, sometimes by plane, and sometimes through bad weather&.

Andrews-Katz: The show has practically a cult following at this point. What's the oddest encounter you've had with an individual fan?

Tuckerman: We have a wonderful fan called 'Anne-the-fan.' She's seen our show 67 times. She's an amazing fan. When we've had cast changes or direction changes she notices every time. She notices every little thing and every detail. Then there are other fans that bring tambourines and boas to the show. They think they are part of the show itself.

Andrews-Katz: Given the choice - regardless of character gender - what role would you like to play?

Tuckerman: That's a great question. Wow. You know, gosh, there are quite a lot of them. I think that Donna from Mamma Mia! is still one of the big roles that I always wanted, but I'm doing that so it doesn't count. Damn! I think for me it's not a matter of gender, its more a matter of race. I want to play Sarah in Ragtime! I want to play Porgy or Bess. I want to be Brian Stokes Mitchell or Angela Bassett. No, I want to be Audra McDonald! You hear these people sing, and there's such a soulful connection to them and these roles. I really want to be Audra! In fact, I'd like to do an all-black version of Mamma Mia! The cast would be Audra McDonald as Donna, and Viola Davis and Octavia Spencer as her two friends. The three men would be Samuel Jackson, Don Cheadle (I'm in love with Don Cheadle), and Denzel Washington. Zoe Saldana would play Sophie. I've dreamt about being her for so long. I find these people to be so inspiring. Mamma Mia! celebrates the music of Benny Andersson, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha Faltskog, and Bjorn Ulvaeus, universally known as ABBA. Following its London smash success, the musical opened in New York on October 18, 2001, where it is still running nightly. Currently, the musical holds the honor of being the 10th longest-running Broadway musical of all time.

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