BAZ BAMIGBOYE: Mamma Mia… look who’s here!


Meryl Streep and Cher are missing out on the open air production of Mamma Mia! because it’s too far to travel.

‘If it were local to them, they’d definitely be coming,’ said the show’s Big Mamma, producer Judy Craymer, of the opening at stately home Harewood House in Leeds next Friday.

The performances ‘under the stars’ will mark the first time Mamma Mia!, one of the most successful musicals in theatre and film history, has been on stage since the pandemic forced shows to close 18 months ago.

‘It’s an endorphin rush — everyone’s got those ABBA songs in their DNA somewhere,’ insisted Craymer as she watched Sara Poyzer, who is playing Donna Sheridan, the single mum who spent years raising her daughter Sophie and launching a hotel on a Greek isle, perform Money Money Money with the cast.

‘If it were local to them, [Meryl Streep and Cher] would definitely be coming,’ said the show’s Big Mamma, producer Judy Craymer, of the opening at stately home Harewood House in Leeds next Friday

Poyzer will lead the company at Harewood House, and then take the show to Dubai, before heading off on a UK tour.

Mamma Mia! outdoors will be a monumental event, with a rock ‘n’ roll stage 20m wide — twice as big as most proscenium stages, according to associate producer Nick Grace, who showed me diagrams of the site in the grounds of the 18th-century grand pile in West Yorkshire. There is space for families to self-distance as they picnic and watch the show on stage, with the action also playing on two mammoth video screens.

There’s a food and drink village with a tavern, and a kilometre of festooned lights, ‘so if you didn’t get to Greece for your holidays, you could go to Leeds instead,’ joked Anthony Van Laast, who has choreographed Mamma Mia! (and the two films) throughout its 22-year run. 

The performances 'under the stars' will mark the first time Mamma Mia!, one of the most successful musicals in theatre and film history, has been on stage since the pandemic forced shows to close 18 months ago

The performances ‘under the stars’ will mark the first time Mamma Mia!, one of the most successful musicals in theatre and film history, has been on stage since the pandemic forced shows to close 18 months ago

Poyzer will lead the company at Harewood House, and then take the show to Dubai, before heading off on a UK tou

Poyzer will lead the company at Harewood House, and then take the show to Dubai, before heading off on a UK tou

Sara Poyzer (Donna Sheridan) and cast at Mamma Mia Tour Rehearsals in London

Sara Poyzer (Donna Sheridan) and cast at Mamma Mia Tour Rehearsals in London 

Van Laast and associate director Steven Paling are tasked with ensuring the outdoor show — a full production; not a concert — is captured intact by cameras for the video screens at Harewood House. 

‘I think people think you just throw it on,’ Craymer marvelled, of preparations for the show. But it’s a huge operation with a rock tour vibe: cameras, lights, sets, cast, crew, costumes . . .

‘Just getting everything up to Leeds . . .’ Craymer trailed off, with a sigh and mock wipe of her brow. It certainly is all systems go on the Mamma Mia! front. While the Harewood House ensemble are being put through their paces down in London (at the New Wimbledon Theatre) before heading north next week, the mother ship production at the West End’s Novello Theatre is also preparing to re-open.

Lucy May Barker (Sophie Sheridan) at Mamma Mia Tour Rehearsals in London on August 4

Lucy May Barker (Sophie Sheridan) at Mamma Mia Tour Rehearsals in London on August 4

Lucy May Barker (Sophie Sheridan) and Toby Miles (Sky) at Mamma Mia Tour Rehearsals in London

Lucy May Barker (Sophie Sheridan) and Toby Miles (Sky) at Mamma Mia Tour Rehearsals in London 

Sara Poyzer (Donna Sheridan), Nicky Swift (Rosie), Toby Miles (Sky), Lucy May Barker (Sophie Sheridan) and Helen Anker (Tanya) at Mamma Mia Tour Rehearsals in London

Sara Poyzer (Donna Sheridan), Nicky Swift (Rosie), Toby Miles (Sky), Lucy May Barker (Sophie Sheridan) and Helen Anker (Tanya) at Mamma Mia Tour Rehearsals in London

And Meryl Streep and Cher are gearing up to appear — one way or another — in the third Mamma Mia! movie, which Craymer said was ‘going through the creative procedure of development’. 

Taking a break from rehearsal, Sara Poyzer, who has played Donna Sheridan in London and 33 UK and overseas venues over nine years, told me the first song the cast did when they returned to the boards two weeks ago was Thank You For The Music. ‘There were a lot of tears,’ she said.

Poyzer will be appearing in the show and tour alongside real life husband Richard Standing (as one of the three potential dads, Sam Carmichael).

The actress said the events of the past 18 months had added resonance to many of the ABBA numbers. When she and daughter Sophie (Lucy May Barker), performed Slipping Through my Fingers it felt ‘really poignant’.

They’re all working in a big bubble. ‘There are so many Covid safety rules — that everyone’s happily adhered to!’ she told me. ‘We want to get this show on.’

A sentiment echoed throughout the entertainment world. 

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