DIVA TALK: Mamma Mia! Star Judy McLane Chats About Tanya-Donna Switch, Belting in Evita and Next to Normal
By Andrew Gans
In November 2004 I chatted with the great Judy McLane, who, at that time, was part of a trio of leading ladies, along with Carolee Carmello as Donna and Liz McCartney as Rosie, who had just joined the internationally acclaimed musical Mamma Mia! at the Winter Garden Theatre. About a week ago, I again had the pleasure of catching up with this versatile singing actress, who, after more than seven years, has stepped into the leading role of Donna Sheridan, the independent single mother whose carefree past catches up with her on the eve of her daughter’s wedding, in that same long-running hit musical. McLane, in fact, recently welcomed a slew of new co-stars, including Felicia Finley as Tanya, Lauren Cohn as Rosie, Aaron Lazar as Sam Carmichael, Daniel Cooney as Bill Austin, Graham Rowat as Harry Bright, Christy Altomare as Sophie and Zak Resnick as Sky. During her lengthy run in Mamma Mia! — McLane has been a principal player in the production longer than any other actor — the actress has also had a chance to tackle other roles, including a recent turn as Diana Goodman, a mother battling depression and bipolar disorder, in Pioneer Theatre Company’s fall 2011 production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal. In our recent interview McLane, a Drama Desk nominee for her work as Vienna in Off-Broadway’s Johnny Guitar and a Helen Hayes Award nominee for her role as Phyllis in the Signature Theatre’s acclaimed production of Stephen Sondheim’s Follies, spoke about her work in Next to Normal, singing the demanding title role in two different productions of Evita and, of course, her new role in Mamma Mia!; that interview follows.
Question: When did you originally audition?
McLane : For Mamma Mia!, I initially went in for Donna seven-and-a-half years ago in 2004…and got a callback, went into the callback, and by that time — in the between time — they had hired Carolee [Carmello] because she’s fabulous. And, I got to the audition, and I sang “Winner.” They said, “We love you. We want to use you. Can you read Tanya?” And, I said, “Well, I haven’t looked at this. Can you give me a minute?” So I went in the hallway with David Grindrod, and we went over the scene and went back in, and I got a call the next day for Tanya. So that was that!
Question: What is it like for you now playing a different role in the same show?
McLane : You know, it’s interesting. It feels like a brand-new show because when I wasn’t on stage, I wasn’t seeing the show, and after a while, you don’t hear it anymore, really. You’re backstage… So it felt, going into rehearsals, I really felt like it was a brand-new show. There is one moment, and that is the only moment that physically is hard to get out of my body, and that’s the jumps that I do. I usually do the first jump in “Dancing Queen,” and last night, it was the first time I actually went to do it twice!… Just physically. I wasn’t feeling the part, but it was just musically and physically. Other than that, I look at the costumes — it seems like a different character to me, totally. It’s bizarre. I think it’s because I’m just focused on Donna and just trying to find that road and discover this kind of journey that she’s taking. I’m very separate from it. And, most people have asked me that question, “Isn’t it strange seeing people…?” It’s like, “No, it fits somehow.” I think Donna, in so many ways, fits me more in a lot of ways — she’s got her feet on the ground, a hiker. That’s kind of what I am. I’m an Earth-girl, so it’s kind of fun to go to that part.
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