Mamma Mia! Stephen McGlynn in West End smashBy Caroline Cook
August 16, 2012
There is something strange that happens to audiences at Mamma Mia! the Musical.
One minute they are sitting there chatting to friends, then the orchestra strikes up, the curtain rises and within seconds toes begin tapping.
Next the shoulders begin to shimmy a little and before you know it you’re trying not to leap out of your seat and dance in the aisles. That, ladies and gentlemen, is the Mamma Mia! effect.
When the show launched at the Prince Edward Theatre in London in 1999 Reading actor Stephen McGlynn was on stage, praying in between finger snaps that the audience would like it.
“The first evening at the Prince Edward there was silence from the audience for the first 10 minutes,” Stephen tells me, when we meet in the Prince of Wales theatre auditorium, where the show moved in 2004.
“Everyone was really worried because Mamma Mia! was this brilliant new concept, it was the first show of its kind to be based on songs from a band.
“In the show there is a moment where Rosie says ‘Chiquitita tell me what’s wrong’ and there must have been about five or 10 minutes of people in the audience just wetting themselves.
“All of a sudden they got something and from that moment the show just catapulted.”
After its London debut the show opened in Canada, Japan, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Russia and Broadway, and was turned into a box office smash-hit movie starring Meryl Streep.
Stephen was part of the cast for the first two years of the production. He left to pursue other projects but has now returned to join the show’s 14th cast. “Even though I did the first two years I’m back and I leave the stage at the end of the night with a complete buzz,” he says.
“My friend came to watch and I asked if he wanted to go for a drink after or go home and he said ‘Of course I want to go out, I’ve been Mamma Mia-ed!’”
Written by British playwright Catherine Johnson Mamma Mia! cleverly interweaves Abba’s best loved songs into a plot about Sophie and her mother Donna, who live on a small island in Greece. Sophie is preparing to marry her finance but wants her father to give her away – the problem being she doesn’t know who he is.
After finding one of Donna’s old diaries and whittling it down to three possible dads she invites them all to the wedding – cue plenty of chaos and a meltdown by Donna.
As Stephen and I chat in the empty theatre the crew adjust bits of the stage behind us, with white-washed buildings set to a brilliant blue sky.
And as you would expect from a boy who grew up in Reading the conversation quickly turns to home, and in particular Reading FC.
“My dad, Malcolm, he’s a season ticket holder, he loves Reading, we all do,” says Stephen, who grew up in Tilehurst and first performed on stage at The Hexagon as Cagey Joe in Bugsy Malone.
As a child Stephen attended Generation X Theatre School in Reading, the same as Batman star Christian Bale, and Starmaker, famed for alumni Kate Winslet.
At 18 he landed a place at Laine Theatre Arts College in London and never looked back, performing alongside Darren Day and Nigel Harman in Summer Holiday, and playing the lead role of Bert in Mary Poppins The Musical.
But it was Mamma Mia! which captured his heart. “You get shows like Les Mis and that song that everyone knows because it's been on TV, I Dreamed a Dream, and you find yourself going ‘oh god, not this again’ but Mamma Mia! is the one show where you hear the music in the wings and you just start dancing,” says Stephen, illustrating his point with a few little dance steps.
Having started his career on the amateur circuit, with the likes of Woodley Light Operatic Society, Stephen has plenty of wisdom to share with young performers back home.
“Dedication is definitely the first thing I would say. If you really, really want something, you have got to work hard to get it. The fact I’m here now, it’s not easy," he says.
“Since playing the piano from seven I was at Laine Theatre Arts when I was 18 and I have worked really, really hard and I have a career.”
But the thing he credits above all else, and which fits right into the Mamma Mia! dream, is the support of his family, who still live in Reading.
“My parents have always been a huge support, that’s another big thing, having people who believe in you. My mother Alison, she’s got this attitude to life where you never give in.”
His tenacity has more than paid off and Stephen is looking forward to stepping up to one of the lead roles in the show from Wednesday, October 24, to Wednesday, November 7, when he stands in for dad number one Harry.
When the warm-ups begin for the evening’s show Stephen heads to the front to join the cast – who incidentally all have fake tans to look as if they’re living on a Greek island.
An hour later he’s singing and dancing and as I sit watching Abba songs burst from the stage in all their cheesy, pop glory, I can feel my toes beginning to tap, and my shoulders starting to shimmy and I know there’s no point trying to resist.
Within an hour and a half, I’m up dancing, clapping my hands and singing along. And it’s official – I’ve been Mamma Mia-ed.
Mamma Mia! is at the Prince of Wales Theatre until September 1, after which it will move to the Novello Theatre. To book call the box office on 0844 482 5115 or visit www.mamma-mia.com