After reviewing Mamma Mia at the Hippodrome last month, an utterly cheesy and ultimate feel-good musical, I was ecstatic to be able to be following two of the cast members around backstage before the curtain went up on a Tuesday evening.
Mamma Mia has been seen by over 60 million people since it first opened in London’s West End 18 years ago, back in 1999. Based on ABBA’s iconic music, it is the story of a young girl living on a Greek Island. As her wedding day is approaching, she is desperate to meet her real father so he can walk her down the aisle. After finding her mother’s old diary, she invites the three potential fathers to the island.
At around 5:30pm, I was mooching around the stage door and I began to recognise the cast as they entered. Not as instantly recognisable without their summer get-ups, but despite being in their dance gear, they still walked around sporting a rather remarkable grin – something that is probably hard to get rid of when you’re starring in such a high-spirited musical.
I was greeted by Micha Richardson and Blaise Colangelo, who play Ali and Lisa, Sophie’s two best friends. I was in awe by their chemistry as a trio on stage, and upon meeting them, it was clear this is a reflection of their friendship in real life.
We sat down for a chat, half an hour before they were due on stage for a company warm up. Gushing over the musical and their castmates, Blaise told me: “It’s just not a job, I know it sounds really cheesy but it just isn’t a job. We had a moment last week when we came off stage and were like – oh my god, is it weird that we still really enjoy that?”
Micha chipped in: “Six months in, and we still have the flexibility to play around, but it’s not really playing because we are just enjoying each other’s company. So if you try something different, because of course acting is reacting.” Micha then put her face in her hands, “oh god, that is so cheesy,” she laughed.
Their energy is just as radiant as what you see on stage. They bounce off each other and burst into fits of giggles, Blaise explained: “They do a great job when they cast the show, I don’t know how. We didn’t speak to each other in the auditions, I don’t think we’d even met in the auditions. But they obviously see something in you as an individual and match it up. They managed to link it really well which was great, first day of rehearsals and we got on like best friends.”
This led me on to asking them what their favourite number is to perform, and they simultaneously responded: “Honey Honey.”
It is the number they both sing with Sophie to open the show, “Which at the beginning we hated, because it was a lot of pressure on us.” Micha said. However now, it’s their favourite number to perform, and they regularly mix it up to keep it fresh. Micha explained: “Sometimes it is our choice, and sometimes it is the assistant director’s choice, who will say “I want you to change it but I don’t want you to tell the other girls.” So when we do it on stage it is as much as a surprise to the other girls as it is to the audience. Which is great, because it makes it more realistic. I was worried with Honey, because the directors would say, it has to be natural and not look rehearsed, I didn’t think it was ever going to be possible, but it is.”
Mamma Mia is a vibrant show, that requires a lot of energy and charisma. I questioned both Blaise and Micha on how they manage it when they are having a bad day, or are in a rubbish mood. Micha said: “You have to be on a positive vibe.” Blaise added: “If you go on stage with even the tiniest bit of negativity, it is the hardest thing to do, but you have to be your character.” Blaise then giggled to herself, claiming she keeps coming out with cheesy, stereotypical actor lines.
“I think it makes the show heavier if you have your own issues, you need to leave those at the door,” Micha told me. “If you’ve had like a bad nights sleep, or little things that can just put you in a bad mood, you have to try to find that energy.” However they become truly immersed in the show, by the time the finale comes around and everyone in the audience is up on their feet, they have forgotten about everything else.
The cast of Mamma Mia are in Birmingham for 10 weeks, which is the longest stop on their tour. We spoke about what they have been getting up to whilst living in the city. “I’ve done paddle boarding in Edgebaston,” Micha said. “I consider myself quite a water baby, I just want to be able to tick these things off whilst I have the chance.”
Blaise pondered for a moment and then excitedly responded: “I’ve been to the Sealife Centre which is great, I saw the penguins and it was amazing. I want to do Cadbury world, and we are going to V festival on Sunday. I am really excited and really nervous because I’ve never done a festival before.”
Performing such a high-energy show 8 times a week is inevitably exhausting, however after performing such a dynamic finale, I asked them how they wind down. “We go to the pub,” Micha laughed. “After the show we are full of energy. Even if we go to the pub for a lime and soda for an hour, just to talk to people to let our brain slowly die down. I don’t normally sleep until about two,” Blaise added.
As soon as it hit 6pm, Blaise and Micha wandered onto the stage for their full company warm up. Starting with basic scales, and then progressing onto full six-part harmony songs, their vocal warm up was extensive. This was then followed by a dance warm up, where they combined cardio and stretching to loosen up their muscles for the show.
I then took the opportunity to have a nose around backstage, peering into the costume cupboards and admiring the set. I was astounded by the multitude of costumes that are used in the show, particularly the intricacy of the design. I was informed that the Dynamo costumes are worth £1500 each, which I found unbelievable until I picked one up and was astounded by its weight.
Around 7pm, I went to Blaise and Micha’s dressing room to see how they prepare for a show. As I was approaching the door I could hear laughter and singing, and when I went inside, their dressing room was surrounded with good luck cards and photos. As they were applying their make up, Blaise told me it takes her approximately 6 minutes to complete. “It’s because we are supposed to look so natural, so it really doesn’t take long at all,” she said.
Meeting Blaise and Micha really highlighted the absolute adoration musical theatre actors have for their job. Having been submerged into their world, it is clear as to why. Whilst it is hard work, it is obvious that starring in the rapturous Mamma Mia musical is an absolute blast.