Interview: Mamma Mia!‘s Alicia Gardiner is a Two-Time Dancing Queen

There are some familiar faces in the new touring cast of Mamma Mia!, which opens in Sydney this week. Not only does Alicia Gardiner light up our screens as Kim Akerholt on Offspring, audiences returning to Mamma Mia! may also recognise her. Nearly 20 years ago, Alicia was part of the musical’s Australian premiere cast. I started by asking her what drew her back to the music of ABBA…

Audiences might remember you from the first season of Mamma Mia! where you played the role of Ali. What made you want to come back to this musical?

Mamma Mia was my first musical theatre job and I remembered leaving the stage every night and feeling on top of the world. It’s a really light, fun, beautiful musical. By the end of the night, the audience is up dancing and feel like they’re part of the show. I thought it would be really great to experience that again. And it is!

Our director now is the same one we had back then (Helpmann Award winner, Gary Young), with the same production company. But Gary’s really fabulous in that he’s been letting the actors bring their own ideas to the scenes.

For example, there’s a sequence of scenes where we (Alicia’s character Rosie and her friend Tanya) are reuniting with Donna and settling into Donna’s taverna. And through the rehearsal period, for some reason, we just started using more and more props. And that’s made it into the show. It’s actually quite an intricate scene in terms of the amount of props that we have but it’s so much fun and we have an absolute ball! And that’s all through the process of working with Gary.

Audiences don’t want to see the same thing over and over again. And this show will be very familiar to audiences who have seen the show before, but there are some slight changes and different elements and I think it enhances it for sure. And it has definitely made the experience different for me – I don’t feel like I’m doing the same show. I think audiences that have seen it before will love it even more for the differences. But they will definitely still all get up and dance!

It’s a show that looks like a lot of fun onstage, is it the same backstage?

We’re like a big family, a community and we have a lot of fun backstage. It might look the same on stage every night but backstage there’s all sorts of shenanigans – it’s definitely never dull!

There’s a moment backstage when the three Dynamos (Rosie, Tanya and Donna) have a couple of really quick costume changes. We have dressers backstage (people to help with the costume change) and in one of the quick changes the dressers all repeat what the actors are singing on stage but they change the words. And it’s so funny. And then I realised we had changed the same words 17 years ago – so we do the same kind of in-jokes we were doing the first time around.

There is certainly something about the music of ABBA that makes you want to sing along!

A few months ago, in Brisbane, at the end of the show I saw a grandfather pick up a little girl and put her on his shoulders and dance with her – that image just really struck me. There’s not many shows out there that can make you want to do that. With the way they get to their feet and join in at the end it’s almost like the audience is another character.

Speaking of characters, this show is particularly interesting because the main roles are played by middle-aged women – that is, women with children and careers and past marriages. They’re not characters we get to see on stage that often…

I’m all for any story that has strong female characters. It’s really a show about female friendship. It has these strong three female characters but it’s set against the background of their friendship which is really beautiful.

We have a great laugh on stage every night. And if people are looking up at the stage – and I spend half of the show in platform boots and lycra – so if women are looking up and thinking: ‘I’m going to do that, I’m going to go and have a night out on the dance floor,’ then that’s brilliant.

The other character you work with quite a bit is your love interest in the show, Bill, played by Josef Ber. What is he like to work with?

He is great. He’s very cheeky! But the thing I really appreciate about Josef is that he plays when he’s on stage. The dialogue and the music is always the same – but he might turn a bit quicker or have a little flicker in his eye. It means that no moment on stage is ever the same. A lot of actors are scared by that – sometimes it can be easy to stay safe. Particularly when you’re doing the same thing every night for nearly 12 months. But Josef isn’t always safe, and I love that!

Acting is responding. So if he gives me something different I need to respond accordingly. It’s like when an understudy might go on. I love the ‘not knowing’ and responding to something differently.

I can’t do a carbon copy performance night after night, so I’m loving working with him.

It sounds like you really have a fantastic grasp on your character, so let’s dig a little deeper with a ‘character assassination’. First of all, can you describe your character, Rosie, in three words:

Independent, feisty, and loving.

What is your favourite line to deliver as your character?

“Well then, you’ll know how to pepper my snapper.”

What’s your character’s favourite flavour of ice cream?

Rainbow. (Laughs) Because it’s colourful and out there!

If you could give your character one piece of advice, what would it be?

Take it easy on the platform boots – it’s been a while.

Finally, if you saw your character in real life, would you kiss them, kill them or cross the street?

Kiss her, absolutely. And I’d invite her over for dinner!

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You can catch Alicia Gardiner in Mamma Mia! at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney until 6th May 2018. From there it tours to Perth, Melbourne and Adelaide. For tickets and more details head HERE.

Photo credit: Peter Brew Bevan