Take a Chance on Me: An Interview with Mamma Mia’s Sarah Smith

If you change your mind, be the first in line— there are tickets left— take a chance on them! That’s right, Abba fans, you haven’t missed your chance to see The Farewell Tour of Mamma Mia one last time as it visits The Hippodrome here in Charm City. In a TheatreBloom exclusive interview, we’ve sat down with Sarah Smith, playing Rosie, to have a chat about her experience with the show and get the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a part of Donna and The Dynamos.

Thank you so much for giving us your time, Sarah. If you could give us a quick introduction, we’ll get started!

Sarah Smith, playing Rosie in the Farewell Tour of Mamma Mia
Sarah Smith, playing Rosie in the Farewell Tour of Mamma Mia

Sarah Smith: I’m Sarah Smith and I play Rosie in Mamma Mia. I have been on the road with this show since 2014. By the time I finish this tour it will be a little over three years. It’s the longest run of a show I’ve ever done. It’s been an enormous privilege. I had no idea going into it that this show was going to affect my life the way it has, not only with being on the road for so long but that of all shows that I would have such a tremendous experience with it. It has been nothing but a roller coaster ride in the best way. It’s just been awesome. Between the travel, and the audiences, and the relationship that the audience has with this show— getting to experience that has just been awesome. This is something that will be a career highlight for the rest of my life.

You sound like you have absolutely loved having this experience. There are not too many people who can say that they’ve had such a privilege and enjoyed it so thoroughly.

Sarah: Absolutely, I’ve loved it. I’m loving it. That’s not to say that they aren’t challenges, I think there are. Each year of the show there’s a new learning curve. I came in the second year, this tour is now headed into its fourth year and I came into its second year. When I came in the tour basically was the same people. I was the only new principal. There were nine new ensemble members but in a cast of 33 to 35 people that’s not a very big number. For the most part this was a cast that had been working together for a year. They were a well-oiled machine and a fantastic cast. You know, you come in as a new person and you see that they’ve all been together for a year and I realized I was the only new element in terms of the principals and that was a big deal in terms of them having to open up to a new person and me having to step in. Everyone had to take a blind leap of faith. It really was a whirlwind.

What was that like? Stepping into a show already in progress?

Sarah: I learned the show in four days. Then they brought the rest of the cast in and we started running the show. We went into tech and then we were off and running. So coming into it was really overwhelming. I had never seen the show before. I did the show for a year before I ever saw it. And it wasn’t until my personal opening night with an audience— we were in Georgia in this huge beautiful theatre in Athens, I believe— that it hit me. I think it was a little bit like— you know how when people talk about how when they get married they don’t remember the wedding at all because there was so much happening? It was a little like that. But the one thing that I really remember, obviously because it was a moment for me, but it was the beginning of “Take a Chance.”

For anyone who has seen the show before, or multiple times, there’s an expectation there. It doesn’t have anything to do with the person playing Rosie, it’s just the expectation of what’s coming. And I can remember when I started the song, and the response from the audience, it was so overwhelming to me. In that moment I started to understand what the show really was, what it was about, and its relationship to the audience and the audience’s relationship to this show and why people see it over and over and over again. That was the moment for me— being out on that stage with one other person and almost in complete silence, saying the first line of that song and having an audience go nuts— I realized that I was part of something that was so much bigger than me. It was really overwhelming and really just something that I don’t think I’ve ever experienced or will ever experience again. It was a profound moment for me.

What does that mean to you to have been a part of a show that you now realize impacts the audience in this way for as long as you have been a part of it?

Sarah: I feel very humbled by the fact that I have been a part of this show for as long as I have and have had the experiences that I have had with it. I finally saw the show right before it closed on Broadway. A friend of mine who was in this cast with me in my second year, ended up in the Broadway cast right before it closed so I got to go and see her. She was our Sophie, and our Sophie in Vegas, and then she moved into the Sophie understudy on Broadway. I got to see one of the last performances, and with her in it that made seeing it that much more special. Sitting in the audience, now having done the show for a year, and sitting in the audience for the first time— it was amazing, I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.

How do you feel about Mamma Mia being one of the more successful jukebox musicals?

Sarah: You know jukebox musicals— they’re great, don’t get me wrong— but they’re not really my cup of tea. They’re wonderful things with so much value but they are not what I generally navigate toward, or even really go and see. But to me, Mamma Mia is not a jukebox musical. I mean it is, technically, but it isn’t. It has a story, it’s not just a gathering or a compilation of songs. And it’s such a relatable story. So not only is it people coming in who know all of these songs and who have been listening to these songs for years, but then you throw in a bunch of characters who people relate to and recognize, and you can’t lose!

What has been sort of your— and I caution to say ‘favorite’— but a good thing you’ve experienced with this tour that is quite memorable for you?

Sarah: My favorite thing that I have come into contact with throughout the years with this is that often times when people refer to the demographic of the show, they talk about how it’s a great show for mothers and daughters and it’s really for all ages, this, that, and the other. But the funny thing is that the people who I get approached by the most are men in their 40’s and 50’s. And they’re always just bursting with excitement about it. They’ll say, “I just love Mamma Mia! I’ve seen it six or seven times!” or they’ll say, “I tell my wife every time it comes that we’re going to see it,” or “I tell my wife it’s the one show she doesn’t have to drag me to!” It’s hysterical.

My parents were buying a car in Texas. We had been through this whole long day of test-driving cars and all this stuff. My sister and I waited in the car while my parents went inside and did all the paperwork. All of the sudden, they come outside with the guy who had been selling the car to them, and they’ve all got this weird look on their face. Dad’s walking behind them and I said to my sister, “What is happening? Why is he coming over here?” And the salesman comes over to our car and he knocks on the window. So I rolled the window down. And he says, “So your parents tell me that you’re doing Mamma Mia!” and I just about lost it. And I said, “Yes…” and he said, “Can I hug you?” so I said okay, and I got out of the car and this guy gives me this big hug and he just says, “You have no idea! This is my favorite show! And my wife is just going to get the biggest kick out of this!”

That is one of my favorite things about the people who I meet who have seen the show multiple times. I just cannot get over how often I get approached by men in that age group who really love the show. It’s really neat and it speaks volumes about the show.

Would you say you have a lot in common with Rosie?

Sarah: Yeah, absolutely. I think Rosie and I have a really close, intimate relationship now, especially after three years together. Rosie and I have a lot of differences and a lot similarities and I think those things inform each other. She is a true feminist in the purest form of the word, which often I think gets misunderstood in our vernacular these days. I don’t think she’s a man-hater. She’s just a true feminist just in that she sees her own worth and her own value and she has made her way herself. She is empowered by her intelligence and her creativity and she has basically built an empire. There are all these hints throughout the show that she is the Martha Stewart of her time. She may not be in the kitchen but she is someone that has created a brand and she is the woman steering the wheels.

I think the one aspect of her life that she struggles with the most, and that is very similar to me, is her struggle with men. I think she likes me and I think she is interested in love and romance and all of these things. But I think she struggles to find men who want all the same things that she wants. At one point in the show Tanya says to Rosie, because they’re kind of going at each other a little bit there, she says “Oh, honey, you’ll meet your Mister Right.” And Rosie says, “I have but all they want to do is settle down and have babies.” So she doesn’t have the problem with meeting the good guy, the nice guy who would have settled down, but he wanted these things— and they were supposed to be the things that she wanted— but she doesn’t want them. So it’s her struggle to find someone who does. She’s having trouble finding somebody like-minded. And I can definitely relate to her on that account. It’s very funny to see her journey, especially how it comes out with her and Bill. She meets this man who she’s hearing basically say the same thing she wants, and then having to say, “Wait a minute, you and I agree on this, so maybe we should get together.”

Rosie is also always there for a laugh but when things get serious, she jumps right in, you know? “What do we need to do? How do we need to fix this?” I think that’s where she fits in the trio. I think she’s like the glue that holds Donna, Tonya, and Rosie together. Donna is the one that brings them together, and Rosie kind of facilitates that staying together. Donna’s the strong one, she’s the lead singer in terms of the band but also in life. She’s the star. But when the star falls apart, Rosie’s the one that has to step in. Rosie takes the lead and Tanya jumps in to fill in the gaps. Rosie is just a lot of fun, especially to watch evolve over the last three years. I’m not sure there’s anything too dramatic for anyone who saw her in my first year versus now that could be noticed, but just in terms of the journey I have had with her, it has been a real journey. And it has been a lot of fun.

Is there a moment in the show that you really enjoy above all else?

Sarah: I’m very lucky that I like doing most of the things that I do in the show. I think the bedroom scene is always a highlight for me because that’s the first chance where the Dynamos come together and you really get to see these three women in their history and see their story without really having to tell that background story. You just immediately see the relationship that they have. For those ten minutes that we’re on stage together we get to sing “Dancing Queen” and “Chiquitita”, but ultimately you get to see three friends who are trying to cheer up a friend and then partying and having a good time. It’s like watching three teenagers. I think it’s one of the most relatable moments in the show for a lot of people. I think it’s also one of the most fun moments on stage for me, to get to create that environment on stage for people and to create that relationship for people.

(L to R) Cachelle Butler, Betsy Padamonsky, and Sarah Smith in Mamma Mia The Farewell Tour
(L to R) Cachelle Butler, Betsy Padamonsky, and Sarah Smith in Mamma Mia The Farewell Tour Amanda N. Gunther

Then there’s always “Take a Chance”, which is great. But I just love doing the finale. It’s great to finally have that moment where you get to say to the audience, “we know you’ve been here this whole time and now we just get to look at you and bring you in, and join us, and have a big party.” And that is just a blast.

You’ve been with Rosie a long time. Is there a favorite costume of hers that you wish you could just take with you when the tour closes?

Sarah: Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s my jumpsuit. That’s my favorite. I’m a little torn. I never thought I would say this, but I’m torn between the white one and the red one. I love them. You put them on and you feel like a retro superhero and it is kind of awesome. I was a little terrified the first time I went in for a fitting. They say, “We’re going to put you in a rubber suit.” And it’s that moment of, “I’m sorry— a what?” But then you put it on and it’s, “This is awesome! I have wings!”

You had mentioned there is a learning curve. What would you say being on a tour for this long with one character has taught you about yourself?

Sarah: Well, I think what it’s taught me about myself is that you have to find a way to separate yourself from the show. Being on the road, we’re lucky we’re with an amazing group of people, we like each other, and we have a good time. But for somebody like me, you know I’m older and I’ve been doing this now for three years— it is still fun and I am still having fun— but the longer you do it the more important it becomes to have a life. Learning how to create a life for yourself on the road can be tricky. But it can also be incredibly satisfying and it really has been. That is part of what has made it possible for me to do this for so long. I’ve learned how to take time for myself and to do things that are not related to the show and not related to theatre. Making sure that those parts of my life remain and are given time is important.

One of the things— to give you an example— that I started doing in my second year was writing to people. It’s amazing how that’s become a lost art to the point that when I sat down to write a letter for the first time, I realized I was barely going to fill half a page! What did people write about when they wrote letters? I love the idea of writing letters but we are so out of practice in the digital age but it just doesn’t come as easily. So I started doing postcards. It’s been one of the most fulfilling things. At first it was weird because I would just write random messages and I thought they were kind of boring. But I made myself keep doing it and now I have a continually growing list of people who I send postcards to. I’ve had friends who say, “Oh yeah, I’d love to get a postcard!” And I add them to the list.

Finding cool postcards along the way, vintage postcards or unique ones in the most unexpected places? Sometimes you’ll find one at a restaurant— like a really neat one— so I’ll write a message right there, “hey, I’m having dinner and thinking about you.” And I’ll find their address later, put a stamp on it, and mail it. It’s been a really, really wonderful way to connect with people in a way that I miss. Little things like that, finding a way to create the new normal for me, what the normal is down the road and how to balance that with the show so that I can give it my all. So I can give myself 100% and 200% every night. That’s what this show requires, people have paid a lot of money to see this show and they have an expectation. So you want to be able to give them your best every night and it’s not as fun when you can’t. Finding that balance is an ongoing challenge, it changes from year to year. But it’s been great and I’ve adapted every year a little bit differently and it’s been neat.

What do you think is going to be the hardest thing to let go of when the tour finally closes later this year?

Sarah: Oh, man! You know? I have started thinking about that already but I don’t know, to be really honest. I’ve never done a show for this long. The other day I said to somebody, by the time this is over this will have been three years of my life and I have no idea what that is going to be like to walk away from that. It’s probably not going to hit me right away? I have a feeling that the hardest part might be that I walk away saying, “Okay, bye!” and then a week later it’s just going to hit me real hard. There are a lot of things, I think missing the show— for one— because I believe that as actors and performers we’re very lucky to do something that makes us happy, is inspiring, and is something that we really love doing. That alone is a huge gift.

But I also think there are times in your life that come along that are experiences like no other. And I think I said this earlier but this is going to be one of those career highlights for me. Every time I run into an alumnus, someone who was a part of the show who has now come back to see the show they say, “I knew it was time for me to move on but I will never stop missing this show.” I think that’s how it’s going to be for me. When it has finally settled in that it’s really over, I think I am always going to miss it. At some point, I think it’s going to feel like I have to show up and get into my jumpsuit but that will have ended.

I wish I could articulate that more, because to be honest it is something I have been thinking about, but I just don’t know what that’s going to look like yet. I think there is going to be a sense of lamenting for a very long time. I think there is always going to be me looking back fondly, very fondly, on my time spent with this show. It’s going to be sad. It’s going to be hard to let go. I sometimes think about, because this is the longest that I’ve ever done a show, but I’ll joke with friends of mine, I hope I still know how to do this…because I’ve been playing the same character for three years, do I still know how to be somebody else? And I know I do, it’s there but instinctively I ask because I haven’t played anybody else. I did a short show in Alaska between tours when we were off during the summer. I think I did it just to do different material just to remember what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. I think Rosie is going to be missed. This audience, the show, the music— the biggest learning curve of all is how to walk away from a show that I’ve spent this many years with.

The Company of Mamma Mia The Farewell Tour
The Company of Mamma Mia The Farewell Tour Thomas Garcia

Why do you want people to come out and see the Farewell Tour of Mamma Mia?

Sarah: Oh, man! Because you already know you’re going to love it! I’m joking, that’s our tagline for the show. But I tell people all the time, even if you’re not a musical theatre person, come see this show. If there is one show that you might enjoy that is musical theatre, this is going to be it. I can’t totally explain to people what it is! I can say to them there’s a good story, there’s great music, and it’s relatable. Yes, I can say all those good things, and yes they are true. But ultimately you’re not going to know until you come see the show. But I feel that confident to say to people, especially if you don’t like musical theatre, “come to see this show.” It’s impossible to not leave with a smile on your face. Especially now when it’s cold and people want to stay bundled up inside. Come to Greece with us for two and a half hours and I promise you will not regret it. You’re going to have a good time.  

Mamma Mia plays a limited five performances starting Friday January 13, 2017 at the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center— 12 N. Eutaw Street in the Bromo Seltzer Arts District of Baltimore, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 752-7444 or purchase them purchase tickets online.

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