BWW Interviews: MAMMA MIA & ELF's Beth Leavel!
Since September 2009, Beth Leavel has been lending her big Broadway voice to ABBA's hit songs, starring as reluctant mother-of-the-bride Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia!. She has previously appeared on The Great White Way in Young Frankenstein, 42nd Street, The Civil War, Showboat and Crazy for You, and her performance in The Drowsy Chaperone earned her a Tony, Drama Desk, and Outer Critics Circle Award in 2006.
Broadway World Reporter Nick Orlando spoke with Leavel about what it is like to relive the 70's and the next Broadway musical she'll be adding to her already lengthy resume.
I saw the show for the first time on Friday night and loved it. I didn't know Beth Leavel was a rock star!
Me neither! That was one of the things that surprised me the most. At the end of the mega mix, I was thinking I should change my career. It is so much fun. Rock stars have a great time.
What has the last year been like for you in Mamma Mia!?
It has been full. It is a very demanding role. I have such a good time with the journey. The audience leaves the theater feeling better than when they came in.
Did you get to change the role of Donna Sheridan a bit?
I did. It wasn't really changing the role, though. They let me give the Beth Leavel of Donna Sheridan, if that makes sense. I was able to personalize it and bring whatever I could to the role. My version of Donna is a bit sillier than the other Donna's. In Act II, I sing "The Winner Takes It All," so I do have some ballads.
How is it reliving the 70's with ABBA's music?
It's just that; I am reliving it. I used to sing ABBA songs on the radio. It was my mother's favorite group. We had 8-tracks. When I first joined the cast, my mom would ask me "Why isn't ‘Fernando' in the show?" The producers couldn't put everything in the musical! I am from North Carolina, and I had more people come see Mamma Mia! than any of my other shows.
Which is your favorite song?
I like "The Winner Takes It All." My other favorite song is "Super Trouper."
When was the last time you wore spandex before the show?
I have never worn spandex in my life! Even in the bad ‘70's, I didn't. I want to take it with me when I leave. I can wear spandex to a PTA meeting or something.
At the end of the show, the audience is going wild; they are on their feet and singing. Do you feed off of the energy?
150%! At the end of the show, if you took my blood pressure, I feel like one more lift from theaudience and I could fly. It is magical. It is a shared celebration between us and the audience.
With a musical that has been around almost eleven years on Broadway, how does the cast keep it fresh every night?
The audience helps us do that. Even though we have eight shows per week, I know this is the first time most audience members have seen the show. Some fans have seen Mamma Mia! 13 times or so. We have a very professional company. We give it 150%.
Every time you came out on stage, you had another costume on. How many costume changes do you have during the show?
You know, someone asked me that the other night. My costume person and I counted, and it's nine. So, it's not too bad. The overalls are the easiest and I am in them the longest. When I went to my costume fitting, I brought a pair of pantyhose and they told me that they do not wear pantyhose in Greece. They only tan. So, I have been tan for the last year. I love it!
What are you going to miss most about the musical?
I will miss the experience with the audience at the end. I will miss the cast and being part of this phenomenon. I have been so lucky. I think I will have to meet up with the girls in Times Square after I leave. We will wear spandex!
By the way, congratulations on your upcoming gig! You are currently in rehearsals for Elf?
Yes, I am in New York City now at rehearsals. Today was the first day. We just did a read-through. It is such an exciting show. We will be working on the music after lunch.
When did you first audition?
It wasn't an audition. I actually did a reading for Elf and then the workshop. It has been in the works for two or three years already. It moved pretty quickly, in the Broadway world. I'm delighted that the musical will be here this holiday season and I hope every holiday season to come.
How are you fitting in Mamma Mia! performances and Elf rehearsals?
I told my family that I will see them when I see them! It's only two weeks of double duty. Today, for example, I have rehearsals, a photo shoot for Elf, and then Mamma Mia! tonight.
Is the musical based on the movie?
Yes, it is based on the movie, but we musicalized it. We get to sing and tap dance.
You worked with Bob Martin and Casey Nicholaw while you were doing The Drowsy Chaperone and now Bob co-wrote the book for Elf and Casey is the director and choreographer. Is it exciting being reunited?
I feel like I'm home. We all did the workshop together. It is a happy room to work in. I'm thrilled Casey, Bob and Tom [Meehan] are part of the show.
What do you love about New York during the holiday season?
Oh, gosh. The energy and the spirit, especially when the decorations go up. I love Radio City and the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree. I love to window shop. It makes me feel delicious inside. Christmas cannot come too early. My mom always comes in from North Carolina for Christmas.
Which are your favorite television shows?
"Modern Family," "House," "American Idol," and "So You Think You Can Dance." I become addicted to anything my kids DVR.
We'll see. Maybe they will be fantastic and we will fall in love with them. I will miss Simon Cowell.
You have two sons. How old are they now?
My sons are 20 and 15 years old.
Are they interested in theatre?
Not in the least bit. My oldest could really sing, but neither have the acting bug. I told them it's a great place to meet girls. They are thrilled to see Elf. I won't give anything away. We own that movie and they love it.
Beth Leavel's final performance in Mamma Mia! will be on Sunday evening, October 10th. Beginning on Friday, October 22nd, Broadway musical veteran Lisa Brescia will take over the role of Donna Sheridan. Mamma Mia! is currently playing the Winter Garden Theatre (1634 Broadway). For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.mammamianorthamerica.com or www.telecharge.com.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus