BWW Interview: Betsy Padamonsky in the Farewell Tour of MAMMA MIA!
Coming to the Saenger Theatre in New Orleans beginning tomorrow night is the show that brings us all of the music of ABBA, and all of the energy of a three month old puppy: MAMMA MIA! It tells the story of Sophie, a young woman who is the daughter of a single mother and taverna owner, who is about to get married to the love of her life and embark upon a new journey. She, like other brides, wants her father to walk her down the aisle and give her away, but there's just one problem... she doesn't know who her dad is! Through a bit of scheming and some help from her mom's old diary, she begins to discover the truth about everything.
With me to talk about her career, this amazing show that is headed towards its grand finale, tour life, and her amazing fellow cast members is Betsy Padamonsky. Keep on reading to learn what Betsy has to say!
Tell me a bit about yourself, and how you got started in theatre and acting professionally.
I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, and my parents got us involved in the theatre. I was four years old. I think they saw that I could sing really loud, and I enjoyed it, and I wasn't afraid to be in front of people. My first show I did was ANNIE. I was four years old, and I couldn't read, and I played the youngest orphan, and then after that I just kept doing it. My brothers kind of bowed out. My sister still does it as a hobby, and she did it all through college. She's an amazing actor, but she did a different path than I did. My parents are so supportive. My dad's a stage manager, my mom's an actor as well. She's just hilarious. She's my comedy inspiration.
Which, I'm sure, serves you well in this role being that you play a mom with a pretty darned good sense of humor!
I know! There's so many times when I was going through stuff and, of course, I would consult my acting coach or whoever else, but I'd be like, "Mom, what's your instinct on this? What do you think?"
Right now you're playing Donna in MAMMA MIA! What's her story? Tell me about her and what role she has in the show.
A lot of people over the years have seen the show and know the story, but it never hurts [to tell it again] because I get surprised that people don't know the story after sixteen years of it being out. That's exciting, too, because we get these people that we can create new fans out of. Donna is a single mom. She had Sophie at a young age, and there are three possible dads. Sophie doesn't know who her father is, and she invites all three of her dads to the wedding. And then, chaos ensures, and hilarity obviously. Donna can be mistaken for being hard sometimes, but when I looked at the character she has a really soft side. She loves Sophie so much. She loves all of these people she has employed to work with her at her taverna because they're her family. She's a strong woman. She's done it on her own, but sometimes people mistake strong for hard. She's not hard. She's just trying to do the best by her daughter and her friends, and all of the people she considers her family.
Are there any ways that you personally relate to her?
I think Donna's kind of zany and a little crazy, and I think that sometimes the kids - I call them kids because I feel like I'm the mom - but, the kids backstage are like "Oh gosh, here comes Betsy. She's running around doing cartwheels backstage, putting essential oils on us, getting us ready." Usually they ask me if I've had too much coffee before the show. But also, just the love that Donna has for the people around her. I just always feel that connection with the people that I work with or that I'm around. I always want to find the best in people, and I know it sounds trite and cliché, but in a world where there's a lot of bad things happening it's nice to see the good in people and nice to see the good around you. Especially being surrounded by that chaos and nonsense all the time if you let it engulf you...
The music in this show is all songs from ABBA. Do you have a favorite to perform or watch?
I'm a die-hard ABBA fan from the time I was a kid. It was my first CD. I always tell people that, and that's why the role feels like a complete dream. I love performing "One of Us." It's where Donna's layers start to unpeel a little bit, and she's dealing with the three dads being there, and dealing with the fact that she's losing - not losing her daughter, but her daughter's moving on to a new chapter in her life. It's kind of a nice moment. And, I also like singing "S.O.S." It's a duet I sing with my Sam. I love watching the ensemble crush "Gimme, Gimme, Gimme" when I look on from the sides, and also "Lay All Your Love on Me." Our ensemble is amazing. They're just so energetic, they have great voices, great personalities, they bring so much to the stage, and they sing everything live backstage every night. It's wild. They're our rocks, really.
The more I talk to people, it seems like a lot of people will say, "Oh, well they're just in the ensemble" or "Oh, they're just a swing," but those guys have the hardest job!
Yep. Like, I have to do one thing. Be Donna. The ensemble covers all of us. The swings cover seven roles. Honestly, they do everything. It blows my mind. And, when they say, "I'm just..." I'm like "Don't you dare say just the ensemble... don't say that!" They're so special and important to the show. We all need them. Every bit of the show is important.
Have you heard about the MAMMA MIA! sequel movie?
I haven't done a lot of reading on it. My husband was telling me about it, and some other people were telling me. I think it's cool. I think it's neat that they're going to bring back some of the other ABBA songs that haven't been used. I'll be interested to see what they do with it. I'm sure I'm going to love whatever it is because if it involves ABBA... and there's a lot of songs on the Gold album I was listening to. We're actually on a week layoff right now. We're on a break, and we haven't had a break for five months, so everybody was really ready for the break. I was taking a video of myself on Instagram the first night of our break in my kitchen - because I haven't cooked in months, and I was cooking. But, I had on the ABBA Gold album, and I was listening to the songs that we don't do in the show, and then I got some messages from some of my cast members and they were like, "Betsy, this is our break. You need to step away from the ABBA for a minute." I can't. I love it.
Well the music is so fun! It's catchy and it's fun to sing!
Yeah, and I grew up with it. That's the thing. I grew up listing to all their hits. That's what it was. It was my first CD.
This is the Farewell Tour for MAMMA MIA! This show is closing after the tour ends. Have audiences been responding differently knowing that this is it, or do they even know?
I think some of them know. A lot of people have said to us, "Oh my gosh, we wanted to make sure we got to see it one last time. It's come to our town before." We get a lot of that, which is so cool. We also get a lot of people that are like, "We knew we had to see it before it closed." So now it's the perfect time. From what I've heard from people who have done the show in the past, the excitement with the show happens regardless. It's just been overwhelmingly awesome in every city, but they said in the past that's how it's always been because of the music and the story. Everybody loves it. I remember the first night our music director said to me, "Just so you know, it's going to be like a wall of sound whenever you guys come out for the finale." I was like, "What do you mean?" And he's like, "Just wait." And then he said to me afterwards, "I saw the tears just rolling down your face." I couldn't believe it! I was so overwhelmed, but with excitement. It was just the most moving thing to me that people could be this excited about something that I was involved in, and something that all of us had been so passionate about. It was just so cool.
What have been some of your favorite tour moments?
Oh my goodness. Well, like I said, when the fans go crazy in the finale, that's been my... do you mean on stage or off?
Well we've done a lot of cities, so it's been cool because we've gotten to a lot of fun places. I've gotten to re-visit some old places that I haven't been in a long time. Getting to Seattle again was amazing. I'm actually really looking forward to New Orleans. My sister lived there for six years, and I used to go visit her once a year, so it'll be neat to be back in New Orleans. Favorite tour moments... I think we just have so many funny stories about... I mean this cast... When I say we're like a family, we are like a big family. We have fun moments on stage that we'll always remember. I'll never forget sitting on the bus for hours with people, and that's the time when you get to know everybody. We all say that it's grueling, but you also have nowhere else to go, so you really get to know people and you get to chat. I really like that. I did a coffee tour in Seattle, so that was neat. Seeing where all of these coffees originated, and coffee culture... that's a big part of the cast. It's become such a thing. That's so terrible that I can't think of anything. We've had so many great moments, and I feel like there's so many things that stand out. I think seeing all of the amazing places that I never in a million years thought I would open up my computer and decide, yep this is where I want to go. I'd have never gone to Thunder Bay, Ontario. We did a month in the Canadian Rockies, which was incredible with all the snow. I really loved Salt Lake City. It was beautiful! And I'll never forget the two degree weather in Minneapolis.
Oh no, that's way too cold!
This Florida girl was like... yeah, my husband came, too, and we were like popsicles. But, it was amazing. The audiences were great. Everywhere we've been it's just been this warm... it sounds cliché again... but, no matter how cold it was, when we went into the theatre we got this huge warm welcome. It was pretty awesome.
What's up next for you once this tour closes?
Well right now there's a few things in the talks that I'm not really allowed to talk about, and I don't want to jinx them. Actors are crazy superstitious. I'd like to go out on another tour. That would be awesome to continue to see the country. Other than that, I'd like to go on a little vacation with my husband. He'll come out and see me on tour, but he'll come out for like five days and as relaxing as it can be I'm still at work. I'm still preparing for work, and I take it very seriously. I always have my routines, and he's just kind of slotting himself into my day, if that makes sense. He's an amazing man. He's just so supportive, so it'd be great to have a little down time when neither of us are working.
We at Broadway World cannot wait for this MAMMA MIA! tour to hit New Orleans! Lucky for us, and all of you, it opens tomorrow night at the Saenger Theatre! We, too, will have the opportunity to see Betsy and the rest of the cast in this delightful and bubbly show one last time. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.saegernola.com.