Exclusive: Mamma Mia Star Lizzie Markson Talks about the Final Tour

Based on the music of Abba, the long running hit show Mamma Mia is in the middle of it’s farewell tour. The tour stops at Baltimore’s France-Merrick Hippodrome Theater this weekend for a very limited engagement. I caught up with one of the stars of the current production – Lizzie Markson. She plays the Sophie a young woman who is about to get married. Ahead of her wedding she wants to find out who her real father is. She invites the 3 candidates to her wedding and music and hi-jinks ensue. Really it’s just an excuse to wear funky 70’s outfits and sing Abba. Nothing wrong with that. Mamma Mia is at the Hippodrome, January 13 – 15th. Check out the official tour site for a stop near you.

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First and foremost, I delved into the script and the story to dig into Sophie’s motivation, her essence, her relationships. And then I searched for connecting to that from my own life, which wasn’t too far off. She has a childlike, whimsical nature. She wants everything to turn out perfectly, and she is relentlessly optimistic that it will. In order to stay true to the ABBA sound, I also listened to a lot of ABBA music, since that aspect is so central to the show.

Sophia is an interesting character. Can you talk a bit about what drives Sophia – besides her wanting to meet her father?

Overall, she wants love, happiness, and belonging. She has been raised by her young single mother who isn’t particularly motherly in a strictly maternal way, but more of a best friend type of way. Sophie yearns for what she’s never had, that security in a family unit. A father to complete that and look after her and love her unconditionally. (Even though her mother does already love her fiercely.) Don’t we all want what we don’t have? Don’t we all tend to yearn for something else and pursue that blindly, in turn ignoring the amazing person or thing that’s right in front of our faces? Sophie wants to defy her mother. She wants what she never had. A stable, secure, family. She wants love and belonging and she thinks she will find that in the perfect way by marrying Sky and finding (and forming a relationship with) her father.

The music is iconic. What are your favorite two songs to sing and why?

My favorite songs to sing are ever-changing. Right now I’m going to say “Slipping Through My Fingers” and “Name of the Game.” Sophie and Donna’s relationship throughout almost the entire show is testy “Slipping Through My Fingers” is a rare, tender mother-daughter connection that lends itself to reveal the love that is underneath. It is so touching for me to live in that truth every night and to swell in the music with Betsy Padamonsky, who plays Donna.

“Name of the Game” is my other favorite. Sharing this climactic, nerve wracking, intense moment with Marc Cornes, who plays Bill, is real and special every night. Overall, “Mamma Mia!” is such a high energy show, but “Name of the Game” has all the excitement and groove in the music while our movement is minimal. Since I’m not moving around a lot in that number, I get to really live in that connection with Marc, playing Bill, knowing that my hopes and dreams (as Sophie) could rise or fall depending on his response to what I’m singing.

Why do you think this show has stood the test of time?

There are so many different characters in this show fighting through their own struggle to get what they want. And I think everyone who comes to see the show will relate with at least one character on stage. Add in a story that keeps the audience on their toes, the nostalgic and catchy music of ABBA, and the contagious energy of the entire show, and you get a night of pure fun. This show is a perfect escape from the real world and it brings people together and on their feet for an experience unique to live theatre and especially unique to “Mamma Mia!”

What can fans who have seen this production several times expect to see here? Are there any changes from previous tours?

Since this is the Farewell Tour, this is the last chance to see this version of the show that people know and love. But I think that as a cast, we bring a totally fresh and new energy to the show. I think our passion and gratitude to be on that stage undoubtedly translates to the show. Our director, Martha Banta, whose been working on this show since its beginnings, approached our production with fresh eyes. She gave us so much freedom to explore as actors in the rehearsal room so we can find the truth that works for us as unique human beings.

Can you talk a bit about what a typical day is like for someone involved in a touring production like this is?

My typical day depends on if we’re traveling to and from a venue or if we’re in the same place for a couple of days. There are some weeks where a typical day would be waking up, packing, getting on the bus, driving from wherever our show was the night before to wherever it is the next night (which could range anywhere from 3 to 5 hours.) And then once we get to our destination, I will work out, warm up vocally, and eat before heading to the theatre. The real fun though is when we’re in a sit-down, which is what we say when we’re in the same place for a couple of days to a week. When that’s the case, I’ll have full days at my disposal before a show. Usually I try to take advantage of what that place has to offer–sightseeing, hiking, the cool cafes and restaurants. But no matter what, I include exercise and vocally warming up every day in order to perform the show to my fullest capacity.

What is your favorite moment in the production?

I have so many favorite moments. And since it’s live theatre full of living, breathing, changing people, that moment changes from night to night. But I’d say a moment that consistently blows me away is during the finale. We’re holding our pose from the end of “Mamma Mia!” and the music changes to “Dancing Queen.” That’s the moment when I finally get a good look at the audience and the elation on their faces. It’s when I get to catch glimpses of the ladies (or men) wearing the boas in the audiences or the little girls clapping along in their sweet dresses. It’s when people are clapping along, springing to their feet, dancing in the aisles. To me, that’s what this is all about. Bringing and sharing light with a room full of strangers.

Can you share any stories from your experiences touring with this production?

Well overall I’ve definitely learned a lot about touring as a whole. There are so many things you can’t really understand or know about tour until you’re actually doing it. For example, what it’s like to sit on the bus for hours every day and then do a show–a lot of people sleep on the floor, but I personally can’t bring myself to do that. Or how you pack your whole life in two suitcases under 50 lbs each…And then realizing that less is always more. (The amount of times I’ve sent home packages to get rid of weight and stuff is silly.) Tour is such a unique experience and since we’re all going through it together as a cast, it bonds us in a really special way. It makes us family. Through everything that constantly changes with life on the road, from our hotel beds to the climate outside, our source of stability is each other.

Can you talk a little bit about your background and how you landed here?

I’ve danced my whole life at a studio back home. I’ve sung pretty much my whole life too. I did a theater camp in elementary school and then kind of drifted away from it until high school when I auditioned for, and performed in, “Aida” at my school. Doing that show, along with the support of my high school theater teacher is what inspired me and made me realize that I had to pursue this as a career. I went to Elon University for my BFA in Music Theatre. That’s where I really developed my passion for and the craft of story telling. Of being an actor and serving the story from my most truthful place first and foremost. My senior year, we brought Casting Directors and Agents to Elon from NYC to do “mock auditions” with them as a sort of capstone experience and to prepare us for NYC. One of the people that came was Joy Dewing, the casting director for “Mamma Mia!” About a month or so after she came to Elon, she emailed me to come to NYC for an invited call for the show. Following that, I ended up flying back and forth from Elon to NYC for callbacks during my last few weeks of school. About a week after graduation I got the call from Joy Dewing offering me the role of Sophie on the tour. I went through a solid five minutes of shock, and then pure elation and gratitude, which hasn’t ended yet (and I doubt ever will.)

Do you know what you are working on next?

I do not! I am fully enjoying living in my present moment, but of course as actors, there is a voice in the back of our minds that this job is going to end and then I’ll have to figure out a new one. I’m keeping my eyes, ears, mind and heart open to everything. And of course doing everything in my power to create opportunities for myself and to keep myself feeling fulfilled as a human and staying artistically stimulated and challenged. But I’m not going to spend too much energy focusing on that quite yet so that I don’t take myself away from fully experiencing every aspect of this chapter in my life. In the end, I just have to follow my heart, continue working hard, and have faith that everything will work out. So who knows! The possibilities are endless, as they always are.