Judy McLane Interview

Mamma Mia

Judy McLane is a Broadway star currently performing in the smash hit musical Mamma Mia!, which has been delighting New York City visitors for nearly 14 years. A consumate stage performer and Drama Desk Award-nominated actress, McLane has lived and breathed Mamma Mia! for over a decade, having played two different roles in the critically acclaimed feel-good production that features the story-telling music of ABBA. New York City Monthly was honored to speak with Ms. McLane recently…

In 2012, after more than seven years playing the role of “Tanya,” you transitioned to the leading role of Donna Sheridan, mother of Sophie. What was that transition like?

After 7 1/2 years of playing Tanya, one would think I could just jump into another role in the show. Not true. I had a 4 week rehearsal period to explore Donna with 6 other new principle characters. It was like starting a new show for me, and a dramatically different journey for my character.

The musical has been an enormous success since first previewing in 2001, with over 5,500 performances to date. Why do you think Mamma Mia! connects so well with audiences?

There is no denying the appeal and accessibly of the music. It’s international. But I, also, believe there is a range of characters that resonate with people.

What do you admire most about Donna? How would you describe her?

I admire her tenacity, strength and humor. She’s a single mom and starts a business on her own, from the ground up. I like that she has determination, yet, has a quiet vulnerability. The meaning of Donna Sheridan is “lady wild” – that contrast tells you a lot about her.

The music of ABBA plays a central role in the production. What are some of your favorite numbers and why?

I’m partial to “Winner Takes it All” – it’s a song I appreciated more after I began studying it. I like the dramatic journey it allows me to take each night. “Slipping Through My Fingers” is another favorite. I love the melody and the sentiment of having moments that seem so ordinary, yet they are the ones we often treasure when missing someone.

What are some of the most challenging numbers or scenes to perform?

“Dancing Queen” in what we call the bedroom scene is always a challenge. It’s like running a marathon and singing at the same time. It’s a lot of fun, too.

What are some aspects of the show that audiences would be most surprised to learn?

The ensemble, or chorus, sings all the the back up music throughout the show. If they are offstage they are singing. It’s not a recording. Also, I like that fact that the producer, writer, and director are all women.

Is there anything else about the show or your role that you’d like to add?

I like to say Mamma Mia! is like an anti-depressant. It brings joy to a lot of people.

(Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)