Having debuted on The West End in 1999 and on Broadway in 2001, to say that Nashville’s local theatre community has anxiously awaited Chaffin Barn Dinner Theatre’s regional debut of MAMMA MIA is perhaps a bit of an understatement. Likewise, it would appear that the cast and crew of Chaffin’s production have been saying Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! right along with everyone else. With just days before the cast puts on their platform heels and disco duds for their premiere performance, I had a chance to chat with director Bradley Moore and members of the cast to see how this “super troupe” came together to showcase ABBA’s Super Trouper and more than twenty other hits from the Swedish pop quarter that make up the soundtrack of MAMMA MIA. Chaffin’s MAMMA MIA opens Thursday, September 7 and runs through Saturday, October 21. What follows are my conversations with Chaffin’s MAMMA MIA director, Bradley Moore and stars Rachel Potter, Taylor Novak, Geoff Davin and Martha Wilkinson.
RAPID FIRE WITH RACHEL POTTER, SOPHIE IN CHAFFIN’S BARN’s MAMMA MIA
JONATHAN PINKERTON: Alright, you’ve been on Broadway. You’ve been part of a National Tour. You’ve been on X-Factor. Now you’re starring in the regional premiere of MAMMA MIA at Nashville’s oldest continuing dinner theatre. What’s the experience been like so far?
RACHEL POTTER: It’s been a whirlwind, but so much fun. I’ve been out of the proverbial “game” for a few years, so it’s been a blast getting to flex my musical theater muscles again! I thought they may have atrophied, but luckily they were still there. This is definitely the shortest rehearsal process I’ve ever had for putting a show up with an entire cast, so it’s a challenge. But I am certainly up for it!
JP: Prior to taking on this role, did you have a favorite ABBA song? Is it still your favorite, or have you discovered a new one via the show?
RACHEL POTTER: I did! My favorite has always been Dancing Queen and continues to remain one of my faves. But through this process, I have definitely fallen in love with Thank You for the Music. I lost my dad last year, and he was a musician, so it makes me think of him every time I sing it.
JP: What about Sophie is the polar opposite of yourself?
RACHEL POTTER: Sophie is 20 and that is definitely the opposite of me! Ha! I guess the most glaring opposite is that she has yet to go out and experience the world, and I am at the other end of her journey. I left home around her age and have lived basically 9 lives since then. I’m so grateful for all the amazing experiences I’ve had thus far, the people I’ve met, and the places I’ve seen. I’m 33 now and having had my first child this year, I’m in a much more settled place. But I’m always so happy for Sophie when (SPOILER ALERT) she finally chooses to leave home to see the world. I know the value of that.
JP: In addition to your above-mentioned accolades, you’re also a member of Steel Union, a country music trio. What’s next for you, musically?
RACHEL POTTER: Steel Union is actually releasing our first album on September 14th! So please look for that on iTunes and Spotify and whatnot. It’s been a long time coming, so I’m thrilled to finally introduce people to our music. Also, as I mentioned, I had a child this past year…Jude. He’s 8 months old now, and through this new journey of motherhood I was inspired to make a Lullaby Album, which will be released sometime this fall. I’m really excited about this project because I think it will be something parents and grandparents will enjoy listening to just as much as kids.
RAPID FIRE WITH MAMMA MIA DIRECTOR, BRADLEY MOORE
JP: So, you’re directed Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre’s MAMMA MIA. Having debuted on The West End back in 1999, when did you first become familiar with the show?
BRADLEY MOORE: Pretty much from the minute it made its debut. I was in college when the cast recording was released and it instantly became the best music to work out and study to. Although, I probably sang along to it too much to actually get any quality studying done.
JP: Among your cast is Broadway vet/X-Factor alum and current Nashville singer/songwriter, Rachel Potter in the role of Sophie. What is it about Rachel that you think perfectly embodies her role as Sophie?
BRADLEY MOORE: I saw Rachel on Broadway in Evita and was completely affected by her performance. She gave me chills on top of chills and her performance of Another Suitcase in Another Hall sat with me long after I left that theatre. Our paths crossed in Nashville a couple years ago and when we acquired the rights to MAMMA MIA, I knew instantly that Rachel had to be Sophie. Rachel has this innocence about her, yet isn’t afraid to layer a little edge into her performance; Not to mention her voice is perfection. I am just really glad she trusted me and jumped on board instantly.
JP: You’re a bit young to have known ABBA in their prime. Was MAMMA MIA your first real introduction to their music?
BRADLEY MOORE: I grew up of course knowing Dancing Queen and Mamma Mia, but the musical allowed me to dig deeper into their catalog. It has been a fun journey researching their music and watching all of their music videos. It is really extremely difficult to not love ABBA. This is probably why the musical has been such a huge success.
JP: When Chaffin’s underwent recent ownership changes, Martha Wilkinson was named the company’s artistic director and you, assistant artistic director. As director of MAMMA MIA, and with Martha among the cast, I gotta know…How is it working with Martha as artistic director, and does that relationship change working with her in a director/actor relationship?
BRADLEY MOORE: I feel that one of the greatest gifts in my life is the opportunity to work with Martha on a daily basis. We get each other. We respect each other. We work very well together. I think that I would be lost without her in my life. This is my third time directing her and I love our relationship in that situation as well. I can’t say I wasn’t a little intimidated at first because she is such a force of theatre nature on stage. At first I was like, “Do I give her notes? – Who am I to give her notes? – What could I possibly know that she doesn’t?” But as everyone that I have directed can tell you, I love to give notes and I have lots of ideas. The truly wonderful thing about Martha is that she loves to just be an actor. She loves the creative process. She, just like everyone else, wants to work hard and be the best she can be and make the show as good as it can be. Her work ethic is unmatched. I am a lucky guy to have her in my life. And, creatively, she has made me a better artist.
RAPID FIRE WITH TAYLOR NOVAK, SKY IN CHAFFIN’S BARN’S MAMMA MIA
JP: In MAMMA MIA, you play Sky, Sophie’s fiancé. What’s Rachel Potter like as a scene partner?
TAYLOR NOVAK: Perfect is the word! She’s attentive and she takes her craft seriously—as do I—but sometimes I find I take myself too seriously or I’m too hard on myself, and she reminds me every once in a while, “Hey, this is fun! You can laugh every once in a while.” She reminds me that if I mess up it’s not the end of the world; have some humility, laugh at yourself, and try again.
JP: What are Sky’s best and worst qualities? and…do you share any of them?
TAYLOR NOVAK: Sky is pretty close to perfect. He’s hardworking, intelligent, handy, charming, and extremely likable. So, really we’re nothing alike. I do think he could be a bit more supportive at times, though.
JP: If memory serves me, the last time you were on stage at Chaffin’s was back in 2015 for a special performance from Circle Players’ AMERICAN IDIOT during a preview of that year’s First Night Preview Party. Aside from that shirtless appearance, does MAMMA MIA mark your full musical Chaffin’s debut?
TAYLOR NOVAK: Yes, it does! And I couldn’t be more excited to do it with this group of people!
JP: As Sky, you’re featured alongside Rachel’s Sophie midway through Act 1 in the playful Lay All Your Love On Me. Is there a musical number Sky isn’t a part of that you find yourself singing along with backstage?
TAYLOR NOVAK: Hands down, Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! It’s my favorite song in the show, and it’s my favorite ABBA song. Girls rule.
RAPID FIRE WITH GEOFF DAVIN, SAM IN CHAFFIN’S BARN’S MAMMA MIA
JP: Tell me about your character in MAMMA MIA?
GEOFF DAVIN: Sam is of course one of Sophie’s potential father’s. And for him… Donna (Sophie’s mother) was the one that got away, the love of his life. The person that he always saw himself with. But due to certain circumstances in both their lives it just didn’t happen. Sam blames himself for this and has never stopped thinking about her and what might have been. At one point in the show he tells Donna that she’s “living his dream”. But she is most definitely a part of that dream. Coming back to this island is a way for Sam to not only find closure on the past, but also potentially have the opportunity to open the door to a future that he’s been dreaming about.
JP: Perhaps by nature of its origin, the 1999 West End premiere of MAMMA MIA featured a plethora of accents, what with Sophie’s potential fathers originally being portrayed as a British banker, an Australian writer and an American architect. What happened to the accents?
GEOFF DAVIN: While the original cast recording and the film did represent more diverse nationalities, the Broadway production and subsequent tours actually did away with that. Harry (one of the other potential Dads) is the only one who speaks with a British accent.
JP: In the 2008 film adaptation of MAMMA MIA, Irish-born Pierce Brosnan played Sam. So I guess you’ll be auditioning to play the lead of Remington Steele in the inevitable reboot?
GEOFF DAVIN: How did you know Jonathan? We’ve been trying to keep it under wraps. But we’ve been developing a new Remington Steele musical extravaganza. And please…do I REALLY need to audition? I mean….come on!
JP: A Remington Steele musical??? Ha! I’d go see it….Ok, I’m about to talk to Martha Wilkinson, who stars as Donna, Sophie’s mother and Sam’s onetime love. How much fun are you having sharing the stage with her?
GEOFF DAVIN: Oh I never pass up an opportunity to share the stage with Martha!! She’s one of my favorite actors. I’ve had the good fortune of working with her several times now and it’s never anything but an absolute joy. I’m also really enjoying working with Rachel Potter as Sophie. Between the two of them I’m a very happy actor!! They’re both super talented, wickedly funny, and generally lovely people.
RAPID FIRE WITH MARTHA WILKINSON, DONNA IN CHAFFIN’S BARN’S MAMMA MIA
JP: You play Donna, Sophie’s mom. What’s your favorite aspect of the character?
MARTHA WILKINSON: Her vulnerability
JP: Thanks to Donna’s…shall we say….’colorful past’, she provides the show with a major plot line….Sophie figuring out who her real father is. Your three former suitors are played by Geoff Davin, David Arnold and Greg Frey. Let’s play a little word association. In five words or less describe each of Donna’s men…
Geoff—— sexy, honest, passionate, creative
David——soft spoken, genuine, safe
Greg——funny, loving, carefree
JP: You also luck out on the female co-star front, what with Cat Arnold and Jenny Norris Light backing up Donna as her Dynamos, Rosie and Tanya. If you, Cat and Jenny were to form a girl group, what would you be called and why?
MARTHA WILKINSON: Oh, my…um…wow… Hot, Hotter and the Hottest! 🙂
JP: Yes! I can totally see that! Mamma Mia!, these Rapid Fire 20 Q’s always get away from me…one last question, the choreography for this show is always a highpoint. With an iconic show like MAMMA MIA, are there any specific choreography or performance guidelines that come along with the licensing and rights to the show, or do you as Artistic Director, Everett Tarleton as choreographer and Bradley Moore as the show’s director, have full creative control to present a unique to Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre production of MAMMA MIA?
MARTHA WILKINSON: There are no guidelines… we can do what we want. Everett soars in freedom and delivers just the right product. He and Bradley are an amazing team! Gold!
With that certified Gold response, my conversations with some of the cast and creatives behind Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre’s regional premiere of MAMMA MIA wrapped, but the disco ball is just starting to spin at Chaffin’s as MAMMA MIA opens Thursday, September 7 and continues through Saturday, October 21. Thursday matinees (lunch at 11 a.m./show at noon) offer show only tickets for $19, or a Box Lunch and show price of $27.50. Thursday-Saturday evening (dinner from 6 p.m.-7:30p.m./show at 8 p.m.) ranges from $60 for adult dinner and show or $30 for youth/students dinner and show—to $30 for adult or $18 for children show only tickets. Sunday matinees (meal available from noon until 1:30 p.m./show at 2 p.m.) features full buffet selection with pricing the same as evening performances. To purchase tickets, or for more information, CLICK HERE, Call the Box Office at 615.646.9977 or 1.800.282.2276 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also keep up with the latest news from Chaffin’s Barn Dinner Theatre on Facebook and Twitter.
If you’ve enjoyed this latest edition of my recurring interview feature, Rapid Fire 20 Q, be sure and CLICK HERE to check out previous conversations. Wanna keep up with the latest from Nashville Arts Critic? Subscribe to receive free email alerts when new items are published by entering your email address in the “Subscribe” section to the right of this article. You can also follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler.