How Mamma Mia!'s Mamma Dealt With the Closing Announcement

News   How Mamma Mia!'s Mamma Dealt With the Closing Announcement
 
Judy McLane is about to lose what she described as the best job she ever had, and it's not her fault. She has been playing Donna Sheridan, the mamma in Broadway's Mamma Mia! since June 2012, and a production spokesperson said she will get to continue playing it right up until Sept. 5--when the show ends its epic 14-year run.

“We’ve had a flood of support on our Facebook and Twitter pages,” she said. “It shows what a family all of us have become.”

The Mamma Mia! family learned of the closing the evening April 9, but McLane said many had suspected it was coming in the preceding weeks. They could tell by reading the weekly box office gross reports posted here and elsewhere. The grosses, which had stayed magically buoyant for so many years after the 2001 Broadway opening, had begun to slip. The number of European tourists, who had been instrumental in bolstering the show all these years, was way down. The box office decline had prompted producers to move the show in November 2013 from the 1526-seat Winter Garden to the 1186-seat Broadhurst Theatre. But, even there, percentages began to slip. After a run of nearly 14 years the ABBA musical that toured the world and spawned the most successful film musical in history was finally winding down.

General managers Nina Lannan and Devin M. Keudell had called a company meeting for Thursday evening April 9 at 7:15 PM, and McLane said, "When they call a company meeting like that, it's usually not a good sign."

Members of the cast tweeted about the meeting, and that’s likely how The New York Post learned of it, and posted a story that was seen by several members of the cast before their gathering. By time they arrived, word was out: the show was closing—but not right away.

The two managers said that they had thought long and hard about the closing—it wasn’t a quick decision. It had been a hard winter—hard for a lot of shows—and they told the cast and crews they didn’t think we could get through another winter. They said they wanted to go out on a high. They said they expected good ticket sales now and through the summer, but they would close the show Sept. 5. “People were sad, of course,” McLane said, “but at what other jobs do you get a five-month notice? Some shows open and close in less time than that.” Though the cast was sad to get the news, they still had a show to do at 8 PM that night. McLane said the April 9 performance had a special electricity. “It had a real emotional energy to it. Even though I knew we still have five months to do, it felt like I was doing it for the last time that night.”

She said doesn’t know how many in the audience were aware of the closing notice being posted. But a radio news truck was stationed outside the Broadhurst and people were being interviewed about their reactions as they went in. Also, some of the alumni cast members came down to be supportive and danced in the aisles to the Megamix that ends the show.

"I'm sad that it's closing," McLane said, "but it will be nice to part of the last cast. The whole thing has been such a joy for me and changed my life in so many ways. The joy this show gives people is like nothing I've ever seen. I call it The Antidepressant. It's better than Paxil.”

McLane said the timing was ironic. After 10 years working on Mamma Mia!--first in the supporting role of Tanya from 2005 to 2012, then stepping up to Donna, the lead, since then—she had already notified producers she was leaving this coming October.

“After ten years with one show I was feeling it was time for a change. It will be nice to have two days off in a row for a change. I built my life around this show, but I’m ready for the next adventure.”

She said she doesn’t have another job lined up yet. “I’m jumping into the water and I’m going to start swimming.”

Mamma Mia! uses the songs of the 1970s rock group Abba to tell the story of a young woman trying discover who her father was. When it closes, Mamma Mia! will have played 5,765 performances on Broadway, making it the eighth longest running show in Broadway history. It premiered  Oct. 18, 2001, at the Winter Garden Theatre, where it continued through  Oct. 19, 2013. The production then transferred to its current home, the Broadhurst Theatre, on Nov. 2, 2013, the musical has grossed a reported $2 billion worldwide.

http://cdn-gd.playbill.com/images/cache/remote/http_cdn-images.playbill.com/ee_assets/cam/1339.jpg
Photo by Joan Marcus

Producer Judy Craymer told The New York Times: "I am thrilled that Mamma Mia! has brought the music of Abba to Broadway. And so grateful to the hundreds of wonderful actors, musicians, stage managers, crew, front of house staff and the other people of the theater who have given their professional lives and souls to be part of the 'Mamma Mia!' family and adventure on Broadway."

The hit musical had its London premiere April 6, 1999. It is now in its 16th year in the West End. It was adapted as a film in 2008 and grossed more than $144 million in the US alone, and currently holding the title of top-grossing musical film ever. Craymer told The New York Post that she "toying around" with the idea of doing a sequel.

With music and lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus, Mamma Mia! is written by Catherine Johnson and directed by Phyllida Lloyd. The production has choreography by Anthony Van Laast, production design by Mark Thompson, lighting design by Howard Harrison, sound design by Andrew Bruce and Bobby Aitken, and musical supervision, additional material and arrangements by Martin Koch.

Mamma Mia! is Craymer's vision of writer Johnson's "sunny, funny tale of family and friendship unfolding on a tiny Greek island. On the eve of her wedding, a daughter's quest to discover the identity of her father brings 3 men from her mother's past back to the island they had last visited 20 years ago," according to press notes.

Songs include "Dancing Queen," "The Winner Takes It All," "Money, Money, Money" and "Take a Chance on Me."

The Broadhurst Theatre is located at 235 West 44th Street. For more information visit mammamianorthamerica.com.

Here are highlights from the musical, as compiled by Playbill Video:

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