We'll avoid the cliches — Mamma Mia!'s Louise Pitre is a "Dancing Queen," this "Winner Takes It All," , etc.— even though many who come in contact with the silver-haired Canadian and her star turn as Donna, the matriarch at the center of the new ABBA musical, Mamma Mia!, would use all of them and more. Virtually unknown in the States (Mamma Mia! is her Broadway debut), the Montreal-born Pitre has been making a name for herself across the U.S., belting the Swedish supergroup's "Super Trouper," "The Winner Takes it All, "Voulez-Vous" and "Dancing Queen" in the world-wide smash musical comedy about a young woman's desire to track down her father before she gets married. After winning Toronto's Tony, the Dora Mavor Moore Award, for Mamma Mia! (the actress' third) and a National Broadway Theatre Award with the touring company, Pitre has released a CD entitled "All My Life Has Led to This," which features not only standards and the obligatory ABBA hit or two, but also French songs Pitre penned herself.
Playbill On-Line: You're a big star in Toronto, but new to the New York scene. What do you think of it so far?
Louise Pitre: I grew up in Montreal, so I've never lived in a small town, but this is the height of it all. Everything is bigger, brighter. The first time we rehearsed in the theatre, I got tears in my eyes.
PBOL: How does the new Winter Garden look?
LP: It's gorgeous! Everything's new — the plumbing, the back stage, the plum seats, the paintings, the gold leaf — oh, my God!
PBOL: Are the audiences different here than they have been for you in Toronto, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago? Do they react differently to Mamma Mia!
LP: I suppose. It's different levels of insanity. [Laughs] We've only done a few previews here, but there's a real charge in the air. People want to laugh and try to forget and have a good time. Especially now. In New York, it's also a different cast [from the tour and Toronto] and a lot of the choreography has changed. But when we sing the finale, I have never had an audience react that way. They're so frigging happy. I never thought I would be moved to tears singing "Dancing Queen," but I am.
PBOL: From the sound of it, Mamma Mia! is great fun to play night after night. Has anything amusing happened to you on this show? LP: Our first preview in New York, we're all waiting backstage for the show to start. During the overture [featuring clips from various ABBA tunes in the musical], the people are clapping and yelling as each song begins. They are going wild. We're thinking, this must be the best audience ever and we played the show. After the show, the conductor — he's practically sitting in the front row — tells us they were cheering an 80-year-old-lady who started to boogie in her seat when the overture started. She was dancing on the spot, giving a total pre-show. Here we are thinking they were cheering the songs, but it was this lady. I said we should get her to come every night! PBOL: Do you have a favorite ABBA song?
LP: In the show, I sing "Slipping Through My Fingers" and "The Winner Takes It All" back-to-back. Those are my two favorites. [Pitre included both on her solo CD]
PBOL: Is French your first language?
PBOL: You played Fantine in a French version of Les Miserables in both Montreal and Paris (recording the role for the Paris cast). Do you like performing in your native language better than in English?
LP: When it's your mother tongue, you can get a little more, get to a deeper place. A friend of mine who came to see me perform [in English] and who's also French, said to me, "Ah, but in French, you can get a little darker, a little angrier, a little sadder." I've been working in English so long I can do that pretty well. But your mother tongue can still get you a little more.
PBOL: You include two of your own songs, "Le Ciel Est Bleu" and "A Notre Tour," on your new CD. Would you ditch all the fame for a songwriting career?
LP: I don't know. I've been writing material that's very different from what I perform. It's pop with lots of heart. It would be nice to retire to a country town while other people are schlepping around doing your stuff. I would love to do a duet with Marc Anthony. I love Marc Anthony. He sings with his gut.
— By Christine Ehren