'Mamma Mia!' takes a chance on her

Thousands have moved to New York City with the proverbial stars in their eyes, only to spend a lifetime seeking a lead role in a Broadway-pedigree show.

For Kaye Tuckerman, it took seven weeks.

The affable Australian actress who stars as Donna Sheridan in the touring production of "Mamma Mia!" — the musical based on the songs of ABBA — never planned on a career in theater. In fact, the self-described surfer girl once scoffed at musicals. But serendipity has woven its way through her life, time and again.

"My dad bought tickets for 'Annie' once when I was about 10, and my brother and I were horrified," Tuckerman recalled. "We were like, 'We don't want to go to that thing!' Needless to say, we went finally, after having several secret meetings to figure out how to get out of it. But I saw it and ended up wanting to be in musicals."

Tuckerman grew up swimming and surfing in an athletic family. Her father had connections in the Australian amateur theater circuit and the art scene. One had a connection with RCA Records, so when Tuckerman came home from school, she often would find ABBA records and tapes on her pillowcase or her dressing table.

She became a huge fan at a very, very young age.

"I used to do little ABBA puppet shows in school, even," she said, describing her wobbly creations. "Yes, that was a long, long time ago, but I've always been a great, great fan of their music. Australia was where they first really made it big."

She eventually got involved in shows like "Pippin," "Grease," "Jesus Christ Superstar," "Godspell" and "Oliver!"

"It's really weird in a sporty family to have kids who are drawing and singing. Your parents almost say, 'What did we do wrong?'" Tuckerman said. "But I continued to perfect my work, and the more work I received."

Her first roadblock came when she decided to work in New York: the common issue of how to get a visa.

But providence struck again, when Tuckerman met a lawyer who suggested she get a green card. In a light bulb moment, Tuckerman applied, and it was approved a year later.

She moved to New York early last year, and went with countless others to a general audition for the touring production of "Mamma Mia!" To her shock, after many callbacks, she was offered the lead role.

"It just blew my mind," Tuckerman said. "At this time last year, I kind of was having a mini meltdown that everything happened so quickly. Why, of all the people in the world, would I have this opportunity?

"I just felt incredibly humbled that I was selected to play this role and join the 'Mamma Mia!' company. Even my agent said it's unheard of that I would get this job in seven weeks."

Indeed, she was told a best-case scenario would be one to two years.

The new opportunity didn't even present much domestic drama, Tuckerman said, as her new roommate luckily had another friend he could move in with on short notice.

"It just worked perfectly," she said. "There's been a lot of divine intervention. But it was just so weird to be going to auditions and then all of a sudden be going to rehearsals for a really fantastic tour."

Even more surprising, the job offers didn't stop when Tuckerman received hers from "Mamma Mia!"

"I would sit in my apartment and burst into tears because I was so overwhelmed with everything," she said. "There are one, maybe two shows a year that come, and if you don't get [a role], you don't work for a year. I just had no concept that there would be five casting agents offering jobs. I couldn't believe that I had to turn down things. Everything's been a roller coaster, and there were moments where I was like, 'I'm a bad person.'"

But she never regretted her decision to join the "Mamma Mia!" cast as Donna Sheridan, the single mother who owns a hotel in Greece.

While planning her daughter's wedding, Donna invites her three best friends from her own band to the nuptials — as well as the three men who might be her daughter's father. Love and hilarity then bloom, all set to the spirited music of ABBA.

"This show has been bringing people joy for 10 years," Tuckerman said.

It's said that on any given day, "Mamma Mia!" is being performed in seven countries.

"We met one fan who has seen the show 50 times, and she's not even based in New York," Tuckerman said. "This show just touches people so deeply. You meet quite fascinating people who see it for all sorts of different reasons."

Tuckerman said that in her character research, she has become a fan of many past and current Donnas.

"I had seen the film because a friend of mine had gone to see it and said it was very enjoyable," Tuckerman said. "I had seen the show in Australia a couple of times. When I saw [actress] Ann Wood, who is now a friend, she was this juggernaut on stage. This absolute tour-de-force.

"I said, 'My God, who is that?' I was absolutely blown away by her fierceness. I had never seen such raw, unbridled attack for a role. This role was absolutely fascinating. Of course I watched Meryl [Streep]. She's one of the best actresses in the world."

Like other Donnas before her, she found a connection to the character's deep sense of individuality.

"What I loved about the role is that Donna is the emotional through line of the story. She went with her own groove, and her own belief. She went with her own mistakes; she made her own time.

"In some ways, she delayed dealing with the consequences. Lady Gaga said the other day that she was never accepted. In the end she went, 'I know what I am and who I am, and I can only empower myself and everybody else by embracing that. If you like it, that's fantastic. If not, that's OK.'

"You can't live your life for everybody else, and you can't try being somebody else to please somebody else. I mean, look at me. I'm supposed to be a little surfer girl. Don't make excuses for who you are, as long as you take responsibility for who you are."

If You Go

What: "Mamma Mia"

When: Through Sunday

Where: Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa

Cost: $23.75 and up

Information: (714) 556-2787 or scfta.org

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World