The Broadway musical national tour of Mamma Mia! closed strong today at ASU Gammage in Tempe with young actress Chelsea Williams at its center. Williams plays a fatherless Sophie Sheridan in the popular show that revolves around '70s music hits of the rock group ABBA. In an interview before the show, she talked about how her life and her character's life merge onstage every night.
"My dad played ABBA all the time around the house when I was growing up," said Williams about how she first came to the music she sings nightly. "What keeps it really fresh is that the lyrics still have something to say about today's relationships."
Williams said she easily identifies with Sophie in many aspects of her own relationships. "She's a very spirited young lady. We're also both willing to work really hard."
"But we're really different about relationships in one big way. There's so many moments when Sophie has an opportunity to have a confrontation, but doesn't. In real life, I want to sit down with people and nip a problem in the bud."
Sophie's relationships in Mamma Mia! stem from her being raised on a Greek island by her single mom, Donna, played by Georgia Kate Haege. "Donna and Sophie seem like complete opposites," said Williams. "The bigger struggles in Sophie's life revolve around her defiant, independent mom and her absent father."
For all Sophie's determination to discover who her dad is and have him walk her down the aisle, she ends up being more comfortable (like her mom) with self reliance and self discovery. "She learns there's no one path to define happiness," Williams explained. "She comes to understand that more than anything, she's grateful her mother has been there to fill the void. ...In the end, she knows that if you're strong and independent, you can find your dreams within yourself."
"I really find a strong message in the show; it's a girl power show."
The girl power message is strong, but never heavy in Mamma Mia! A whole lot of frivolity and laughter happens. And for all the support that individualism gets, the story thrives on the playful, loving relationship Sophie has with her fiancé Sky, played by Chris Stevens. Their connection is particularly fun to watch during their 'Lay All Your Love on Me' number.
"Lots of trust and no judgment" is what Williams credits for the obvious onstage chemistry between her and Stevens in the show. "From the first day we met there was an openness. We felt comfortable answering and asking each other lots of questions," she reminisced.
Williams' strongest singing and acting moments in the show develop when she is meeting and interacting with each of the three men who she believes might be her dad. With an exposed vulnerability she sings 'Thank You for the Music,' and her resonant chest voice adds deeper truth to her words. Her sweet, open-hearted desperation in 'What's the Name of the Game' provides another raw and touching moment.
Before she had a starring role in a nationally touring Broadway show, Williams knew, and worked to practice, the type of authenticity the audience felt from her in those numbers. What Sophie learns by the end of the show is very much akin to the important belief Williams said she holds.
The take home message? "We need to learn to ask people for help. We avoid so much drama and heartache if we're just simply honest."