Interview with “Mama Mia!” actress Jalynn Steele



If I wasn’t the age I am, I wouldn’t believe that the group ABBA has been around for over five decades.  Their music was a big part of the soundtrack of my youth.  April 1999 saw the creation of “Mama Mia!,” a show that incorporated the group’s music.  Like the band itself, the show became a global phenomenon, currently touring the country in a 25th Anniversary production, opening tonight in Kansas City.


I had the opportunity to speak with actress Jaclynn Steele, who plays Tanya in the show, during a break in her busy schedule.


MICHAEL SMITH:  Good morning.  What city am I catching you in?


JALYNN STEELE:  Good morning.  We’re in Indianapolis through Sunday.  Thankfully the sunshine has followed us. 


MS:  How did you come to be cast as Tanya in the show?


JS:  It’s kind of a full circle moment for me now.  Down the street from where we are is a place called Beef and Boards Dinner Theater.  Several years ago, I want to say 2017, they did a production of “Mama Mia!” and I played Tanya.  Then last year they started holding auditions for the 25th Anniversary Tour.  I auditioned but I didn’t expect anything to come of it.  I went through all of the levels of the audition – singing, dancing – and they liked me! (laughs).  Two months later, here we are.  (NOTE:  For our Indianapolis readers, “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” will be playing at Beef and Boards through the end of March).


MS:  Were you an ABBA fan?


JS:  I actually was.  Riding with my dad on car trips, we would listen to “Mama Mia,” “Dancing Queen” and, my favorite as a child, “Fernando.”  It was such a fun song.  My dad used to play it for me all the time. 


MS:  What made you want to pursue acting?


JS:  That started when I was a child.  I loved singing.  I grew up in my dad’s church, singing in the choir.  I loved singing at school.  It wasn’t until high school that I started getting involved with theater.  Doing things after school and really getting serious about it.  When it came time to plan my college career I had no idea what I wanted to do…what I wanted to be at that age. Then, my dad said to me, “If someone came and woke you up at three in the morning what would you have no problem doing?”  And I thought, “well, I can entertain.”  So that was the decision maker.  I ended up going to Sam Houston State University, and auditioned for the musical theater program there, majoring in that with a dance emphasis because my dancing wasn’t so great.  (laughs)  I figured if I emphasized it, it would get a little better.  I did that and then I was a part of the show “Fosse.”  I auditioned for the show “Fosse” in New York and was able to get that.  When I finished the tour I went back to school because my folks spent a lot of money (laughs).  I finished my degree and moved to New York. 


MS:  OK, I have to interrupt here.  I think you’re being modest.  You just said, I couldn’t dance but I got cast in “Fosse.”  That’s like me saying, “I really can’t sing but I’m playing Jean Valjean in “Les Miz.”


JS:  (laughing)  The years of training in school actually helped out.  I really didn’t get official dance training until later in life.  And then when I did, like I said, I emphasized it, because I really wanted to get that.


(L to R) Jalynn Steele (Tanya), Carly Sakolove (Rosie), and Christine Sherrill (Donna Sheridan)
Photo by Joan Marcus


MS:  Is there a role out there you’d like to play someday?


JS:  I don’t really have one.  I don’t have a favorite where I’m thinking, “oh, I’ve gotta play that.”  Whatever role I have, I’m going to do the very best I can to make that role my own and to create that character.  Whatever that character may be…even if it’s “3rd tree on the left.”  (laughs)  You never know what wonderful cast members you might meet and how you might influence each other’s lives.  It’s all in the moment and being a part of the cast.  And the cast I’m a part of now is spectacular.  It’s a really diverse company and everyone is wonderful.  We get along very well.  Which is very rare.  (laughs)  My fellow Dynamos – Christine Sherrill and Carly Sakolove – we really share a special bond.  It’s a lot of fun and it’s a wonderful cast.


MS:  Do you find the audience singing along a lot?


JS:  Oh yes.  That’s one of the reason why we have the Mega-mix at the end.  So that everybody can have fun.


MS:  Do you have anything lined up after this show?


JS:  Right now I’m concentrating on the tour.  We’re spreading that ABBA love. 


“Mama Mia!” continues at the Music Hall in Kansas City through Sunday, March 10.  For tickets to this stop in the tour, or future ones, please click HERE.  

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