Jennifer Vuletic plays three-times divorced Tanya in the Australian production of Mamma Mia! She spoke to Australian Stage's Simon Piening ahead of the 10th Anniversary Australian Tour of one of the world's most popular musicals.

Jennifer VuleticMost recently you performed in Barry Kosky’s The Women of Troy, and then in complete contrast, Jerry Springer – The Musical. You’ve also written and performed a number of cabaret shows and are about to release a new CD. Music and theatre is obviously important to you. How/when did you first get started?
I think I was always a performer as a child. I'd graduated with a Psychology degree at about age 20 and was finding it hard to find placement - and to be honest, I don't think that's where my heart lay (although my Psych studies have CERTAINLY come in handy in my work as an actor!). My focus was more on singing comps - I was classically trained - and on touring with an amateur theatre company, which I LOVED. My housemate at the time (a gorgeous Kiwi gal who's still a close friend) pointed out an ad in the paper for Old Time Music Hall auditions. I auditioned: a wonderful woman by the name of Coralie Condon (an early mentor as it turns out) said "You're too good for Music Hall - my friend (director) Terry Clarke is about to do Pal Joey. No promises - but I'll speak to him about giving you an audition." Briefly, I was cast in Pal Joey and that kicked off my professional career. I went from show to show, but felt I was missing something. My oldest friend in the world said "You should audition for NIDA." I did, and the rest is history!

You graduated from NIDA in 1984. What did you gain from your time as a student there?
NIDA was a wondrous, testing, extraordinary experience. Not only were we exposed to the wealth of experience of people like Keith Bain, Betty Williams, Nick Enright (our much-loved and sadly missed Head of Acting), Gale Edwards, Isabelle Anderson, George Ogilvie and others, but I was fortunate enough to be part of an intake that was not only talented but generous and compassionate - important in any rehearsal room/production. Apart from the the sheer honing of technique, flexibility and stamina that was NIDA's chief legacy, I grew to highly value those qualities of generosity and open-heartedness. The performance world can be brutal and a sense of connection and generosity are, to me, the essential ingredients for the journey of rehearsal and the life of the performance.

You joined the Australian production of Mamma Mia! in 2003 playing multiple divorcee Tanya, subsequently touring both nationally and internationally in the role.
Were you a fan of ABBA before you joined the cast? Did you ever get to meet ABBA and did they ever get to see the show?

You know, I was an ABBA-free zone until MAMMA MIA! Since joining the show, I have developed a deep appreciation of their genius. There's nothing like those songs for emotional velocity and unadulterated joy. And no, sadly, I never met them - the very first cast did, and we were teased with promises of visits for the 2 year duration of our tour, but none so far - maybe this time!!

Since the original London production opened in 1999, Mamma Mia! has been seen by over 40 million people around the world and grossed over $2 billion. The film version released last year has become the most successful movie musical of all time. Are you surprised at the success of the show? Why do you think it has been so popular?
Not at all - when you perform it every night and you see the effect it has on people - it's like one long glorious smile! Its popularity lies in its music, first and foremost, and in Catherine Johnson's deft and imaginative construction of this Shakespearean fable - the people are real and the themes are universal.

When you finished up with Mamma Mia! in 2005, you went directly into another smash hit musical, Menopause The Musical, which subsequently toured throughout Australia and New Zealand. Do you ever get tired of travelling? How do you retain your energy and enthusiasm for a role during such a long run?
I'm a gypsy! (must be the Croatian blood! we're intrepid travellers, you know!) I love travelling, never tire of it, in fact, I find perpetual motion life-giving. I'd be happy to tour shows my whole life - I get cabin-fever if I stop for too long. So, as regards retaining the energy/enthusiasm in a long run, firstly, that's my job! and when you're in a piece of this nature with a high-energy company such as this gang invariably is, it's easy.
{xtypo_quote_right}...when you perform [Mamma Mia!] every night and you see the effect it has on people - it's like one long glorious smile!{/xtypo_quote_right}
This 10 year Anniversary production of Mamma Mia! retains a number of the original cast, plus a few new faces in major roles. What do the new cast members bring to the company?
The new cast members are a divine bunch - super-talented, bursting with energy (sounds like an advertisement for vitamins, but it's true!) and absolutely lovely people. It's a joy to come to work each day.

When you return to a role after a number of years, do you have to ‘start again’ to discover the character, or is it a comfort knowing you’ve played the role before?
There's a certain degree of comfort in having played the role before - and with each rehearsal it comes flooding back - but there are always new challenges! and I relish the chance to reinvent a lot of things in a different way.

So what’s next for you?
Well, the tour, of course, for a year, and the ongoing promotion of our new CD. We had a "soft" launch August 30th & it was a blast - a packed house and huge CD sales! We have a new video (directed by Natasha Pincus - Lior, Paul Kelly, Sarah Blasko) due for release, so when we've got all the publicity ducks in a row, that'll be launching. I'd love to do something with Kosky again - Women of Troy was such a sublime experience - and he's promised a comedy next time, so we'll see what happens! There's also a top secret (ssshhh) TV writing project conducted with a close colleague, but that's a little way off yet - we're both too busy touring - so stay tuned!

Mamma Mia! the 10th Anniversary Australian Tour opens at the Lyric Theatre, Star City on October 23 for a limited season only. Further details»

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