Welcome to this exclusive interview with Gunilla Backman. I decided to ask Sweden’s first lady of musical theatre about Mamma Mia! of course but also her career before that, as well as the Rhapsody In Rock tour, her new album and life beyond Mamma Mia!.
Here is what she had to say:
“Hej Ice! Well, I guess that firstly I should tell you about the opening of Mamma Mia! Stockholm, February 12th, 2005…
Fans were standing outside to get a glimpse of the ABBA members
It was an amazing day and evening, knowing that all four ABBA members were going to come and watch the show.
Fortunately we had already done ten previews so we were secure with what we were doing. I got to the theatre during the afternoon and there were people outside already, fans standing to get a glimpse of the ABBA members as they arrived. It was an unreal feeling actually, to be there.
Wow, I just sang that song in front of Agnetha!
The opening night went fantastically well, and it was an incredible feeling to know that ABBA were sitting there in the audience and watching the show. I did get to meet all of them on the night but not all at the same time. Benny and Björn were so involved with the rehearsals and it felt so supportive knowing that they were there. It was simply an amazing night. I remember coming off stage after singing The Winner Takes It All and really thinking “Wow – I just sang that song in front of Agnetha!” It was very special.
It would have been fantastic if all four had come up on stage
Frida and Agnetha sent us flowers and candy afterwards thanking us for a fantastic show. I’ve subsequently met Frida on another occasion. Of course, it would have been fantastic if all four had come up on stage at the end of the show, Björn and Benny did but not the girls – but you have to respect them for not wanting to do that. – Benny asked whether I would like a nice new job I’ve always auditioned for the roles that I’ve got and I like that. This was the case in Stockholm. Then you know that the person who gets the part is the right one at the right time.
I did three different auditions for Mamma Mia! in Stockholm before being told that I had got the part. Getting the part was fantastic, of course. On the day I found out, I got a call from Benny Andersson and he asked
me whether I would like a nice new job and I said “Of course I do!” It was a great experience to have him ring me up to tell me I’d got the part.
I have to say, the part of Donna is a fantastic part to play, a great female role and then also there’s that music! I grew up with ABBA’s music and to sing those songs every night is just amazing. It was great to win an award for the best female lead in a musical but just to be performing those songs every night and in such a successful show is a prize in itself.
I’ve done 2 different parts in 3 different languages
In my career before Mamma Mia!, I had worked for over 23 years in the business. It has mainly been work in musical theatre both in Sweden and abroad. I spent 2 years in Germany doing Sunset Boulevard as Betty
Schaefer and then Fantine in Les Misérables. I worked in London for 5 years, playing Ellen in Miss Saigon and Fantine in Les Miz. Before that I did Les Miz in Stockholm but that time playing Cosette. So I’ve done 2 different
parts in 3 different languages in that show!
Also I’ve played many parts in Sweden beforehand as well, for example Maria in West Side Story. Later on I did CHESS in Denmark, playing Svetlana – so I’ve worked for many, many years in this business.
I don’t think anyone noticed I was down on the floor!
The Rhapsody In Rock concerts last summer with Robert Wells and the gang were great fun. It was an amazing tour because so many people came to see us! In Stockholm, 28,000 people turned up and that was just unreal. Everybody stayed until the end, even if it rained! It was great that a DVD was made of the tour although not everything we did was on the DVD, it was cut down a bit, which was a shame. There were many funny moments throughout the tour. One time, I actually fell during one of my dance numbers The Music and The Mirror because it was so wet and rainy. I slipped as I was taking a step but got up again so quickly that I don’t think anyone noticed that I was down on the floor!
I do The Winner Takes It All with a different arrangement by Anders Neglin
I have a new album coming out soon. It is called Nära mig (Close to me) and will be released in Sweden on October 18th. It’ll be all in Swedish, although there are some English and American songs as well as some Jacques Brel – a Swedish version of Quand On N’a Que l’Amour for instance. There are some musical theatre songs, such as Sondheim’s Being Alive but it is not a musical theatre album. There is an old jazz song Angel Eyes, Bara
du in Swedish, and some newly written tracks. It features all kinds of songs. It is produced by Anders Neglin who also arranged the songs with a small live orchestra. I’m sure you know that Anders produced My Colouring Book with Agnetha Fältskog. I also do The Winner Takes It All with a different arrangement by Anders Neglin. [At this point Gunilla breaks into song “Vinnaren tar allt…..” Wonderful!]
I’m so proud of this album
There will be 13 songs in all and the full tracklist will be available soon at my website www.gunillabackman.com. We recorded the album here in Stockholm at Kingside Studios with fantastic musicians. I’m so proud of this album. For me, it’s a dream come true. After Mamma Mia! I initially want a little break and some time to relax (laughs) because it is hard work to do the show every night. But I am planning to do some concerts with songs from my album in the spring. And then, more albums! Finally, thank you Ice! This is Gunilla Backman in Stockholm wishing you lots of luck with everything! Bye bye…”
My thanks go to Christer and Gunilla for arranging this interview.
© 2006 – Gunilla Backman and icethesite.com