Thursday, 12 November 2015

Big Interview: Mazz Murray

West End icon Mazz Murray recently took over as Tanya in Mamma Mia! at the Novello Theatre. 

Mamma Mia!, which premiered in the West End in 1999, has been seen by over 60 million people in 49 productions in 16 different languages grossing more than $2 billion at the box office.

In 2002 Mazz was cast in the ensemble of We Will Rock You, joining the company just days before the first preview. Two years into the run Mazz took over as Killer Queen and continued to play the role for seven glorious years. 

Her extensive theatre credits also include: Maureen in RENT (UK tour), Lambchops in Fame (1st UK tour), Smokey Joe’s Cafe (UK tour), Debs in Boogie Nights (UK & US tours), Patsy Cline in The Roy Orbison Story (UK tour), Grandma Bertha in Pippin (Bridewell), Fame (Victoria Palace) and Dusty Springfield in A Girl Called Dusty (Duke of York’s).

Mazz makes up one third of vocal group WOMAN. Last year she toured Russia and Scandinavia with Il Divo as the guest star on their ‘A Musical Affair’ world tour. Mazz is the daughter of legendary songwriter Mitch Murray and singer/actress/West End star Grazina Frame. 

I recently popped backstage at the Novello Theatre between shows to speak to Mazz about joining Mamma Mia!, the similarities between her and Tanya and what she gets up to behind the scenes. We also discussed her legendary run in We Will Rock You, her concert plans, the time she hitched a lift in Gibraltar and much, much more…

I read that Kim Ismay recommended you for Tanya when she decided to leave the show earlier this year. Before that conversation with Kim, had you ever thought ‘Tanya is a role I would love to play’?
I originally auditioned for Donna about four years ago! Well… I actually auditioned for Sophie when I was twenty-three! 

Mazz in Mamma Mia!
No way!
I was doing Smokey Joe's Café and Mamma Mia! was just beginning so everybody was getting music for [sings] “What’s the name of the game”. It’s really quite hard to sing… and obviously I sounded bass-baritonal and forty-five years old when I was twenty-four. That’s why I was doing Smokey Joe's Café singing ‘Pearl's A Singer’ [laughs]. So me auditioning for Sophie was totally ridiculous, and then the next time I auditioned was for Donna which was about four years ago. I think Sally Ann (Triplett) ended up staying that year and then Di (Dianne Pilkington) took over the year afterwards. I was having lunch with Kim and she asked, “Do you have any desire to play Tanya because I’m leaving and I think you’re a Tanya” and that was it. I said, “Oh I haven’t really thought about playing Tanya!”

I think we need to give Tanya an extra big, belty rock number!
Everyone says that! It’s quite nice though not to have that enormous pressure, especially on a week like this when we’re doing nine shows because it’s half term. I would literally have to be that person who refuses to speak, but sometimes you just want to be able to relax and have fun… and I’ve still got a one year old baby at home so I’m always up early. You have really got to look after yourself when you’ve got a highly vocally demanding show.

How have you found getting back into the routine of being in a West End show and doing eight performances a week?
I didn’t have to do an eight show week at We Will Rock You [laughs]! It’s lovely, it’s like riding a bike. It’s really hard to suddenly find yourself back at school – because that’s what it’s like. Even though I’m a grown up and have got my own family, I still get told “stop running… don’t have that in corridor”. I’m just like, ‘Oh my god I’m actually getting told off’! You forget how institutionalised and corporately theatre has to be run because otherwise it would just be mayhem. I quite like it, I like not having to be in charge. 

How did you find the rehearsal process? What are the creative team here like to work with?
They have a formula that works with this show, and they are absolutely right. They know what ingredients are needed and how to deliver a good show. Obviously they want you to bring your own personality to it. It’s interesting because to a certain extent they hire people who have the right personalities to begin with. For example, Di Pilkington actually is a worrier… and I really don’t like travelling economy… so we’re halfway there [laughs]. I didn’t say I don’t travel economy, I would just rather not [laughs]. 

Mazz in Mamma Mia! with Dianne Pilkington & Jo Napthine as Donna & Rosie

What’s the atmosphere like backstage amongst the cast?
Ok here’s the truth… the honest truth is all the ensemble are exactly half my age. Gabriella (Williams, who plays Sophie) is twenty and she will tell you I am the most immature cast member, along with Jo Napthine (who plays Rosie) and Di. Out of everyone we are the idiots!

So it’s them keeping you in check?
Yes because they’re all looking after themselves and on the pull… whereas we are just idiots! We just run around and have fun! We play the dares… whatever is going on it’s always us. If there is ever someone laughing it’s probably something to do with us.

What are Jo and Di like to work with? The Tanya, Donna and Rosie chemistry is so important!
Exactly, and they are both fabulous. Di is highly professional and a really good girl. I am…

Mazz with Dan Partridge as Pepper
You’re already laughing and I haven’t even said anything! I’m also highly professional and a really good girl, but I have to have fun. I absolutely always have to have fun because life is too short! I don’t take things massively seriously.

I just walked passed the matinee audience leaving the theatre, people were whistling, smiling, singing ‘Waterloo’ – everyone always has such a fun time watching Mamma Mia!. What is its secret?
It’s a guilty pleasure. I think it was the same thing with We Will Rock You. It’s like a comfort; when you’re down you realise ‘The Winner Takes It All’ is a very, very touching song. It doesn’t matter what age you are or what era you are from because they are timeless songs. I think people can sit through shows like this again and again and again because they love these songs… plus everyone’s really good looking. I don’t mean us, I mean the kids [laughs]. 

And in these winter months is gives us a slice of summer!
Exactly, it’s wonderful! Rules don’t apply when you’re away on holiday. I remember going away and hitching – why would you do that?! I was in Gibraltar and you think you’re safe to just hitch a lift! You think ‘Oh it’s fine, bad things don’t happen when you’re on holiday’. What an idiot! I wouldn’t do that now! But anyway… back to Mamma Mia!... people just love coming back because the music is timeless. 

You can’t go wrong with Mamma Mia!. 
No you can’t. I can only be in shows that my husband will sit through.

Did he love We Will Rock You?
Oh yes – that was lucky [laughs]. Most men do like We Will Rock You though, it’s the show that all the dads are prepared to see.

“I was in We Will Rock You for so long that I literally became the janitor of the Dominion Theatre!”

So talking of We Will Rock You… the show is now legendary, but do you remember what you all thought of it right at the beginning? Did you think it would be a success?
I don’t know – I didn’t understand the show at all because I came in three days before the first preview. I literally wasn’t with everyone else, and they had all been through this massive process of workshopping the show and rehearsing it for weeks and weeks and weeks. They had seen run-throughs and had got the story… whereas I hadn’t seen anything and was taken into another room, given a cane and taught ‘Play The Game’. With the greatest of respect, in-context We Will Rock You is quite difficult to understand [laughs] so out-of-context I had absolutely no idea what was going on! I didn’t have time to understand it – I never saw the show! I just knew the bits I was in. That’s always the way with me, I only ever know my lines – I don’t know anybody else’s… I just speak when there’s a pause [laughs], I had fabulous training! 

And then when it opened the response was mixed…
We were told it was closing! A week after press night everyone was brought to the Smirnoff Bar which was the death card. Every time you were called there somebody had been fired – three times we were called to the Smirnoff Bar for a meeting, we looked around and somebody was missing! So when you were called to the Smirnoff Bar is was not good! We all went up there and they said, “We’re closing, we’re coming off in two weeks”. But then Brian (May) was asked to perform the national anthem on the roof at the Queen’s Jubilee and he said that he would only do it if the cast of We Will Rock You could do a spot because they’ve all taken on mortgages and now the show is closing. Until then our bookings were only coming from the critics, so this was the first time that we’d had any sort of public exposure. From that day on… BANG! Paul Roberts, one of the producers, had put his house up to make that show work – it was bad times and then all of a sudden… the rest is history. 

Mazz with Hannah Jane Fox
& Brian May
What is it like to look back at your time playing Killer Queen?
I was in We Will Rock You for so long that I literally became the janitor of the Dominion Theatre [laughs]! It’s a long time to be in a show, but I never was tired of it and it never became hard work. I never dreaded it! My only ever stress was ‘Am I going to be able to do it today?’ if I wasn’t feeling well or if I was sad or breaking up with somebody. During that amount of time in your life – a decade – you go through massive changes. I went through so much in one building with one set of people who had become close to me. All of them – the backstage crew, the theatre staff.

It felt very weird seeing the show after you left!
It was weird, I only left because I got pregnant. I knew it would only be something like that which could take me away from it because, forgetting the actual role, backstage and onstage it was just the most fabulous place to work.

What was it like to sit in the audience on closing night?
Well I’d had my second baby about six weeks before. I was so hormonal and devastated and breastfeeding and – god forgive me – when you’re breastfeeding, which is something you will never experience Andrew, if you’re emotional things happen to your body… and when there’s not a baby there you are in trouble. My husband kept nudging me and said “stop crying, stop crying because you know what’s going to happen” [laughs]. It was a very emotional night and really moving, but really fabulous. It was wonderful to watch it because I had hardly ever seen it!

I have a stagey question for you! I’m sending you to a desert island and you can take three musical theatre songs with you. What are you going to take and why?
Right… musical theatre songs… I will take… oh gosh! I will take ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’ because of We Will Rock You. It’s has the most poignant sentiment for anybody who has endured the tragedy that I had with my friend. It is a really powerful message – it wasn’t even a song that I sang so I think you will find that makes me even less stagey [laughs]. 

Mazz as Killer Queen

I think I would take ‘Look What Happened to Mabel’ from Mack and Mabel because that is one of my most favourite scores in the world. I auditioned singing that song from the age of like sixteen when I left Sylvia Young… it never got me a job so I dumped it in the end. It’s also a little bit of my story because I never got through to any bloody recalls. I had nothing – it was never my turn. And then suddenly I found my niche! So I love that song!

Finally I would take something from 42nd Street because my mum was in it at Drury Lane and I grew up listening to it. I’ll probably go for ‘About a Quarter to Nine’. 

You have a nice three there – those are all good reasons!
Do you think they’re ok? I’ve got a role I always wanted to do, I’ve got a role I watched my mum do where I learnt my craft and a song I could just listen to forever – I’m done! I could pick eleven [laughs]. 

Mazz at the Strand’s Christmas
lights switch on
Would you ever consider doing ‘An Evening With… Mazz Murray’ or some sort of solo concert?
Weirdly, I’m just starting to come round to the idea of organising something. It won’t just be about me though, it will be with someone else or other people. I don’t know who would want to go, but yes I would like to do it! I will be doing something… I can do it whilst I’m in Mamma Mia!. We Will Rock You was just so consuming and when I wasn’t doing the show I just wanted to go home, but this role is not as high pressure for me.

What’s it like to have so much support behind you from passionate, dedicated theatregoers? 
They are the most phenomenal support network and are also really good at guiding you on what you need to do. They tell you what they want to hear and tell you what they want you to do – “can’t you be in this show” and “can’t you do that”. Sometimes what you want to do is not actually what is good for other people to watch or listen to. The same thing applies to songs – just because you enjoy singing it, it doesn’t mean people want to listen to it. I find the support and the chats at stage door really helpful! They are all fabulous, aren’t they?! I mean a couple are really peculiar [laughs], but most are so sweet and have become like really good friends! They are lovely and I understand the passion for theatre. I love it and I was the same – I was that kid, I would beg my mum to take me with her to work. 

Final question – if the opportunity ever arose, would you consider playing Donna?
[pause] I don’t think I could sing it, it’s really hard to sing you know! To be honest there’s not a lot between all three roles. So really I think all the women who play one of those three roles could also play the other two.

There are quite a few Tanyas who have gone on to play Donna.
Exactly, so I don’t think it’s out of the question in terms of ‘can you do it’, but it’s quite difficult with the singing. Not all voices suit those songs. I don’t know if it’s something anybody else would consider. At the moment I’m quite enjoying just coming on in sun glasses to be honest with you! I think I would find it quite hard if I was suddenly given a pair of dungarees [laughs]! 

Thank you so much Mazz!
No, thank you so much! 

Interviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Mamma Mia! is currently booking at the Novello Theatre until 22nd October 2016.
Please visit for further information and tickets

Read our interviews with Gabriella Williams & Dianne Pilkington

Photo Credit 2-4: Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

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