Sally Ann Triplett knows her way around musicals, having appeared over the last 25 years in shows ranging from Follies, Grease and Chess to the original UK and Broadway productions of Carrie and, most recently, as Donna Sheridan in Mamma Mia! Now, Triplett, 50, is playing a single mother of a different sort in the highly anticipated new jukebox musical Viva Forever!, scored to the hits of the Spice Girls. This latest production from Mamma Mia! mastermind Judy Craymer opens on December 11 at London's Piccadilly Theatre. Triplett spoke to Broadway.com early in previews about the show and performing for audiences wearing Spice Girls masks.
What’s it like creating a musical featuring the songs of the Spice Girls?
We’re finding that at times [the songs] feel as if they’ve been written for that little piece of the story where they appear. If you can leave your “Sondheim head” outside, just come in and have fun, as you do at Mamma Mia! Last night, we had the front row full of people in Spice Girls masks! That’s the thing: You can’t forget what the Spice Girls meant to a certain generation. You cannot deny it.
The story sounds somewhat like Mamma Mia!, with the focus again on a single mother and her daughter.
If you’re expecting something like Mamma Mia!, you will not be disappointed [laughs], though I don’t know whether [producer] Judy Craymer gave [book writer] Jennifer Saunders any ideas. My feeling is that there are so many parts in musicals for men, and here is Judy, a woman in a man’s world, who is creating musicals for women. There’s nothing wrong with that! I know I keep saying Mamma Mia!, but the fact is that Judy has had the show running around the world for 14 years, and the hit feature film, why would she want to veer away from that completely? This is very similar in its format.
Except, I gather, for the setting: Camden Town, north London, as opposed to a Greek island.
Everything in Mamma Mia! is blue and sunny, and Donna doesn’t wear shoes. But Lauren in Viva Forever! is very grounded in her own way: She lives on a houseboat in Camden Town with her adopted 19-year-old daughter, Viva, and has a stall in Camden Market and a bohemian existence. She’s similar to Donna, but a bit more feisty; she’s a bit of a drinker and smoker. I think she probably knew Amy Winehouse [laughs]! Donna’s a tiny bit more mumsy.
Is this show a difficult sing, the way Mamma Mia! can be for its leading lady?
Don't I know? I had exactly a week off between Mamma Mia! and starting rehearsals for this show. This is not a hard sing for me. Donna was incredibly hard, not only because it’s nine songs but because it’s very emotional: “Slipping Through My Fingers” is very emotional, and then “Winner Takes It All,” because I have two children myself.
Viva Forever! sounds less intense.
I’ve still got quite a bit to do, but I’m not at the front of the helm, which is kind of nice. I’ve got, I think, five songs, and none of them are solos, though I do start the Act One finale by myself.
Can a theatergoer appreciate the show without worshipping the Spice Girls, or even knowing much about them?
Yes, I really think you can. I mean, I wasn’t a spice girl: I thought they were quite lightweight, fluffy pop songs, though I knew “Wannabe” and “Spice Up Your Life” and a few others. But the words are great, they really are, and they fit the story. I think men can enjoy the show, as well— and not just gay men [laughs].
Was it hard leaving Mamma Mia!, given that your husband [actor Gary Milner] is still in it?
I was having a lovely time at Mamma Mia! I got to kiss Gary every night and I have such good friends in the show; it suited me. On the other hand, Donna would take me over and I would be so tired, whereas it’s quite nice on this show to have something that isn’t as demanding but is still full on: The second act, especially, gains in momentum. On any show, I’ve got my family to think about. Tonight I’ll be home at midnight or later and then it’s up at 7 AM to get Grace [the couple’s 11-year-old daughter] ready for school.
For many people, you’re still associated with the original production of Carrie, in which you played Sue Snell at Stratford-upon-Avon with Barbara Cook and in New York with Betty Buckley.
Barbara and I have kept in contact all these years! Every time she comes to London, she might ring me or I will go see her in concert and we will go to dinner; her voice has got better as she’s got older. But what’s amazing all these years later is that when people realize I was in Carrie they pin me against the wall and ask questions about it, though I’m able to shake it off. It’s been different for Linzi [Hateley, the original Carrie], having been the lead.
It’s amazing how many American musicals you have done in London, from Anything Goes and Follies to Grease, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas and Guys and Dolls.
I love those shows! That’s where my heart is. Anything Goes to me was like being in an MGM film, and that’s what I grew up with. As a child, my mother would say, “Sally Ann, come here and sit down and watch this,” and she’d make me watch Meet Me in St Louis and all those great films with her. The classic shows are the ones I think I do best—that old-time American songbook. In 10 years, I’d love to have a go at Gypsy.
Have you been tempted to return to Broadway?
Well, Gary and I and Max [Triplett’s older child, himself an actor-singer] and Gracie have almost got our green cards; we’ve had to put our hands up in the air and swear and all that! We did it for Max and Grace, really, to give them a bigger world and also just for us as people. Gary and I think that at some point we’d quite like to live somewhere else. So you never know.