We really did have the time of our lives earlier this year when we were flown out to the Greek island of Corfu to get a glimpse inside the production of Mamma Mia! I Have A Dream. As the hit West End musical celebrates its 25th year, the talent search show is looking to cast the new Sophie and Sky.
The competition sees 14 contestants face workshops, challenges and masterclasses; about everything from storytelling to on-stage chemistry to movement. For these they’re joined by Mamma Mia! experts Anthony Van Laast (choreographer) and Martin Lowe (Musical Director; Vocal Coach and Conductor). Over the eight episodes they each perform live, sometimes in groups and others individually, in front of an all-star panel of judges as well as an invited audience of locals and holidaymakers.
It all leads up to the grand final set to take place live in a West End theatre, with more details to be revealed.
Filming largely took place at the picturesque Villa Donna, sitting up high in the green mountaintops at the north of the island. The expansive views at the villa were absolutely postcard-worthy. After a burst of unpredictably stormy weather, blue skies melted into slips of the calm sea and lush greenery went on for miles casting our eyes over to neighbouring Albania.
In a cobbled kitchen/dining area, dancers (who have previously worked on the stage show) gathered for briefing, whilst audience members settled at their tables with sweet white wine and olives. A feel-good pop playlist spilled over the performance space – which is actually a swimming pool covered up with a dolphin mural – and as nightfall came fairy-lights twinkled delicately wrapped around trellis and winding bougainvillea.
You can have an exclusive look around the villa here:
Whilst performances took place outside; complete with the iconic white doorway and a large grey stone arch that framed the stage beautifully, the inside of Villa Donna was also used for the production. The villa elegantly combines modern architecture with traditional Greek features, and upstairs made way for a diary-room set-up for contestants to speak to the camera. It had the Donna Sheridan touch – blue wash paint and wooden panels, decorated with gold dynamo boots, a feather boa and a sticker-covered guitar.
The Mamma Mia! makeover has been enjoyed by the real owners of the villa, who have asked for the blue window shutters to stay permanently!
The idyllic setting was made even more special when the host, radio DJ Zoe Ball, and all-star judging panel appeared ready for the show to begin.
Making up the judging panel are pop sensation Jessie Ware, TV personality and comedian Alan Carr, and West End stars Amber Riley and Samantha Barks. The latter knows a thing or two about talent search shows having made it to the final of the BBC’s I’d Do Anything search for a Nancy. “It’s a big honour to be on this side.” she smiled, adding “It’s very warm and generous and supportive television.”
The four enjoyed the Greek summer of adventure themselves, spending a month out on the island in total. Carr laughed in reflection: “I’d look to my left and see Zoe’s knickers drying on the sun lounger. I’d see Samantha with a yoga mat walking along doing star jumps. Every time I looked out the window I saw celebrities!”
Filming took place all across the island giving ample chance to explore. Though one particular highlight was mentioned as going to a karaoke bar where Riley gave a jaw-dropping rendition of Dreamgirls.
The show is executively produced by Mamma Mia! creator Judy Craymer who has helped to cast the show since its birth. “Who knew 25 years ago we’d be doing this? It’s a big celebration and a big honour and privilege.” she said.
To round off our trip we were excited to watch the live recording of an episode. This one featured the wannabe-Sophies adding a musical theatre twist to beloved pop hits, and we can confirm the competition is hot.
Ball spoke affectionately about all of the contestants saying: “They learnt from the best. They had so much to do in a day. In a day it’d be like just learn this choreography, sing this song… and they rose to the challenge, and they were just brilliant.”
It’s no mean feat performing with dancers, in an outside space, miles away from home, in front of the eyes of the nation, whilst being recorded for television, whilst having your dream role at stake. Though that only seemed to fire up these super trouper contestants. They were making memories that remain.
MAMMA MIA! I Have A Dream airs on ITV, ITVX and STV on 22 October at 6pm. Keep an eye out for more exclusive WhatsOnStage content across the series.