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Young Mamma Mia leads geared to give star performance

Young Mamma Mia leads geared to give star performance

Hamilton-locals Gwen Lyon (20) and Conor Gyde (19) are, by their very nature, geared to give a star performance at the opening of hit Broadway musical Mamma Mia in Hamilton later this month.

Gwen and Conor have been cast as young leads, Sophie and Sky, in the Hamilton Operatic Society's rendition of Mamma Mia, set to play at Founders Theatre from Friday 19 June to Saturday 4 July.

And if there's one thing the dynamic-duo have in common, it's their innate desire to perform: not only on-stage, but in all areas of life.

For the first time in Hamilton Operatic Society's history, both young show-leads are current University of Waikato Sir Edmund Hillary Scholars for theatre.

"I was awarded it this year for music, dance and theatre. Conor was originally awarded it for athletics, but also, ironically, holds his for theatre too."

"It's cool that we both have this scholarship as a foundation for our lead-roles in Mamma Mia. We share a desire to balance academic skills, leadership, and personal interests," she said.

The Scholarship Programme awards academic high achievers who show leadership qualities and also excel in sport or in the creative and performing arts.

Yet despite the scholarship commonality, the pair have walked very different paths to community-theatre stardom.

"I have been dancing since I was about three years old. I started singing when I was 10, and then acting was added into the mix just shortly after," Gwen said.

"This is my fourth musical with Hamilton Operatic Society, with my most recent being the Phantom of the Opera last year. However I'm super excited because Mamma Mia will be my first principal role with the Society," she said.

Conor's interest in theatre began much later in life.

"My love for theatre sprang from Shakespeare in Year 10, and it picked-up in Year 11 when I went to Sheila Winn and ended up getting into the national secondary schools Shakespeare production.

"I've grown to enjoy music, drama and dance more-and-more since then. Though Mamma Mia will be one of my very first musicals outside of high school.

Conor describes the audition process as starkly different to his previously-attended small-scale productions.

"I turned up to the Mamma Mia dance workshop where we were to learn choreography for the audition. There were about 20 guys and 120 girls there. My initial thought was "I'm in way over my head", but wanted to dive in deep and audition for Sky.

"I was so honoured to receive a call-back. They literally 'Took a Chance on Me", excuse the pun, and it's one of the most amazing things I've done," he said.

Gwen and Conor both say their diverse personalities have worked in their favour while rehearsing for the upcoming show.

"Gwen is super organised, so she has helped me big-time in that area. Basically, where I lack she helps me out, but I do the same for her. She can get stressed, so I help her keep a level-head. It's a bit of a trade-off really," Conor said.

Hamilton Operatic Society chairperson Rachel Balme said it's a great milestone for the Society to feature two Sir Edmund Hillary Scholars in an upcoming performance.

"Gwen and Conor are the epitome of 'all-rounders'. Their ability to perform so highly both on-stage and off is no mean feat, and we're very proud to have them as part of the Mamma Mia cast," she said.

The two have continued to meet up outside of rehearsals to ensure they play their roles to their "best possible ability".

"I needed lots of practise with dance; something Gwen has been doing since primary school. She would help me with that and I'd help her by going through our lines. Seeing it all come together is such an exciting journey," Conor said.

Two weeks out from the show Gwen, Conor and many other cast members are rehearsing about three hours every day and five hours on a Sunday. Hours only increases as opening night draws closer.

Gwen describes the Mamma Mia as the story of character Sophie's journey to find her father.

"Sophie is getting married to her fiancé Sky and her idea of a perfect wedding includes her dad walking her down the aisle, only she doesn't know who her father is.

"She finds her mum's diary and discovers her mother was sleeping with three men at the time of Sophie's conception. So she invites all three men to the Greek island she lives on, assuming she will know her dad once she sees him," she said.

Both Gwen and Conor say that working with the other cast, especially adult leads Ali Harper and Russell Dixon, has been a key highlight.

"Ellie and Russell are so experienced. They, and the rest of the cast are fun and simply make the story come alive. We can't wait to thoroughly entertain the Waikato with this show," Gwen said.

This is the first time the hit musical has ever been presented in the Waikato by a community theatre group. Tickets are on sale now through Ticketek.