AJ Bentley talks about MAMMA MIA THE PARTY and the infectious music of ABBA

AJ Bentley plays Adam in Mamma Mia The Party. AJ won Gary Barlow’s BBC’s talent search Let It Shine, with his band Five to Five. From this, he embarked on an 18-month UK tour in The Band Musical, including an eight-week run in London’s West End. We caught up for him for a natter about the show over a cuppa.

AJ, you’re known for BBC’s talent search Let It Shine and Tim Firth and Gary Barlow’s The Band Musical. How did you get involved with Mamma Mia! The Party?
Funnily enough this story starts exactly the same way as ‘Let It Shine’… my Mum sends me an advertisement for the show, and I go to audition. For ‘Mamma Mia The Party’ they were looking for someone to play the character of ‘Adam’ which I thought I’d be great for. So I went to an audition in front of producers Björn Ulvaeus and Ingrid Sutej, directors Stacey Haynes and Roine Söderlundh, and casting director David Grindrod. I got an offer later that week!

Were you a fan of the original Mamma Mia! musical and film starring Meryl Streep before starting work on Mamma Mia! The Party?
I was indeed! I’d been to see both of the movies in the cinema and loved the ABBA music (and of course love Meryl). I actually think I prefer the second film if I had to choose. The West End show I went to see last year for the first time!

Mamma Mia! The Party is set in a taverna on the island of Skopelos and has an entirely new plot. Can you tell us a bit about your character and what the shows about?
I play Adam, who is a cheeky barman with a free spirit and not the best reputation. Adam is Kate’s nephew and has fallen in love with the owner’s daughter Konstantina!

‘Mamma Mia! The Party’ is an immersive theatrical dining experience. It’s an action packed evening in ‘Nikos Taverna’ – run by Nikos and his wife Kate.

Nikos’ daughter Konstantina and Kate’s nephew Adam, (who both work in the restaurant) have fallen for each other – much to the dismay of Nikos and Grandma who think Adam is just trouble. During your evening you will enjoy a three course Greek meal, a three act show, written by Sandi Toksvig, featuring the music of ABBA, and an ABBA disco at the end.

As the evening goes on, tensions rise and the story evolves whilst everyone frantically attempts to keep the restaurant running smoothly for the guests. The show happens around you… You’re not just coming to see this show, you are IN this show, and that’s what adds to the magic!

The songs in Mamma Mia! are infectious. Are you an ABBA Fan? What’s your favourite song to perform in Mamma Mia! The Party?
They’re very infectious. To the point where I’ve been singing them all day, and I seem to come home and am still singing them in the evening.

I feel like I’ve always loved ABBA music and it’s always been a part of my life, without me consciously knowing it (if that makes sense?). They’re just classic songs that everyone knows! A couple of songs from the many I enjoy in MM!TP are ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’ and ‘Why Does It Have To Be Me.’

After two movie musicals, the original musical in it’s 21st year on the West End and now Mamma Mia! The Party, what do you think makes Mamma Mia so popular?
I think it’s so popular because Benny and Björn, being the geniuses that they are, have managed to deliver hit after hit. They have both pop and theatrical influences that just move people in every way possible. ABBA music is timeless and that why all of these years on shows and films are still being made, and tickets are being sold!

I saw on Twitter you broke your hand in a dress rehearsal recently. That must have been horrible! How did it happen and do you know when you’ll be returning to the show?
It wasn’t ideal, especially as we’d been rehearsing for 7 weeks building up to having our audiences in, and then I broke my hand on the first dress rehearsal. I’ve had an operation and am now recovering, but will be back in time for our press night on September 19th!

Here at West End Wilma we love to champion understudies and standbys. Until you can return to the show, do you have an understudy you’d like to do a shout out for?
Absolutely! Well first of all, a shout out to my cover (Jonny Bentley) who was thrown straight on for Act 3 on the night on my injury and who has been doing a superb job as Adam over the past couple of weeks!! Secondly, I’d like to do a shout out to ‘West End Understudies’ on Twitter… Who are hot on updating the theatre world about when covers are going on. I’m relatively new to this industry, but I have seen on occasions understudies being overlooked and undervalued, where all company members should be getting the recognition they deserve. We are a company and a team!

Like Mamma Mia, do you have any favourite films you think would make fantastic musicals?
I do! But I’m going to keep my ideas for new musicals under wraps for the time being… Who knows what the future may hold! Wink wink.

There’s been lots of talk recently about Lara Spencer from GMA laughing on air at Prince George doing Ballet. As a trained dancer, did you ever get bullied for dancing as a child? Do you have advice for young boys who want to follow in your footsteps?
Yes this is infuriating. We should be encouraging boys and girls to do what they love, and not feel pressure from what society historically says they ‘should be doing’. Dancing is a skill, and a fun one at that!! It’s a shame that a woman who has been given a platform to address millions of people, is spreading this sexist opinion. It seems the response has been largely against her, but I just hope that there aren’t any young boys listening to her words and feel like they shouldn’t dance because of it.

I wouldn’t say I was bullied, but growing up I was called names because I danced, but most people have been called names because of something. Some kids just like to be unkind!

To any young boys or girls who are reading this, do what you want to do and follow what you love and enjoy. I understand it’s easier said than done sometimes, but you only live once and nasty/negative people aren’t worth your time.

Be kind, spread love and enjoy life.

In your own words, why should audiences come and see Mamma Mia! The Party?
Because with all the bad things that are going on in the world right now, we will provide an evening of escapism, utter joy and entertainment… Oh and ouzo!

Thanks for having Tea With Wilma
Questions by Stuart James

Cast announced for MAMMA MIA! THE PARTY in London


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