Mary Jayne Raleigh worked her way to top role in popular musical. She's currently playing the female lead, Donna Sheridan, in the touring production which runs through Dec. 16 at the Colonial Theatre.
It's a tough life, this theater business. Seems like you're always paying dues, waiting (mostly tables) and hoping for a break.
Mary Jayne Raleigh is as good a case study as any. It started with Shirley Temple. "I saw her on TV when I was 3 1/2," says Raleigh. "I remember thinking, 'I want to be Shirley Temple!"'
It was at that time that Raleigh's mother enrolled her in dance class. "Dancing was a wonderful outlet for me. I begged for more lessons. But we had a big family. We could only afford one lesson a week."
When she got to high school in Rochester, N.Y., she was cast in musicals but nothing big. "I was never the lead, mostly danced in the chorus. Theater in high school wasn't very fulfilling for me."
Still, it was the course she wanted to follow. It would be a long and winding road.
Raleigh worked for a year as a waitress to help pay for college. She stayed one year and began taking any gigs she could, from community theater to cruise ships. She did outdoor theater in Kentucky. "At $100 a week, that was big for me in the 1980s." She danced in Miami; played Opryland; was a singing waitress; performed at Disney World.
"I was a dancer the first 15 years of my career, then I got older and creakier and started singing."
She settled in New York and auditioned three times for "Mamma Mia!" She went 0-for-3. "The fourth time was a charm," says Raleigh.
She's currently playing the female lead, Donna Sheridan, in the touring production which runs through Dec. 16 at the Colonial Theatre.
"Mamma Mia!" opened in London in 1999, and in New York shortly after 9/11. "It's still selling out," says Raleigh. "It's a phenomenon." The show provides a great escape. "It's 2 1/2 hours of fun and entertainment," says Raleigh, and who couldn't use more of that?
The production company even played up in the wild of Saskatchewan, Canada. "They went crazy over the show up there," Raleigh reports.
Raleigh has been touring with the show since spring. "Road life definitely has its challenges. It depends on what city you're in, and if you're in a good hotel." She's happy to be coming to Boston, which she'd visited several years ago when she was Aldonza in "Man of La Mancha" at the Stoneham Theatre.
Raleigh made it a point to get out in the city. "I love Boston. I met my sister and we went on the Freedom Trail and to Little Italy (North End). We had some great meals there."
When her "Mamma Mia!" contract runs out in the spring, Raleigh hopes for the best and has prepared for the worst. She works without an agent and hasn't a show lined up after her contract runs out. "I'm already looking for work in case they don't renew my contract." She teaches yoga on the side, something she's been involved with for more than a dozen years. "I've just finished teaching the company. I've always had a second job, because sometimes in this business you never know if you're going to work again."
Raleigh, who lives with her husband in Maryland, is a big supporter of the Humane Society. "I love animals," she says. "In 2002 I went to grooming school."
With all the insecurities of show business, it is yoga that Raleigh turns to often. If she's on the road, she'll take a yoga class. "It takes me away from the worries and concerns," she says.
On stage, those worries melt away.
Through Dec. 16
Colonial Theatre, Boston
Call: 617-931-2787, BroadwayAcrossAmerica.com