Oak Park Native Flexes His Performance Skills in National Tour of ‘Mamma Mia!,’ Now Running in Chicago

Grant Reynolds, bottom center, and the company of “Mamma Mia!” (Credit: Joan Marcus)Grant Reynolds, bottom center, and the company of “Mamma Mia!” (Credit: Joan Marcus)

The musical sensation “Mamma Mia!” is celebrating its 25th anniversary on a tour that has set up shop in Chicago through May 19.

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For Chicago area native Grant Reynolds, the performances are momentous for another reason. They mark his debut in a national tour for a Broadway show.

The Oak Park native will be experiencing a full circle moment as he performs for a hometown crowd after spending nearly a decade building his craft. As Sky, Reynolds is the fiancée of the lead character who’s at the center of a family drama ahead of their Greek island wedding.

It’s a role he says has challenged him in ways his foundational training didn’t fully prepared him for. 

“In terms of playing the role, it’s very different,” Reynolds said. “I always say it’s interesting for me because I’m an openly gay, Black man. For the most part my roles are straight, and I think it’s interesting to step into.”

“Nothing is dependent on race in the show,” he continued.

Reynolds came into the role knowing the Meryl Streep movie and ABBA, the musical group whose music makes up the show.

“Black people, we like good music. I knew the songs. But I felt … not intimidated but a little weird stepping in,” he said. “I was nervous about the intersection of my personal self and the role. But what I learned is, the director, they’re not seeing the role they’re seeing me.”

The production is playing at the Nederlander Theatre, 24 W. Randolph St., and features Jalynn Steele, who plays Tanya alongside Reynold’s character Sky Rymand. 

“She’s a Black woman and she brings her own flare” Reynolds said. “We were talking about when going to the stage door and she said, ‘Sometimes people are expecting Christine Baranski, but they’re getting me and they like it.’ She was shocked at how welcoming our audience is and so was I.” 

As “Mamma Mia!” explores who Sophia “Sophie” Sheridan’s father is, she decides to seek answers by inviting all three potential men to her wedding. Reynolds says from there, chaos ensues, but his character serves as a pillar of calm throughout the story.

Grant Reynolds, left, and Alisa Melendez in “Mamma Mia!” (Credit: Joan Marcus) Grant Reynolds, left, and Alisa Melendez in “Mamma Mia!” (Credit: Joan Marcus)

While the role comes with challenges, it’s one Reynolds has learned to take on with help from his performance training. 

“I attended the Bravo Performing Arts Academy through Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, which was run by Tina Reynolds,” he said of his Oak Park upbringing. “It’s like a training camp almost, it was so professional … All of these things were training — the auditioning, the audition technique, learning how to carry yourself professionally. I was learning (things I’m using now) at the age of 10.”

Reynolds would go on to participate in the Junior Theater Festival and All-State before studying full time at Carnegie Melon, specializing in singing, dancing and acting.

Just a few years after graduating, Reynolds says he’s grateful to be taking on a role that allows him to be himself. 

“At the end of the day, all you have is yourself, you just have to be prepared. With Mamma Mia!, that’s what I had to do,” Reynolds said. 

Reynolds auditioned for the role after several exhausting rounds of tryouts for another show. 

“I’m more concerned now with winning the room as opposed to getting the role,” he said. “I get the industry now, I could be perfect for it and it be a matter of inches or hair color. I’ve learned that I have no control over this, but let me show them who I am and what I bring to the table. That’s how I got this role, and that’s the advice I’d give to anyone trying to pursue a career in this space.”

“Mamma Mia!” runs in Chicago through May 19. For more information visit broadwayinchicago.com.

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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