Published in the February 17, 2016 edition




LYNNFIELD — Lynnfield native Paige McNamara is a young woman working hard to make her professional dream come true.

After graduating from Wagner College in New York City in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in theater performance, she hit the road with the cast of “Mamma Mia!” and is now on national tour, playing in every major city across the United States.

McNamara, 22, the daughter of Paul and Lisa McNamara of Lynnfield, is a member of the “Mamma Mia!” ensemble and understudies both Donna (the mom, played by Meryl Streep in the movie) and Tanya (the mom’s friend).

“I’m pretty young to be covering these roles, but I love the challenge,” said McNamara. “I’ve had the privilege of being taught a lot of material for both characters in addition to my own track, and I’m very grateful for the whole experience.”

For the uninitiated, “Mamma Mia!” is set on a remote island off the coast of Greece and tells the story of an independent hotelier (Donna) preparing for her daughter’s wedding with the help of two friends. Meanwhile, Sophie, the spirited bride-to-be, has a plan. She secretly invites three of her mom’s ex-boyfriends, hoping to meet her real father for the first time and have him escort her down the aisle on her big day.

Critics of the feel-good musical, which features favorite ABBA songs, have proclaimed it both “relaxing and a rollicking good time.”

McNamara’s romance with theater got its start when she was a second grader and Lynnfield’s Community Schools brought “Annie” to the stage.

“It was amazing to me,” McNamara said. “I was completely enthralled.”

She said she was too afraid to audition that year, but after seeing what she was missing, she decided to put her fear aside and try out. The following year, she mustered up enough courage to audition for “The Wizard of Oz.” It was then that she made her theatrical debut – as a munchkin.

As McNamara learned more about being a cast member in a theatrical production, she realized that it was not all fun and games. Performing was hard work. But she persevered because she knew theater was her calling.

“I read a saying somewhere on the Internet once. It said, ‘Work hard and be nice.’”

She saved the message to her phone and now reads it all the time.

“Hard work and perseverance are the keys to being successful at anything, but being a good person is especially important in show business because it’s such a collaborative art. You’re always going to be working with an assortment of different people and personalities. Being a kind and positive person goes a long way. Nobody wants to work with a diva,” she said.

McNamara said that there is a great deal of time expended in preparing for a role, and much of it is “plain old research.”

“From learning as much as you can about a character from what the story gives you, to adding your own back story, to learning about the world in which the story is set, I do a lot of writing before I get up on my feet and actually work on something,” she said. “There are questions that have to be answered about the character before doing anything.”

Every day is a little different on the “Mamma Mia!” tour because the cast and crew do not have long “sit-downs,” generally speaking.

The longest they will stay in one place is about a week. For instance, McNamara and the others will wake up at about 7 a.m. in Arkansas and drive to a city in Missouri and settle into a new hotel, work out, drive to the theater at about 6 p.m. and prepare for the show that night.

“When we’re in a city for a few days or more, we try to sightsee in the morning or during the day,” she said. “I always try to do the ‘touristy things’ in the big cities because I never know when I might be back again.”

Everything the cast and crew does during the day dictates how the show will go at night. Working out, eating well and making good choices to keep vocally healthy every day are all things that go into the job, McNamara explained.

“Technically we aren’t on the clock until we get to the theater, and it’s then that we have to make sure we’re physically and vocally warmed up and prepared to give the best show possible,” she said.

On top of that, the cast has to stretch and roll out their muscles after the show so that they’re ready to do it all again the next day.

“Although we’re only on stage for two-and-a-half hours or so, a large part of the day is making sure we’re ready for it,” she said.

As is the case with every job, some days are more difficult than others. McNamara pointed out that she might perform in one city at night, only to wake up early the next morning and drive to another city to perform and then move on to yet another city the following day.

“Three different cities three days in a row, or maybe more, is tough. We refer to these days as ‘one-nighters,’ and they’re more taxing than the longer sit-downs. One-nighters are when pre-show coffee really comes in handy,” she joked.

Being on the road is definitely difficult when it comes to keeping in touch with family and friends, and she tries to keep up by phone as often as she can. Even so, it can be hard with differing time zones and work schedules.

“This is very 2016 of me to say, but FaceTime and texting in general are real life savers when it comes to keeping in touch with my close friends and family,” she said.

Though her schedule can be grueling, would she give up her dream for a nine–to–five job? Hardly. She is too in love with musical theater to even consider it.

“What I like most about musical theater is that there all these different subcategories within the genre,” she said. “There are the older Golden Age musicals that verge on the edge of sounding operatic sometimes, and then there are musicals that sound like modern day pop music on the opposite side of the spectrum. I really like being able to practice and sing everything across the board, but I think the rock musicals are the most fun for me. Singing ABBA songs every night in ‘Mamma Mia!’ is a blast!”

In spite of her current success, McNamara is not one to take her good fortune lightly.

“Going to college in New York City definitely helped me in the business as far as learning the ropes and navigating the audition scene,” she said. “I had been auditioning for the office that casts this show every so often throughout my four years of college. It was important for me to get in front of these casting directors as much as I could. It wasn’t until after I graduated that they reached out and had me come in for this particular position. It truly was a blessing, because going on a national tour after college was one of my main goals. I feel incredibly lucky to be here. I guess you could say that persistence is key, and working to constantly better yourself can pay off!”

McNamara also gives credit to her parents, her brothers Ted, Chris and Mike, and she “really looks up” to another Lynnfield native, Christine Dwyer.

“Christine and I are similar, in that we both grew up in Lynnfield, went to Lynnfield High School and studied voice with Noel Smith. She’s a huge motivator for me because we have similar roots, and she really is living the dream. She’s recently been performing as Elphaba in ‘Wicked’ on Broadway.”

So, what’s next for the young McNamara?

“I want to consistently work as an actor in musicals,” she said. “Broadway is for sure the dream.”

And what will it take to get there?

She points to her phone and smiles. “A lot of hard work, being a good person and persistence.”


PAIGE McNAMARA is a member of the “Mamma Mia!” ensemble currently on national tour. 

She also understudies both Donna (the mom) and Tanya (the mom’s friend).