Belfast singer Owen Johnston has been reaching for the sky in ITV’s brand-new musical theatre show, Mamma Mia! I Have A Dream.
Hosted by radio and television presenter Zoe Ball, 14 contestants have been battling it out each week to impress judges; Alan Carr, Jessie Ware, Samantha Barks and Amber Riley being tested on everything from singing and dancing to acting and chemistry.
Owen always had a passion for singing and recently graduated from the prestigious Italia Conti in Woking. It was through a showcase put on by the academy that the 25-year-old was discovered and asked to apply for the show.
“I received a text from my now good friend Saskia Burke, asking if I’d be interested in applying for the show and I had just finished doing Sweeney Todd and didn’t think it was very me. I thought I was a bit too serious or dark and there was no way I’d get it,” Owen explains.
“Then about three weeks later, Saskia texted me again saying we’d really love to have you because they came to see me at the Savoy at the Conti showcase.
“I was over the moon and at that point I thought, I have nothing to lose, I’m in my third year at drama school now, and I haven’t even done a professional audition yet, so go do it and who knows, you might not get it but go see what happens.”
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Out of the thousands who applied to be on ITV’s latest singing show, Owen was selected as one of the seven boys from across the UK hoping to be cast as Sky in the West End’s production of Mamma Mia!
“I remember sitting downstairs, I think I was watching Lord of the Rings at the time, and I got a call, and I dashed upstairs. That's when I was told that they wanted me for the show and they were taking me to Greece, I ran downstairs and just cried, I couldn’t believe it.”
After securing a spot on the series, Owen spent a month in Greece filming the show in some of the same locations seen in Mamma Mia! the movie.
“That didn’t even click at first, because for so long I was just looking at it as a TV show, and then I think when we got there, I realised I was going to get to work in Greece, which was just crazy,” he recalled.
Despite the stunning scenery, Owen’s time in Greece was far from relaxing, particularly due to the pressure of performing iconic songs such as Waterloo and When All Is Said and Done. However, he appears to have taken it in his stride.
“Abba songs tell stories which, when you’re singing a song as an actor, is a gift.”
In Owen’s case, Slipping Through My Fingers is a prime example as it reminds him of his mum, “My mum is a single parent and I resonate with the moment that they have in the movie so much.”
He also credits his mum with getting him to this stage of his career.
“Put it this way, I never knew I wanted to do musical theatre. I think I was 13 or 14, and I knew I could sort of sing, but I never took it seriously and then my mum sent me to a singing lesson and that was when I started to pick it up and the love of acting and musical theatre flourished through that. My mum was the best in the world at giving me every opportunity.”
In addition to the love and support provided by his friends and family, Owen also forged a strong bond with many of his fellow cast mates. As they were put through their paces week by week facing various challenges, bootcamps, workshops and masterclasses.
“We all still meet up with each other and when we do it is class,” he says.
“It’s amazing, because I don’t think that’s something that will change because we’ve had shows like it in the past, but I think for this one because they were looking for Sky and Sophie, the group knitted together really well, and it’s an experience that only we will have and share.”
Now, after seven weeks of intense singing, dancing and acting, Owen finds himself in the final four. Set to tread the boards of London’s Novello Theatre, the home of the Mamma Mia! production in the West End as part of the show’s grand final on December 10.
“It really doesn’t add up to me - not even in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself or thought when I was watching Mamma Mia! at the age of 10 that I’d even be auditioning for the part, but I think the whole idea of just being on the West End is mad, if I’ve done that then I’ve made it,” he laughs.
If Owen wins and is cast as Sky, he hopes to steer the character in a different direction.
“Personally, I don’t like this whole ‘yes lad’ vibe I think people are people and I think when you’re at the age that Sky is and the stage of his life I don’t think someone’s who has just left their job as a banker is going to be very ‘yes mate’ and want to run around with the boys,” he explains.
“I think it’s someone who has made a very brave decision for his own reasons rather than simple ones. Obviously part of it is because he loves Sophie so much, but I think playing the lovestruck boyfriend is way too two-dimensional.
“So, I would love to bring something different or bring something that is probably a bit more real or natural to the character.”
When asked what it would mean to win the competition, he says: “It would just be a dream come true, everything that I’ve been working for and dreaming of since I saw the Phantom of the Opera on the West End when I was younger, I’d have done it.
“TV’s great but my heart is in theatre and don’t get me wrong, there is somewhere along the line I’d love to do TV or a movie but I love theatre and to have to opportunity to do that every night. It’s an untouchable feeling.”
Mamma Mia: I Have a Dream live final airs on Sunday 10th December on ITV