OHHS’s “Mamma Mia!” hits all the right notes
— Created February 15, 2023 by Kathy Reed
By Kathy Reed
That is not only the title of the musical production opening tonight at Oak Harbor High School, but a fitting description of the energetic, colorful and extremely enjoyable show awaiting audiences. Performances will be Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m., running through Saturday, Feb. 25. Tickets to the production are $15 and are available at the door (cash or checks only) or online at payments.efundsforschools.com/v3/districts/55816/. Doors will open at 6:15 p.m.
Just in case there are some who have never seen “Mamma Mia!,” the story was written by British playwright Catherine Johnson. The music is by the Swedish rock group ABBA. The play opened in 1999 and a film version, starring Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan, was released in 2008. Some have suggested the storyline bears a strong resemblance to a film made in 1968, “Buona Sera, Mrs. Campbell.” The story in “Mamma Mia!” centers on a woman named Donna, whose 20-year-old daughter, Sophie, is about to get married. Sophie doesn’t know who her father is, and discovers there are three possibilities – Harry, Bill or Sam – all of whom she invites to her wedding, unbeknownst to her mother. Cue the mayhem and get ready to chuckle, all while bopping along to some classic songs that move the story along.
The show is the combined effort of members of the OHHS drama and choir clubs and boasts a cast of 35. The production is being directed by Micki Gibson and Eric George, with OHHS choral director Darrren McCloy as producer and musical director.
“Mamma Mia!” was originally scheduled to be performed in 2020, but the pandemic shut the production down. McCoy said it made sense to finish what students started more than two years ago.
“Last time, we learned a lot about what worked best and what worked least,” he said. “In this rare turn of events, we were given a second chance to fix some of those mistakes. It feels exciting to try again but it’s a nice reminder that as directors, there is always room for improvement.”
“With the success we had with ‘Dracula’ last year, we knew we had to do something that was just as popular, had audience appeal, and was something that everyone could get excited about,” said George. “There was a sense of loss when we couldn’t perform the show the first time and we just felt like it was now or never.”
“When choosing a show, if I get excited about it from the get go and the students are too, it’s the right show to do,” said Gibson. “Since we had started on it before, we had some ideas that we wanted to capitalize on, which gave us a tiny head start.”
Most adults have heard of ABBA and just about everyone has heard an ABBA song at some point. It could be fair to say that most high school students these days aren’t overly familiar with the group’s music, however, the directors said these young actors and singers have surprised them.
“It became clear that a majority of the cast not only knew the songs, but were already memorized on the lyrics and melodies,” McCoy said. “Some were already harmonizing with each other in the halls before the auditions!”
“When I catch them rehearsing a song during a break or a non-rehearsal time, I know they love it, which makes our jobs as directors easier,” Gibson said. “One of my favorite memories will be when the students were at Toppins very recently and their music came on and they all sang in harmony and did their choreography. It was fun to watch the other patrons enjoying the “Mamma Mia!” preview. It was one of the best non-rehearsal rehearsals.”
Most of the students who responded to questions from Whidbey Weekly said they had varying degrees of familiarity with ABBA’s music before becoming part of the cast of “Mamma Mia!” All who responded said they have enjoyed the experience and the hard work but have especially enjoyed the camaraderie among cast and crew.
“I’ve enjoyed getting closer with the cast and learning a lot of new things that helped me get better at the play in general,” said 17-year-old Maria Andelmi, who plays Sophie. “It’s always a lot of fun and I feel at home every time we are at rehearsals.”
“One thing I found myself enjoying more than I thought I would was having a big group of friends that I’d get to have fun with every day,” said Graham Ray, a sophomore who plays the role of Sam. “Whether it was laughing our way through a new dance number or chugging bottles of vanilla extract in the green room, the time I spent with this cast will not be forgotten.”
Since many of the characters in “Mamma Mia!” are long out of high school, several of the actors have had to channel their future inner grown up.
“The ultimate acting challenge for me has been the intense, though very brief, intimacy Rosie shares in a couple of scenes with the character Bill,” said Eclipse Garrettt, a junior. “His actor, Cyrus, who is a dear friend, is not hard to work with, but it has been an interesting experience to portray the saucy side of a middle-aged woman.”
“The biggest [challenge] for me is to be able to portray such a mature character, as she’s in her 40s and I’m still in the middle of high school,” said Dana Rivo, 16, who plays Donna. She said the broad range in musical styles was also a vocal workout. “A big thing that I was surprised about was for example, ‘Money, Money, Money’ compared to ‘Slipping Through My Fingers.’ There is a wide range and contrast between the two songs. This is seen in many more songs as well. It’s definitely been more challenging.”
“I think the music has been more challenging than I imagined because I did not expect the harmonies to be very, very, high,” said sophomore Cyrus Amor, who plays Bill. “However, once I practiced my parts it started getting progressively easier for me to hit the harmonies as they started becoming more comfortable.”
And one mustn’t forget the choreography – there is a lot of it. Every movement translates to many hours of practice for the cast.
“We want the show to look and feel like it’s a breeze,” said McCoy. “But the truth is, it takes about two hours of rehearsal for every minute of song and dance. And this show has about 26 songs. You can draw your own conclusions.”
“The amount of choreography in this show is mind blowing and everyone in the show met whatever challenges we threw at them with determination and overcame the obstacles,” George said. “Like seriously, there is some awesome choreography in this show.”
This is a big production that at times makes one forget they’re watching a high school performance. There’s a large cast, there’s a large set with lots of moving parts. There are special effects as well – a fog machine and confetti cannon, to be specific. There are a lot of costumes, too, as many as three per character. And of course, there’s a lot of sparkle.
“The show is covered in sequins and smiles,” McCoy said. “I think the audience will love hearing ABBA and if they want to sing along, come to the performance on the 23rd. We’ll give you the lyrics and you can sing your heart out with Donna and the Dynamos.”
“Our set and our costumes are absolutely phenomenal,” said 15-year-old Adriana Froman, who plays Tanya, one of the Dynamos. “[After] seeing it once, it will make people want to come again with more people.”
Performances of “Mamma Mia!” are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. starting tonight and running through Feb. 25. Doors open at 6:15 p.m. and tickets may be purchased at the door or in advance at payments.efundsforschools.com/v3/districts/55816/. The performance Thursday, Feb. 23 is a sing-along, so those attending should be prepared to join in the fun.
“Audiences should attend to see the depth of talent we have here at the high school,” Gibson encouraged. “ABBA’s music is catchy, and we hope the audience will be on their feet at the end, wanting to dance along.”
“Our goal is to create high quality productions within a safe and enjoyable context of community,” said McCoy. “This takes time and funding. We hope everyone will spread the word and make this the biggest show OHHS has ever had!”