Olympus High’s Mamma Mia! gives chicos and chiquititas in audience chance to sing along
Oct 31, 2019 03:26PM
By Heather Lawrence
The Mamma Mia! cast of Olympus High School proved that disco never dies. (Heather Lawrence/City Journals)
By Heather Lawrence | [email protected]
Olympus High’s theater department presented “Mamma Mia!” Oct. 8–14. Breaking their tradition of double casting (except for the roles of Tanya and Rosie), the large cast made good use of the ABBA dance music on which the show is built. In addition, two sing-along matinees were held on Oct. 11 and 12.
“I always want to sing when I hear this music, so it’s fun to come to the sing-along show. It’s fun to jam out and people can’t get mad — you’re supposed to be singing!” said Olympus senior Caroline Martin at the Oct. 12 performance. Sing-along books with printed lyrics were handed out at the matinees.
Olympus’s show was carried by its talented leads, including Madeline Jones. Jones played Sophie, the 20-year-old blushing bride who’s been raised on a Greek island. Her mom, Donna, played by Ashlyn Hunt, has never told her the identity of her father. Sophie secretly invites all three of the men who could be her father to her wedding.
Jones’s strong singing voice was upstaged only by her fantastic dancing. ABBA is synonymous with disco, and disco is synonymous with dancing. Susan DeMill, choreography director at Olympus, used Jones’s and the other leads’ dancing abilities to great effect. Dance numbers came fast and often, and usually filled the whole stage.
DeMill wrote in her program notes that she “realized I had listened to this music for a lifetime. To now choreograph and make my own visual pictures is almost too dear, and a little surreal. I am looking back with a twinkle to my young self and realizing that this show brings it full-circle for me.”
DeMill’s thinking that the show had come full-circle was spot on. Plenty of current high school students enjoyed the production along with those from the ABBA generation, despite the fact that much of the music is 45 years old.
“There is usually a good turnout from students. Our friends talk the whole year about how hard they work in theater, so we love to come watch them. Our production hall is really nice. It was designed to be a great place to watch shows,” Martin said.
One of the audience favorites was “Lay All Your Love on Me.” In this scene, Sophie’s fiancée Sky is enticed away for a scuba diving bachelor party. Sky, played by Preston Brotherson, willingly goes, but only after his friends march on stage in full scuba gear. Their hilarious dance included a sort-of chorus line — but instead of kicking, the scuba men sit down in a line and pretend to row forward.
Olympus senior Oliver Jones said he’s always liked the music in the show. He loved the chance to sit in the audience and sing along. “It’s hard not to sing, especially when it’s live. It feels like [Olympus] does shows that are more professional than other high schools. They’re really good,” he said.
Regardless of the level of talent, some of the themes and storylines in the show are problematic for teenagers: a child with three possible fathers seems more like daytime talk show fodder than a great idea for a high school musical.
Director Robin Edwards wisely drew attention away from the innuendos. She put it instead on the strong female friendships with Donna and her Dynamos, played by Anna Johnson, Erin Probst, Abigail Cochrane and Eliza Hebdon. The show is heavy on female empowerment, and the friends “reminisce about the time they were an awesome girl band,” wrote Edwards.
“They’re keeping the show pretty PG,” said Ruby Finlayson, a senior at Olympus who came to the Oct. 12 sing-along. For her, it was all about the music. “I was raised on it,” said Finlayson.
The chaos of the wedding, Donna’s heartbreak and the paternity search all come to a head at Sophie’s wedding. Donna sees all three men from her past: Harry Bright, played by Deven Peterson, Bill Austin, played by Dale Henry, and Sam Carmichael, played by Jared Muse.
The three men are excited at the prospect of having a daughter (because they skipped the diaper stage), so all three take a chance at walking her down the aisle. In the meantime, Donna’s old feelings of hurt toward Sam resurface. Hunt belted her heart out in her big ironic solo number, “The Winner Takes It All.”
But don’t despair — there was a happy ending, and the cast brought their A game for the big finale. At its core, the show has a lot of heart, and is as much about the love of friends as it is romantic love. Which might be the reason Edwards, DeMill and music director Vicki Belnap decided to present it at Olympus this year.
In notes that echo the themes of the show, DeMill wrote, “I also thank Robin and Vicki for being my best friends. I know them, appreciate them and won’t forget their heart spilled all over our stage.”