Yellow Springs Schools to debut ‘Mamma Mia!’
- Published: March 7, 2023
The cafeteria of Yellow Springs High School was a hive of activity as theater students gathered around the piano this past Monday, Feb. 27. Rehearsal had been delayed due to a tornado warning that kept students sheltering in place beyond their usual dismissal time — but the show, as they say, must go on. Performing Arts Teacher Lorrie Sparrow-Knapp called more than two dozen students to attention, and they belted the titular number from this year’s spring musical.
“Mamma mia! Here I go again!”
McKinney Middle School and Yellow Springs High School will present “Mamma Mia!,” the jukebox musical based on the songs of Abba, at the John Legend Theater in Springfield on Thursday and Friday, March 9 and 10, at 7 p.m.; and Saturday, March 11, at 2 and 7 p.m.
The show centers around mother and daughter characters Donna (Eve Diamond) and Sophie (Tiger Collins), as the latter prepares for her wedding to Sky (Kiernan Anderson) on a Greek island where Donna owns and runs a taverna. In the lead-up to the wedding, Sophie — who was raised by her mother alone — invites three men, each of whom she believes may be her father, to the wedding without telling her mother. The men — Sam (Miles Gilchrist), Harry (Oliver Bahn) and Bill (Kian Barker) — all accept. At the same time, Donna’s longtime friends Tonya (Daphne Trillana) and Rosie (Olive Cooper) arrive on the island to celebrate. Comic miscommunications, declarations of love and passion and, of course, plenty of Abba’s best-known hits, ensue.
“Mamma Mia!” is the schools’ second full-scale musical production since the pandemic, following last year’s “Shrek: The Musical.” Sparrow-Knapp, who directs this year’s musical, said that getting over the post-pandemic hump with “Shrek” was a learning experience. Since that show, she and the creative team for “Mamma Mia!” — including musical director David Diamond and choreographer Jaimie Wilke — have adjusted the rehearsal and production process. This year, she said, they’ve incorporated “dedicated singers,” some from the school’s choir program, into the ensemble, and have integrated acting, singing and choreography in rehearsals from the get-go, instead of having young thespians begin to learn each piece separately.
“They’re neck-deep in it on day one,” she said.
The changes, Sparrow-Knapp said, will hopefully enrich the show’s sound and strengthen the cohesion of each of its elements, allowing the cast and crew to more easily transition from rehearsal space at the high school to the performance space at John Legend Theater.
“Since we have no dedicated performance space on campus, we kind of have a roadshow — and there are pluses and minuses to that,” she said. “We’re extremely flexible, but it’s a huge lift that the kids have to make to adjust the show.”
“Mamma Mia!” features one of the largest casts and crews in the middle and high school theater program’s recent history: In addition to 45 student actors and tech crew spanning seventh to 12th grades, the show also includes 11 fifth- and sixth-grade cast members from Mills Lawn. The show’s songs will also feature accompaniment from live musicians, including student musicians.
Sparrow-Knapp said she’s excited to involve the next generation of up-and-coming thespians by casting Mills Lawn students in the show, and grateful to the outgoing students who have worked hard to bring “Mamma Mia!” to the stage.
“We have such tremendous leaders in this cast in our seniors and upperclassmen who are leading the way through excellence,” she said.
For one of those seniors, Oliver Bahn, who plays Harry — one of Sophie’s prospective dads — the show has been a fun challenge: it’s his first lead role in a musical, and he’s had to perfect his British accent and learn some guitar to portray Harry. He added that, over the course of the narrative, Harry learns to let go and live a little — something Bahn said he has also worked to do during rehearsals.
“I have to be really open and free myself a bit because I think that’s what Harry’s doing — to properly play him, I have to do that, too,” he said.
Beyond its many musical numbers, a highlight of the show for audience members may be the kinship exhibited by the show’s matron characters, Donna, Tonya and Rosie — the once and future “Donna and the Dynamos” — whose long and storied friendship is evident in “Mamma Mia!” According to Eve Diamond, who plays Donna, it comes naturally to herself, Daphne Trillana (Tonya) and Olive Cooper (Rosie).
“They’re my best friends, so it’s been one of my favorite parts to play,” Diamond said. “Ms. Sparrow-Knapp cried at our audition because our chemistry was so good.”
Sparrow-Knapp later confirmed the alleged tears: “I never cry, but I bawl like a baby when they sing ‘Super Trouper’ — because they’re stellar, and it’s stellar to watch that kind of relationship play forward on-stage,” she said.
Cooper said the trio of friends has also enjoyed acting in a show that puts a range of women’s stories front and center — an experience that has been empowering for all three of the young actors.
“That’s what this show is all about,” Cooper said. “With the three of us being young women ourselves, it’s about just being able to find ourselves in our womanhood and feeling like we don’t need anyone else to assure us or anything in our lives or our stories.”
Trillana said she, Cooper and Diamond, who have been involved in the theater program since middle school and have played a range of stage roles together since then, have enjoyed the larger-than-life characters and big, splashy musical numbers in “Mamma Mia!”
“We’re ‘Donna and the Dynamos,’ putting on a number just like we used to do in the past,” she said. “It’s almost like a memoir — it reminds me of the three of us.”
The three are also cognizant that this is their Yellow Springs High School theater swan-song — and likely the last show all three of them will perform together; both Diamond and Cooper intend to study acting in college, while Trillana will pursue biology or neuroscience. Reflecting backward but moving forward — not unlike their characters in “Mamma Mia!” — Cooper, Diamond and Trillana ruminated on the bittersweetness of their final show.
“It’s crazy that it’s the last show I’m ever going to do here — I love the younger cast so much and it’s sad to leave them,” Diamond said.
Trillana added: “Oh God, I don’t know how I’m gonna be during closing night — but it’s gonna be rough.”
Taking a break from rehearsing one of the show’s big dance numbers, “Take a Chance On Me,” Cooper said the performances before crowds are not the only part of putting on a show that will be missed.
“These are our last rehearsals,” Cooper said. “I know a lot of the younger kids think of rehearsal as a tedious process, but I’m honestly cherishing every single one that I have left.”
As one generation prepares for its final bow, another will move into center stage: Sophomore Tiger Collins, taking her first lead role as Donna’s daughter, Sophie, said she’s excited to help bring “Mamma Mia!” to audiences.
“All the ensemble people have put in a lot of work to learn their dances and the harmonies, so it’s gonna sound really good, and it’s gonna look really good — and tech has been working on it for months,” she said.
In an appeal to potential audiences, she added: “So just come out and see it — just do it.”
Tickets for “Mamma Mia!” are $15 for general admission, $10 for seniors and $5 for students, and are available online at bit.ly/3kqP6GH.
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