Dancing Queen

Upper School Faces its Waterloo! In “Mamma Mia!”


Photo credit: Photo by Noemi Ponce.

The Mamma Mia cast and crew assembles for opening night in makeshift Greece. Photo by Noemi Ponce.

The lights went off, the curtains opened, and a beige structure with blue louvered doors transformed the Parker Auditorium into a Greek Island from 1979. As soon as the actors in denim overalls, blue and white striped shirts, and floral dresses entered the stage, the show began. On Thursday, March 10, Friday, March 11, and Saturday, March 12, over thirty members of the Upper School brought “Mamma Mia!” to the Parker community for one of the first in-person performances since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Mamma Mia!” takes place on a small Greek Island where Sophie and her mother, Donna, live. Sophie’s wedding is coming up, so Sophie and Donna’s friends, alike, travel to the island to celebrate. Unbeknownst to Donna, Sophie invites three men–-Sam, Bill, and Harry– to her wedding under the impression that one of them is her father. When the men from Donna’s past (and diary) arrive, chaos ensues. 

The story of the jukebox musical, “Mamma Mia!” is told through songs by the Swedish pop group ABBA. Members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus composed the songs, such as “Lay All Your Love on Me” and “Dancing Queen,” that first hit Broadway and then West Clark Street. 

Upper School Musical members have been requesting to put on the production of “Mamma Mia!” for many years. A survey was sent out with a dozen shows to determine the 2022 Upper School Musical Production, and “Mamma Mia!” received the most votes. “We wanted to make this a special show, the first in-person show back,” Upper School Drama Teacher and director John Hildreth said. “We know there are a lot of seniors in the cast, and a lot of those students wanted to do “Mamma Mia!,” and it showcases them very well.” 

In addition to Hildreth, the production team included Musical Director Emma Castaldi, choreographer Florence Walker-Harris, Technical Director Nick Rupard, and Production Manager Tom Moster. 

All Parker visitors needed to either show proof of vaccination, proof of a negative PCR COVID test within 48 hours, or proof of an EUA approved rapid antigen test within 24 hours to be a member of the audience. All members of the audience, student or visitor, were also required to wear a mask, but the actors were able to perform maskless. 

The “Mamma Mia!” cast was made up of 30 Upper School students. Senior Cece Lopez, who played Donna, said that the biggest difference in the musical this year was the relationships that were built between the cast members. “The connections with each other were very easy,” Lopez said. “In the past, you could get scared of the seniors or the leads, but everyone got along well which was one of the best parts.”

Hildreth believes that a cross-grade cast is crucial for a successful production as well as the prosperity of the musical institution in years to come. Hildreth aims to showcase the seniors but also include the underclassmen. “We want to get the younger students involved because there is going to be another musical next year,” Hildreth said. “They will have all these experiences to use for that.”

In his first year participating in the musical, sophomore Pau Maset, who played the role of Harry Bright, said that the friendships he has made have been one of the best parts of the production. “Performing ‘Mamma Mia!’ was amazing,” Maset said. “The memories and friendships I’ve made there will stick with me forever.”

To prepare for the show, Maset learned how to speak in a British accent in order to best embody his character. He was taught by a hired dialect coach, a former student of Hildreths. The accent work was not Maset’s biggest challenge. “The biggest challenge in ‘Mamma Mia!’ was keeping the energy up during the big dance numbers and building some stamina,” Maset said. 

“The best and worst parts were the 9 p.m. rehearsals,” Maset said. “Even though I loved spending a lot of time with my friends, it definitely drained me and took a toll on my mental health.” 

Lopez said that the rehearsals were chaotic at times due to the fact that the majority of the underclassmen had never been in the Upper School Musical environment before. Lopez believes that being a returning senior on the set brought many responsibilities. “As a senior, being one of the leaders, I had to make sure, along with the other seniors, that everyone was quiet, listening, doing their work outside of the musical, and memorizing their lines,” Lopez said. 

Hildreth’s favorite part of the musical process was watching songs come together. Lopez has also found a similar joy, especially after her vocal node removal surgery earlier this year. Lopez spent four days on vocal rest after her surgery, and had to work to recover her singing voice. Lopez is still working on a healthy voice recovery. “The best part was being able to sing my own solos,” Lopez said. “I’ve never really done that before in front of an audience.”

Lopez believes that including the musical as an art-credit, and potentially even a physical education credit, would improve the experience for the cast. Junior Rania Jones, who was a member of the ensemble, has written a proposal that would create the opportunity for an art-credit. “The musical is comprised of students who deserve credit for the 9 p.m. call times, homework assignments turned in from backstage, and run after run after run,” Jones said. “It isn’t an easy process and students deserve validation for their effort and passion.”

Maset said that he wants all members of the Upper School to feel like they are able to join the musical next year, and Lopez agrees. “It’s a very fun environment, even through the hard times,” Lopez said. “It’s such a great bonding experience, and you get to express a lot of your emotions with the characters you get to play and the songs you get to sing.”