There is nary a soul that hears the sing-song chime of “Mamma Mia!” and doesn’t—at least internally—follow up with “… and here I go again!” Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus’ Mamma Mia! is the jukebox musical written by British playwright Catherine Johnson. Andersson and Ulvaeus were both members of the ‘70s Swedish pop sensation, ABBA. The show, which premiered at the end of last century, had a resurgence in popularity when Meryl Streep and company took what was for the stage to the cinema in 2008. Now, the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi sails into Woodinville to provide itself as the backdrop for this modern classic.
Woodinville High School Theatre Company is putting on the production of the musical Mamma Mia and the students and faculty are thrilled. The Puget Sound region has always had a heavy appreciation for performance arts, yet to hear the experiences that have driven a younger generation to stage act are reminders of the importance of art, being present, and having genuine experiences. Mesgana Teklu, who is a senior who will be playing Donna, shared that when she went to her first show, she had an indescribable feeling, something almost magical, and it was a feeling she wanted to be immersed in all the time. Teklu said, “Being a performer, you hold the key to this realm and you have the ability to share this gift with your audience. That is where my passion for the theatre came from. I craved to possess this superpower and I want to be able to share it with the world. I have continually been practicing, studying, and performing to be able to reach that point in my life so that, one day, I can instill this passion into others.”
Another senior, Aaron Leatherman who is a part of the ensemble shared, “I have this memory of standing off stage as the show opened, feeling my heart racing and palms sweating. As soon as the fairytale music began and the blue and purple lights came over the stage, I felt calm and ready. My legs were no longer shaking, and I couldn’t stop smiling. The moment the music began, I forgot that I was a high school sophomore and was completely invested in the world of Beauty and the Beast. It was a short moment in my experience of the show, but I cherished it every show night, and I continue to do theatre for all the special personal moments like that.”
Senior Emerson Cobbley, who is also in the ensemble and is the Dance Captain, shared that he had a similar experience of a musical sparking joy for theatre. Cobbley said, “I remember sitting on the floor in my bedroom when I was really little and just playing the movie Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat over and over and over again, wishing that I could just get up on stage and sing my heart out with Donny Osmond.”
The students are also well aware that our society is in the midst of a seemingly never-ending shift towards reality that demands hyper-focus on the digital rather than acknowledging the ephemeral and special. “As an actor, I’d say that being there for the audience, knowing that I’m five, ten feet away from a stranger; hearing them laugh, hearing them gasp, it makes me feel excited they’re coming to feel something,” said Senior Nolan Spencer who plays Pepper. Spencer continued,” One thing that always makes this worthwhile, is knowing that I’m giving someone their first live performance and I’m giving someone else their last.”
Theatre and art are helping these young people in tremendous ways; some of which are providing new identities of confidence. Tony Bowen, who is a sophomore and is in the ensemble shared,” I’m not a very social or expressive kid (which sounds bad for theatre) but I feel like theatre has really clicked with me. I don’t need to show my own emotion; I can portray my character’s. It’s a freeing feeling to express myself in ways I normally wouldn’t.”
The students are inspiring, and it seems clear where they have assistance finding that ability to bring people into their seats and then up and onto their feet. Theatre teacher and Director of the musical, Josh Butchart said,” My own high school theatre experience was so positive that it inspired me to pursue both theatre and education in college. I didn’t fully expect to be doing high school theatre as a career, but I knew that the close-knit, familial nature of the process, and the emotional and intellectual power of the art was something that I wanted to share. Trying to build an inclusive space for students to perform and grow—much like my own high school experience—has been the goal of my teaching ever since.”
Mason Cole, who is the Choir teacher and Music Director at WHS said, “Musical theater is such a special experience… It is rare to be inspired by people in the live setting these days. We are used to being hidden behind screens in the comfort of our homes. Not only are the students sharing their courage with the audience, but the audience is also exposed to the energy of the performance in an authentic way. It is an emotionally vulnerable environment. What we hope to achieve is simple: to connect with people through the best way we know how.”
Woodinville High School Theatre Company is putting on production of the musical Mamma Mia which will give the community two separate weekends to catch this wonderful performance: May 2-4 and May 9-11. Each performance will take place in the WHS Theater at 7:00 P.M. For tickets, please visit schoolsales.nsd.org or purchase tickets at the door. There will also be a silent auction before and during the performances to help support the theatre program at WHS.
Tickets are $25 for VIP, $15 for adults, and just $10 for students and seniors.