The cafeteria at Yellow Springs High School was buzzing with activity as theater students gathered around the piano last Monday, February 27th. Rehearsal was postponed due to a tornado warning that kept students out after their usual dismissal time, but the show is said to be going on. Performing arts teacher Laurie Sparrow-Knapp brought more than two dozen students to attention as they performed the title number from this year’s spring musical.
“Mamma mia! Here I am again!”
McKinney Middle School and Yellow Springs High School will present “Mamma Mia!,” a jukebox based on Abba songs, 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 on mother and daughter Donna (Eve Diamond) and Sophie (Tiger Collins) as the latter prepares for her wedding to Skye (Kiernan Anderson) on the Greek island where Donna owns and runs a tavern. On the eve of her wedding, Sophie, who was raised by a single mother, invites three men to her wedding, each of whom she believes could be her father without telling her mother. The men — Sam (Miles Gilchrist), Harry (Oliver Bunn) and Bill (Kian Barker) — all accept. Meanwhile, Donna’s longtime friends Tonya (Daphne Trillano) and Rosie (Olive Cooper) arrive on the island to celebrate. There are comical misunderstandings, confessions of love and passion and, of course, plenty of Abba’s greatest hits.
“Mamma Mia!” this is the second full-scale school musical production since the pandemic, following last year’s Shrek: The Musical. Sparrow-Knapp, the director of this year’s musical, said getting over the post-pandemic hump with “Shrek” has been a learning experience. After this show, she and the creative team of “Mamma Mia!” — including music director David Diamond and choreographer Jamie Wilke — set up the rehearsal and production process. This year, she said, they included “dedicated singers,” some from the school’s choir program, in the ensemble, and incorporated acting, singing and choreography into rehearsals from the start, instead of having the young performers start learning each part individually.
“They dug into it on the first day,” she said.
Sparrow-Knapp said the changes will hopefully enrich the sound of the show and strengthen the cohesion of each of its elements, allowing the cast and crew to more easily transition from the high school rehearsal space to the John Legend Theater performance space.
“Because we don’t have a dedicated performance space on campus, we kind of have an away show — and there are pros and cons to that,” she said. “We’re very flexible, but it’s a lot of lifting that the kids have to do to set up the show.”
“Mamma Mia!” features one of the largest casts and crews in the recent history of a middle and high school theater program: In addition to 45 student actors and technical crew from grades seven through 12, the show also features 11 fifth- and sixth-grade actors from Mills Lawn . The songs in the show will also be accompanied by live musicians, including student musicians.
Sparrow-Knapp said she is excited to bring a new generation of up-and-coming theater artists to Mills Lawn’s student show, and is grateful to the departing students who worked hard to create “Mamma Mia!” to the stage.
“We have such great leaders among the upperclassmen and sophomores who are paving the way for excellence,” she said.
For one of those seniors, Oliver Bunn, who plays Harry – one of Sophie’s parents-to-be – the show was a fun challenge: it’s his first leading role in a musical, and he had to perfect his British accent and learn to play the guitar to portray Harry. He added that over the course of the story, Harry learns to let go and live a little – something Bun said he’s also been working on during rehearsals.
“I have to be really open and let loose a bit because I think that’s what Harry does – to play him properly, I have to do that as well,” he said.
Aside from the many musical numbers, the highlight of the show for the audience may be the kinship displayed by the show’s main characters, Donna, Tonya and Rosie — the once and future “Donna and Dynamo” — whose long-standing and historic friendship is evident in “Mamma Mia!” According to Eve Diamond, who plays Donna, it comes naturally to herself, Daphne Trilana (Tonya) and Olive Cooper (Rosie).
“They’re my best friends, so it was one of my favorite roles,” 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 cry like a baby when they sing ‘Super Trouper’ — because they’re stars, and it’s a star to watch that kind of relationship on stage.” she said.
Cooper said the trio of friends also enjoyed performing on the show, which centers on different women’s stories, an experience that has been empowering for all three young actors.
“That’s what this show is about,” Cooper said. “As three of us young women ourselves, it’s about being able to find ourselves in our feminine nature and feel like we don’t need anyone else to reassure us or anything in our lives or our stories.”
Trillano said she, Cooper and Diamond, who have been in the theater program since high school and have played a number of stage roles together since then, enjoyed the incredible characters and big, colorful musical numbers in Mamma Mia!”
“We’re Donna and Dynamo, putting out the same number as before,” she said. “It’s almost like a memoir — it reminds me of the three of us.”
All three also know this is their swan song at the Yellow Springs High School Theater — and likely the last show the three will perform together; both Diamond and Cooper intend to study acting in college, while Trillano will study biology or neuroscience. Thinking back but moving forward – unlike their characters in “Mamma Mia!” — Cooper, Diamond and Trillano reflected on the bitterness of their last show.
“It’s crazy that this is the last show I’m ever going to do here — I love the younger cast so much and I’m sad to leave them,” Diamond said.
Trillano added, “Oh God, I don’t know how I’m going to handle the shutdown, but it’s going to be hard.”
Taking a break from rehearsing one of the show’s big dance numbers, “Take Chance On Me,” Cooper said performing in front of the crowds isn’t the only part of the show we’ll miss.
“These are our final rehearsals,” Cooper said. “I know a lot of younger kids find rehearsals a tedious process, but I honestly cherish every one of them that I have left.”
As one generation prepares to take its final bow, another will take the stage: Sophomore Tiger Collins, in her first starring role as Donna’s daughter Sophie, said she’s excited to help make “Mamma Mia!” to the audience.
“Everyone in the ensemble has put a lot of work into learning their dances and harmonies so it’s going to sound really good and it’s going to look really good — and the tech has been working on it for months,” she said.
Addressing the potential audience, she added: “So just go 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.