It is difficult to describe the pure joy and hilarity that pervaded the Western Albemarle High School (WAHS) auditorium on Saturday night, April 23, as a 75+ student cast, crew, and orchestra performed the raucous jukebox musical “Mamma Mia!” to a packed audience. We were spellbound as one fabulous ABBA song after another was performed by the supremely talented leads and a chorus so huge it filled every corner of the stage. Since her arrival at WAHS 12 years ago, Director Caitlin Pitts has built a deep, professional-level drama program and developed the talents of many fortunate students. Along with Vocal Director Abby Smith, Orchestral Director Elizabeth Vaughn with help from Anna Clark, Assistant Director Casey Lockledge, and a dedicated sound and lighting crew led by Kip Chatterson and Denny Barberio, the WAHS Theatre Ensemble put on yet another outstanding production, with each year’s spring musical outdoing the one before. “Mamma Mia!” was a big show with a big cast, who rose to the occasion with unquestionable success. There was a celebratory mood among the students as they returned to the stage they love in front of a full audience at last.
What impressed me most about this show was the high quality of singing from each and every one of the ten-plus leads. The show opens with Maddie Krause as bride-to-be Sophie singing “I Have a Dream” in her lovely, strong soprano voice, as she yearns to know the identity of her father. Soon her loyal friends Ali and Lisa, played by Maya Thomas and Anessa Chandra, arrive to join her with pitch-perfect harmony for the trio “Honey, Honey,” as Sophie shares the fact that by reading her single mother’s diary, she has learned of three possible fathers, and invited them all to the wedding! Elke Beaumont stole the show as Sophie’s mother Donna, belting out her many numbers in a Broadway-bound powerhouse of a voice and carrying the show with her inspired acting. When her long-time friends and members of the former Donna and the Dynamos girl band arrive, we were further blown away by the gorgeous, mature voice of Natacha Jacques as Tanya and the standout dancing of Lilly Clark as Rosie. Eli Thornton as Sophie’s fiancé Sky leant his elegant singing to the “Lay All Your Love on Me” duet with Sophie. And when the three dads arrive, wowza! Ian Murphy as Bill and Jacob Walton as Harry sang beautifully—especially tenor Jack Malin, whom we fondly remember as Laurie from last year’s masked production of Little Women. His heartfelt “Knowing Me, Knowing You” brought down the house even as it broke our hearts. The singing, acting, and dancing of these many leads was uniformly excellent.
Soon the Dynamos are reunited, effervescent in silver lamé and lace costumes designed and hand-made by Maya Thomas, belting out such favorites as “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trouper.” The chorus, in sequins and shimmer, accompanied the leads with intricate harmonies. Brilliant choreography by Lilly Clark, Maya Thomas, Mary Beard, Molly Carfagno, Claire McCulloch, Rebecca Wood, and Rebekah Bono filled the stage with exuberant dancing and charming human tableaus. As the three dads vie for the privilege of walking the daughter they never knew they had down the aisle, their love for her and for Donna shines through. The acting, from the major leads down to the goofy island guys, was poised and convincing throughout, catching us up in the story and providing the welcome escape we all need these days. Jackson Davis as Pepper may have stolen the chorus with his spectacular dancing. A major twist at the end of the show deepened our understanding of true love.
The flexible, multi-level set functioned perfectly and the orchestra, which was uniquely positioned at the back of the stage, played the complex, jazzy music with skill and enthusiasm. This new location made room for stairs leading up from the auditorium floor to the stage, and allowed the so-called “fourth wall” between stage and audience to be broken as the wedding guests arrived from the back of the auditorium through the audience, and dancers filled the aisles on various occasions. Everyone in this high-energy show was having so much fun, it made me wish I had gone to high school in the 21st century! As the whole ensemble spilled out into the aisles for a smash-up ending, the mood throughout the room was nothing short of euphoric.
“These past two years have been so hard for so many of us, and I wanted our musical to help place a little more emphasis on the fun we have together and the love we share,” said Pitts in her program notes. “What we needed [this year] was something uplifting and joyful, something that would inspire us to lighten up a little.” Goal achieved!