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ABBA lovers will be able to feel the beat from the tambourine at Westwood Collegiate during the senior musical program’s production of Mamma Mia!
The young performers are making history as the first high school theatre group in Manitoba to present the hit Broadway musical after the rights were released earlier this year.
"We’ve been waiting years for it to come out," said teacher Brian Toms, who is co-directing the musical with Alice Russell. "It was serendipitous."
Mamma Mia! follows the story of Sophie Sheridan as she tries to figure out who her father is before her wedding day. The show is set on a Greek island and is full of big dance numbers set to some of ABBA’s greatest hits.
Toms said the musical will strike a chord with students’ parents who are fans of the Swedish pop group.
"We’re trying to bring that definite fun, disco lightheartedness to it, but also being very authentic," he said. "The audience is going to be really invested in it, so if your parents come to see it and they’ve lived that time and they grew up listening to ABBA, they’ll know all the lyrics."
There are about 35 students involved in the performance and set design. Grade 12 student Chantel Santilli is playing Sophie’s mom Donna and is trying to channel her inner matriarch for the role.
"I’ve always been told that I’m kind of like a nurturing person," she said, adding that she’s watched both Mamma Mia! movies to prepare for the show. "I really tried not to follow the whole Meryl Streep character because I know people will be looking for that, but I wanted to make it my own."
Santilli has been dancing since she was three-years-old and says her own mom — who’s a fan of ABBA — is looking forward to watching her in the production.
"Seeing me grow up and finish off my… final year in high school and having a lead role in the musical, it just puts the cherry on top for her," she said.
Charlize Tan is in Grade 11 and is providing comedic relief throughout the show in the role of Rosie Mulligan, one of Donna’s best friends and a surrogate aunt to Sophie.
"She’s a very quirky 40-year-old woman and I find her very funny," Tan said.
The cast and crew have been preparing for the show since September and Tan said audiences can expect a high quality experience.
"When all of us are onstage with the lights beating down on us, the illusion is made," she said.
The four-person set crew has been scrambling to turn the high school’s theatre into a coastal Greek town. One mural depicting the country’s classic white villas took at least eight hours to complete.
Grade 11 student Rebecca MacLanders says now that the production is in the home stretch she’s looking forward to seeing everything come to life on opening night.
"To hear (the actors) sing and do their pieces that they’ve worked so hard on just meld together with ours, it’s like the most gratifying thing you’ll ever experience," MacLanders said.
For crew member Ezri Smith, the process of set design is bittersweet.
"Afterwards all of this will be painted black again and it will be like it was never here," Smith said. "But I know that other people with see it and admire it."
Mamma Mia! runs from Dec. 4 to 8 at Westwood Collegiate. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased at https://bit.ly/2FAZGpr
Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.