Mamma Mia at StarStruck Theatre – June 27-30, 2019
First off, I must provide a disclaimer that my darling daughter was in Mamma Mia and played the part of Sophie. That said, do I think it could have colored my feelings about how much I enjoyed this show? Perhaps a little, but those of you who are familiar with me know I have been a huge fan of StarStruck since seeing my first performance there almost 4 years ago, when our MiniMac was still quite mini and had not yet joined the #PurplePalace as a student... So let us begin.
We have been here before. We know how this works. You’ve got to be ready with knowledge and song and shoes and leotards and game faces and everything that goes along with it. Bring healthy snacks but no peanuts, and put your phones down. You’re there to connect and be in the moment with each other and not to bury your face in your phone. We have come to expect great things from Peter and Jennifer Jones - they have a strange way of channeling greatness through our tiny spawns and possess a power to magically make them behave while at the same time bringing out their creative spark to the fullest.
Mamma Mia at StarStruck was huge. The cast had the honor of being the first to bring it to the StarStruck stage and it was epic! It was fun and fantastic and left me singing and dancing as I left the theatre. It was awesome beyond comprehension. I never planned to be such a Mamma Mia guru or know as much as I do now about ABBA music and the story of three possible fathers, their daughter, and the woman they loved and last saw on a tiny Greek Island some 21 years earlier – alas, here I am.
This cast and this crew hit a home run. It was epic and magical and mesmerizing in every sense. With 24 songs to be sung in 2 acts, it seemed highly labor intensive for the cast but they handled it with ease. I laughed, I cried, I clapped, I cried a bit more, and then I stood and screamed and didn’t want it to end. I also was lucky enough to see every single show. When you attend every performance you get to see more of the faces and I found myself noticing things on shows 2, 3 and 4 that I hadn’t noticed on opening night. The cast performed brilliantly every time and it was a testament to the training and coaching this group had received as they put this show together in less than a month. I heard nothing less than rave reviews as theatre-goers ventured out to their cars. I remember hearing a group on opening night commenting to one another that they thought coming back for another show was in their weekend plans.
Originally, only five shows had been planned but with all five selling out a week before opening night, and tickets still in high demand, we were delighted to learn that a sixth show would become a reality.
Not everyone got to see show number six. It, too, sold out, and was like a mythical beast. Sometimes you know you are witnessing something fantastic, something unique. A moment in time that is not on video or Aunt Mary’s cell phone but something that will only be recorded by eyes and hearts and minds. And what is most magical of all is the moment when we realize we are seeing something beyond spectacular and then fully immerse ourselves into the moment. That was show number six.
If you were fortunate enough to see the last show on Sunday evening then you experienced something extra special. You saw a group of young performers and their highly skilled and fine tuned company push further and farther than they had in the previous five performances. None of the shows were any less than superb, but it was as if the cast knew they were operating in a time and space of their very own making and in truth that is exactly what it was. With the knowledge that the sixth show was a gift, it was clear to see that our young performers felt like they had been given one last chance to roam and play. They were already experts in their subject matter but with this show being added it was as if they were a bit more bold and daring than before. They exhibited a more pronounced confidence. Like the young artists they were, they used new brush strokes, expanding boundaries and pushing limits – they had found a canvas that belonged only to them and it was easy to see they were about to give everything they had left to make this their best, last show.
I smiled, I laughed, my eyes welled up and tears rolled down my cheek….again.
They were having more fun, I thought. They were exploring a little bit more within their craft and were without a doubt leaving it all on the stage. Then it happened. Somewhere deep in Act II, the cast felt that their love for one another, the stage, the crew, their blood, sweat, hard work and all that they had become in the last four weeks, was coming to an end.
During a particularly heartfelt performance of “Our Last Summer,” when Harry, played brilliantly by River Hassett, sang to Donna, played exquisitely by Ava Mahan, the song came home. It was indeed the last summer that Hassett would sing as a student on StarStruck’s stage – a space he had occupied for about 13 of his 17 years of life. It seemed to be the perfect finish, along with the perfect best friend, onstage together one last time. Hassett and Mahan sang together through the tears and gave the listeners something extraordinary that day.
I think at that moment the audience may have understood the need for a brief pause in the performance, but Mahan, who has a tranquility and a power to her voice that she seems to use effortlessly, powered through and delivered an exceptional rendition of “Slipping Through My Fingers” followed quickly by possibly her best presentation yet of “The Winner Takes It All.” To say that Mahan crushed it would be an understatement. The audience erupted over the last few seconds of her song because of the energy she conveyed and the gift she had just given them.
Richard Aton, who played Sam, delivered a solid performance and got to show off his acting and singing chops throughout the show. Justin Block (Bill) and Lillie Shaff (Rosie) helped us all out with some much needed comic relief when our tear wells ran dry. Dakota Ryder (Pepper) and Macrae Bruner (Eddie) were an excellent tag team of festive fun and kept us laughing throughout the show.
Tanya was played by newcomer, Samyah Henry, whose voice alone tells us we will see her again – hopefully, on the StarStruck stage. Madeline Schoppe and Morgan Robert are long time pros and are always staples on the stage; they have a talent and a timing that only comes from years of practice and instruction and you never get tired of watching them perform. Julian Heidelberg (Sky) without a doubt gave his best performance on that magical Sunday evening. And, of course, the show would not be complete without the strength and precision of the entire company backing it all. The singing and dancing choreography stitched the entire show together and the power of voices singing in unison rivaled what I had heard in professional Mamma Mia recordings.
Sophie was played by Alexandria Paxton…and Paxton? Well…Paxton is my daughter so you will have to ask someone else. It’s hard to see your children in normal light sometimes. I know that if my daughter tripped onto the stage, did a sideways somersault followed by a face-plant, and then fell off the stage into the first row causing some sort of bodily injury, I would tear up and cry from pride alone. Paxton didn’t, however, do any somersaults on the stage that day... all I can say is that I did not know that she could do what she did that night. Being such young performers, I did not know any of those kids could do what they did – they amazed us all and created the best show that they could possibly deliver.
It never ceases to amaze me when it is all over. The curtain closes and the theatre empties and then you stand in the lobby waiting for the young performers to come out. I think I always expect to see these giants. I expect to see super-heroes and super-stars and I expect them to look different and walk on air, but they just look like kids. They look like our kids. They all have their lives and their challenges and curve balls that they have to cope with but when we see them on stage we forget about that. Then, when they come out to the lobby, they look normal and tired and a little bit sad that it is all over. They look sweaty and proud and I am in awe every time it happens. I am in awe because I still cannot believe that a 10 or 12 or 13 or even a 17 year old can take that stage and pour their heart and soul out so much that you begin to feel what they feel. It still amazes me that they can make you forget everything else but the story they are telling up on that stage; that they can make you belly laugh until it hurts, or move you so much so that your eyes well up and tears begin to roll down your cheek. And during those moments, everything that is terrible in the world falls away and just doesn’t seem to matter. These are normal kids living normal lives but they have a gift and whenever they get a chance to share it we are all a little bit better for it.
If you missed Mamma Mia then I am sorry. I know I say this after every show, but I am pretty sure Mamma Mia is my new favorite...followed by the long list of shows I have had the pleasure to see on the StarStruck Stage! As a pseudo-manly guy who was raised on hamburgers, Stallone movies and AC/DC, I am not afraid to have you tell my friends either.
Matilda and Aida are coming in the fall. You might want to get your tickets now!