In the interest of transparency, I’ll start this article with a brief disclaimer. I have been critiquing, and sometimes creating, student theater for five years. Despite the skepticism I sometimes face when discussing it, I will champion it as something with as much worth as the work created by more experienced artists. The student musical is no exception. There is, I believe, a limit to the number of student musicals a human being should see in one lifetime. They tend to be repetitive; student theater tends towards a community driven, exaggeratedly comedic style and because choreography and singing are so complex, student musicals revolve around the big numbers, which demand the majority of rehearsal time. So when you’ve been watching (and sometimes working on) them for five years straight, you tend to build an immunity to their charms.
“Mamma Mia,” however, is a top-notch student musical. What better choice for a production which demands a focus on the musical numbers than a show which consists almost entirely of loosely connected dance sequences? And, under Leah Sherin’s ’19 direction, the show leans into the ridiculous fun only student theater can produce with a wink and a smile.
The core of the production comes from its choreography, created by Emma Johnston ’22, which doesn’t bother to justify itself. As the stag and hen parties dance at each other in “Lay All Your Love on Me” or hotel workers sweep guests into their movement in support of their boss in “Mamma Mia,” the performers carry the lively spirit with pride. The entire cast is incredibly enthusiastic as they carry out these movements, charming the audience with animated facial expressions and full-out dancing.
And through this spirit comes choreography, which carries the emotions of each song straight to the viewer’s heart. The songs themselves are performed with impressive vocals, particularly from leads Amber Crossman ’21 (Donna) and Sophia Seufert ’22 (Sophie) as well as the notable belting of Remony Perlman ’19 (Tanya) in “Does Your Mother Know.”
The dramatic performances are similarly impressive, particularly from Crossman, who stylizes her Donna to match the whimsical nature of the show, creating a spiritedly dynamic character. Her three paramours are worthy back-ups; Sean Riordan ’22 as Harry is earnestly bashful with an amusing accent, Alex Ross ’22 is an adorable Bill as he negotiates his outward bluster and emotional vulnerability and Bryan McNamara ’19 exemplifies the winking nature of the production (though his constant skeptical looks out to the audience did begin to grate eventually). The loving couple of Sophie and Sky (JAMR Marceaux ’21) were sweet together, even as their quieter performances were somewhat overshadowed by other more overstated performances. They were backed by an impressive suite of comic performers, most notably the salacious Pepper of Max LeBlanc ’22 and the truly hilarious winks and nudges from Talia Jacobson ’22 as Rosie.
These performances were carried out on an impressive set, designed by Jacob Bers ’20, which provided a structure basic enough to allow the choreography to take center stage (and then move as freely as required) while still grounding each scene in an identifiable location with minimal props. And the sparkly stage curtain made up of shiny silver ribbons was a masterful touch. The lighting, unfortunately, was often misplaced with solos occasionally underlit and occasional clashes between the lighting location and the dancers’ movement.
I may not be able to truly enjoy student musicals anymore but can still recognize impressive work. Judging from the enthusiastic participation in the sing-alongs which concluded each performance, the audience connected with this rendition of the classically fun musical, too.