San Marcos High School gears up for live production of ‘Mamma Mia!’
Calling all dancing queens — this one’s for you.
After a year without live theater or travel, students from San Marcos High School will transport audiences to a stunning Greek paradise through performances of the musical “Mamma Mia!” starting Thursday night.
Underneath the spotlights surrounding the school’s outdoor amphitheater, students will sing and twirl in front of a blue and white backdrop of small buildings inspired by traditional Grecian architecture.
Set on the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi, the musical follows the main character, Sophie, as she tries to find her biological father before her wedding. Driven by upbeat ballads from 1970s rock group ABBA, audiences will watch as Sophie and her mother, Donna, navigate how to deal with some unexpected visitors who arrive just days before the big wedding day.
For Maddie Thomas, a senior at San Marcos, taking to the stage for the last time in her high school career is “refreshing” after a year without performing. Ms. Thomas will play the role of Tanya, one of Donna’s eccentric friends, in this year’s show.
“I think that for so long, there’s just (been) such a lull in artistry and performance,” Ms. Thomas told the News-Press. “And so getting to actually do this, it hasn’t really hit me yet. It’s kind of surreal that we’ll be performing in front of an audience just because it’s so unfamiliar to me. But I’m really grateful.”
San Marcos is the only high school in the Santa Barbara area attempting a live outdoor performance with an audience this year, which will make this show even more special for the community, Ms. Thomas said.
“I think for the Santa Barbara community in general, it’s going to be not just a high school show that you’re going to see, it’s going to be the first live theater you’ve seen in a year and a half,” Ms. Thomas said. “And I think that’s going to be really emotional and a big deal for our community, just because I think that Santa Barbara does have a very live theater scene and not having that for so long was disheartening. And so I think we’re lucky that we kind of get to be the first (live) show that happens.”
To get to the point of performing live, students and administrators at San Marcos had to jump through a series of hoops to prepare for the show while also observing COVID-19 restrictions.
From January to March, the cast was not permitted to meet all together for in-person rehearsals, which forced them to meet on Zoom for over two months to rehearse lines, practice singing parts and even learn choreography.
Casting an entire show and rehearsing on Zoom presents its own set of unique challenges when it comes time to perform live, but director Shannon Saleh commended the students for their hard work during this unprecedented theater season.
“It’s been quite a journey for (the cast),” Ms. Saleh told the News-Press. “Straight up kudos to the kids because they were willing to sign up for something (when) they didn’t know what the experience was going to be like.”
After a year of hardship for many in the community, Ms. Saleh said she chose this musical to give both students and audiences an upbeat escape from reality. Through well-known songs like “Dancing Queen” and “Super Trouper,” Ms. Selah said she hopes the night will be one of celebration.
“I think because the year has been so in a box for kids — little square boxes on a screen — and because doing anything with levity to it this year felt like the wrong choice, we decided to go super celebratory,” Ms. Selah said. “Just a musical that’s all celebration. And these kids, believe it or not, grew up listening to some of this ABBA music like their parents did, so it’s a really cross-generational music genre.”
“My expectation and hope for people is that they would show up and be ready to celebrate and breathe a sigh of relief,” Ms. Selah later added.
While students gear up for opening night Thursday, San Marcos senior Carson Pallad said the best part of joining this year’s cast is getting to perform with friends one last time before college. Mr. Pallad plays the role of Sam, one of Donna’s ex-lovers, during the show.
“We’ve actually been able to sing with our friends in person for the first time in a year, and for me, that’s pretty much what high school has been all about — being able to do music,” Mr. Pallad told the News-Press. “COVID really put that to a stop. So I think the biggest moment of happiness for me was being able to hear all of us come together for the first time and actually see (the show) come together.”