Behind the Scenes of Mamma Mia!

After months of auditions, rehearsals, planning, coordinating and hard work on- and off-stage, Mamma Mia! is set to hit the stage at the McPherson Playhouse. The Senior School musical this year brings together the creative talents of more than 115 students, plus countless hours of support from teachers, staff, parents and members of our community.

We’re pleased to introduce you to the four students who are taking on the lead roles in this year’s musical. First, Grade 11 students Cat Asti and Katie Rothwell are sharing the role of Donna Sheridan (the matriarch played by Meryl Streep in the film version), and Grade 12 students Diya Courty-Stephens and Georgia Helliwell share the role of Sophie Sheridan (played by Amanda Seyfried in the movie).

How familiar were you with Mamma Mia! or the music of ABBA before this year?

Diya – I’ve watched the movie at least 100 times; it’s definitely one of my favourite movies. The singing is really beautiful, and the actors really portray the characters in a beautiful, down-to-earth manner and the songs are great to sing along to. When I found out in June that we’d be doing Mamma Mia!, I was ecstatic!

Georgia – Last year we were really pushing to do Mamma Mia!. We really wanted to do it this year because it has so many good roles for males and females, and it’s a musical that a lot of people know – or a lot of people already know ABBA’s songs, so we thought it would be a really fun musical to do. In the summer, Katie and I saw Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again in theatres and couldn’t stop talking about how fun it would be to get to perform together as Sophie and Donna. And here we are.

Katie – I’ve actually been in Mamma Mia! once before, at my old school. I played Harry, one of the dads. So going in I knew a lot of the music, but this is my first SMUS musical.

Cat – I had seen the movie a couple of times but I also saw the musical in London’s West End a couple of years ago and it was amazing!

Why did you want to be in the musical this year?

Cat – I have never sung or acted in front of anyone before and singing has always been my biggest passion. I guess I was just scared to be judged by other people. I came to SMUS and knew there were auditions and at first I didn’t want to do it, but then I just said to myself, ‘You have to step out of your comfort zone and see what happens. I’ve always been a super fan of performing arts, I’ve just never had the courage to put myself out there. This is my chance, I have to take it.’

Katie – I love singing and I’ve always been super into music. Every year I go to see the SMUS musical and I leave thinking about how it’s such an amazing production and I should audition when it rolls around the next year – but I never did. This year knowing that it is such a fun show and since so many of my good friends were doing it, I figured there’s no harm in trying out.

Georgia – Ragtime was my first SMUS musical in Grade 10. Grade 11 was a hard academic year for me, so I didn’t get involved in the musical. I have to admit, though, once it all started I regretted not doing it. When you do the musical you build a community, a family, where everyone gets together and spends lots of time working hard to create a show. It’s just such a fun experience.

Diya – The musical’s an amazing opportunity to make new friends and discover more about yourself. I’ve always loved taking part in the musicals because it’s an amazing group of people to be a part of; the energy in the room flourishes when you’re with people who love being creative, who love acting, singing, dancing, props, directing. I would never turn down an opportunity to be in a SMUS musical because we all really put a lot of effort into it and people enjoy what they’re doing on and off stage.

Tell me about your character

Georgia – Sophie is a young girl with a big heart. She’s fun and energetic and confident, but she’s also a little bit naïve. She’s the type of person who’ll do something before she thinks, but she’s also just a really wonderful person who people want to spend their time with and who want to help her when she gets herself into difficult situations.

Cat – Donna is really hard to read sometimes. You don’t really know what she really wants because most of the time she says yes when she means no, and she says no when she means yes. It’s really fun to play with that on stage. She’s also lived quite the life as a superstar with her band and then she never expected to have a baby, which completely changed her life. She is very mature, and she is a loving mom to Sophie, but at the same time she has that rock star performer side of her, which is cool.

What’s it like sharing a role in the musical?

Katie – It’s interesting that we do the double casting at SMUS and I think it’s the right way to go because if you don’t let people have the chance to perform in high school, they’ll likely never do it elsewhere. It’s both amazing and hard sharing the role because you know people – myself included – are comparing you but I love being able to see how Cat plays Donna, so I can incorporate some of what she does into my Donna. Caterina’s voice is so big and I think she plays Donna with a bit more ‘wow’ than I do but I really like learning from her to make my Donna better.

Diya – I like sharing roles with someone because you get to see how they look at the role and you get to watch them take their own approach to a character and how they interact with the other characters. Sometimes I get stuck in a mindset of ‘This is how Sophie is’ and I’ll watch Georgia’s take on a scene and it just amazes me to see how different she can be. Georgia and I have a lot of discussions about what Sophie would be feeling so we can work together to get our ideas out there. I think Georgia’s taken a sassier approach to her Sophie that I really like and I’m trying to incorporate into my Sophie.

Cat – It’s pretty cool. I feel less pressure on my shoulders because I have someone who is going through the same exact things that I’m going through, and we can help each other out with scenes and songs. I love seeing how we represent Donna in a different way. It’s so cool to see how two people can read the same lines for a character but can perform so differently. I think Katie’s Donna is really expressive and her emotions and gestures help tell her story, and my Donna keeps her emotions more to herself.

Georgia – I really like it and it’s really beneficial getting to see her play with the role and how she takes a note from Mr. Collett and turns it into something completely different than I would’ve. When you have two people playing one role, it’s never going to be exactly the same, which I think is good. I think my Sophie is closer to my actual personality, but I find that Diya can really become a different person on stage when she plays Sophie. But we both play then as fun-loving individuals!

What’s it like being in a SMUS musical?

Katie – It’s a big time commitment – every day after schools, lunchtimes, some weekends, but it’s amazing doing it with people who I enjoy spending time with and who enjoy the experience as much as I do. For me, it’s been great growing a lot more confident in my singing and being in front of a group of people. I know that the musical has made me a more confident person and helped me learn how to balance my time better as a student and a performer.

Georgia – This experience really does create a family with everyone who gets involved. It’s a fun experience getting to interact with people you normally don’t interact with and get to know students from all the grades. Everyone is so sweet and everyone has an awesome sense of humour; we’ve all been put into this room together and have had so much fun! And Mr. Collett and Ms. Williams are so good at what they do, they deserve so much credit for making this a really positive experience for us and for getting us performing the best we can be.

What is Mamma Mia! about?

Diya – It’s about a girl, Sophie, who is best friends with her mom, Donna, and who doesn’t know who her father is – and neither does Donna. It could be one of three guys. On Sophie’s wedding day she thinks it’s the perfect time to invite all three of her potential dads to her wedding thinking that she’ll just know which one her father is. But everything gets very complicated and very confusing!

Katie – It’s really about the past coming back to you, and the relationship between a mother and daughter, and all of these memories and events from years ago helping Donna figure out who she is, and helping Sophie figure out who she is.

Why should people come see Mamma Mia!?

Cat – It’s a beautiful story, there’s a lot going on, it’s funny, the songs are absolutely amazing and there’s a real amazing energy to the show!

Georgia – Because as an audience member you’re going to have a really fun time! We do a lot of interaction with the audience to make you feel really included and take you into the show – it’s very surround sound. The colours are great, the music is fun to listen to and you’re going to have the time of your life.

Katie – There is so much talent at our school. So many people have dedicated so much time and it’s amazing to see how much goes into it, with the actors, musicians, stage crew, staff at the McPherson Playhouse and all the behind-the-scenes work. It’s an incredible show that showcases the talents of our school. It’s going to be so much fun to watch and be a part of.

Diya – I think it’s one of the best musicals we’ve ever done because it’s so fun and so upbeat and that creates this energy that shines through. Everyone knows Mamma Mia! or ABBA music. We’re encouraging people to stand up and dance and treat it like an interactive show. I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to come!

Mamma Mia! runs from March 1-3 at the McPherson Playhouse. There are two evening shows (March 1 and 2) and two matinees (March 2 and 3). Tickets and more information are available on the McPherson Playhouse website.

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Kyle Slavin
Kyle Slavin is the school's storyteller. Through words and photos, he shares with the community all the amazing things that happen on campus.

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