Carey McCollester has a lifetime of experience in theater, but she expected more nerves for the dress rehearsal of Tabor Academy’s Winter Musical production of Mamma Mia! than what she expects when the curtain is raised for real at 7:30 pm on Thursday, February 13, at Hoyt Hall on the Marion campus.
“For me personally, I find that the dress rehearsal is more (nerve-wracking) because we have an open dress rehearsal so people are coming, but you don’t feel like it’s really happening yet,” explained the Rochester native. “But as soon as it’s the real opening night, you have to whole excited energy of the entire cast because they know it’s opening night. And you also have a much larger audience so you get the energy from that.”
In the story of a soon-to-be-married girl who, unbeknown to her single mother, invites to her wedding the three men who could be her father, McCollester plays one of the bride’s best friends. Her classmate and real-life friend Sydney DaSilva plays one of the mother’s best friends and former bandmates.
DaSilva, a Marion native, has less theater experience than McCollester, but shares all of the passion, earning a place in the ensemble of last year’s production of Heathers.
“Right from the moment I stepped in I knew I wanted to keep doing it,” DaSilva said. “I had a couple of lines singing here and there and that was it, but just from that point of view I just knew.”
The two 16-year-old juniors are among 30 cast members and 15 more students doing the behind-the-scenes work of stage and costume crews.
Junior Amelia Rolighed of Winnetka, Illinois, and senior Mia Vaughn of New Bedford play the mother-daughter roles of Donna and Sophie.
Seniors Jack LeBrun of Mattapoisett, Adam Mendes of Marion and Brian Nam of Seoul, Korea play candidates for Sophie’s potential father. Andrew Mottur of Rumford, Rhode Island, plays Sophie’s fiance, and senior Emma Quirk of Marion joins DaSilva in Donna’s circle of trust.
Director Jesse Hawley left a career working with professional actors in New York City to come to Tabor, where she sees more variety of experience and more potential.
“It’s awesome. These kids have so much positive energy to give,” said Hawley, who has been at Tabor for four years. “It’s a challenge, but people tend to go really far in the process; whereas, if you’re working with professionals, they kind of show up and you know what they have. Here it’s like a student can come a really long way over the course of the process and it’s really fun.”
The setting for Mamma Mia! is a hotel on a Greek island, and the title comes out of the songbook of the iconic ’70s Swedish dance band ABBA, setting the entire play in motion to a dialogue and sing-along of the group’s greatest hits.
The theater production at Tabor is an official activity and asks for just as much time from the students as playing a varsity sport, even more in the crunch-time of preparation.
“Some of the students have never been in a show before,” said Hawley. “We have a lot of girls; we don’t have a lot of guys so we recruit some guys.”
Among the recruited is senior Adam Mendes, who would have been wrestling this winter had the 18-year-old from Marion not sprained all of the ligaments in his right knee late in the Seawolves’ football season. Nine weeks on crutches ruled out winter sports, but despite his participation last year in Heathers, Mendes was reluctant about an encore stage performance.
“Mr. (Mark) Howland, who taught me (English) in my freshman and junior year, as soon as I tore (my knee), he was like, ‘We’re going to get you in the musical.’ I was like, ‘Yeah, okay, I’m not going to do it,” said Mendes. But more goading from the since-retired Howland and an insistent mother changed his mind.
Mendes, who would have wrestled at 195 pounds, weighed 220 before surgery and now tips the scales at 212.
“That was going to be a miserable weight cut, and now I don’t have to worry about it anymore,” he laughed.
The linebacker plans to play NCAA Division III football at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, where he will study Arabic, and maybe participate in theater.
“I might, if I have the opportunity to do it,” he said. “It really depends on the amount of time I have.”
Musical director Dr. Tian Zhou will conduct a live orchestra, and Tabor Dance Team faculty coach Kimberlee Williams will choreograph the dance numbers.
Mamma Mia! runs February 13 to 15 and is free and open to the public with 7:30 pm shows in the Fireman Center for the Performing Arts in Hoyt Hall, 245 Front Street, Marion. Tickets are not required.
By Mick Colageo