By Rory Gilfillan, LCS Teacher
Shakespeare was wrong.
While all the world may be a stage, a musical is categorically different.
Unlike life, actors can’t take a sick day, can’t ask for an extension and can’t opt out because, when the curtain goes up, whether they are ready or not, for two hours the oldest show business cliché comes into effect; the show must go on. In terms of authentic experiences nothing approaches an enterprise of this magnitude and Lakefield College School’s production of Mamma Mia! was no different.
Mamma Mia! is the highly acclaimed Broadway musical (and film) that tells the story through the music of ABBA, of free-spirited Donna, who is the proprietress of an inn on the fictitious island of Kalokairi. Little does she know that her soon to be married daughter, Sophie, has invited three of her mother’s former paramours in the hopes of discovering the identity of her father before the big day.
Putting on a musical in eight-weeks is an exercise in adversity. Adversity can cut both ways but when it works, adversity foments chemistry and throughout Mamma Mia!’s unprecedented extended Lakefield run it was this chemistry that was abundantly evident not only in the relationship between the actors, forged during countless hours of rehearsal but in the choreography, lighting and sound. The latter, which according to crew member Jheeven Salvarajah, involved a total of 137 different lighting cues that took him and artistic and technical director Geoff Bemrose, 14-hours to perfect. For actor Liam Davidson, adversity involved hitting the right notes while singing in harmony.
“I have trouble singing a note while somebody else sings a different note because I unconsciously want to sing the same one. Catherine [Kim] was great at helping me, though, meeting after school and giving me the note if I couldn’t find it. Eventually, it just clicked!”, says Davidson.
For audiences, Mamma Mia! didn’t so much provide an opportunity to suspend disbelief for two hours, as a chance to sing along throughout the performance and, in the final act, dance in the aisles. Male lead, Romano Watt agrees, “I love presenting something that I know people will enjoy that lets them disconnect from their lives and focus their attention on something else”. Sierra Gibb, who played the role of Rosie, adds, “The thing that drives me to perform is the rewarding and accomplishing feeling that you get while and after you are performing. You can get a major rush while on stage.”
To paraphrase coach Phil Jackson, talent isn’t so much built, as it is revealed through long hours of arduous practice that this past week resulted in Catherine’s Kim’s powerful vocals, Liam Cole’s seamless portrayal of Harry Bright that proved so convincing that many theatregoers left the show thinking he was actually an English exchange student, Sierra Gibb and Valentina Boren’s pivotal roles that held the show together, Zachary Chiagozie’s comic timing, Liam Davidson’s anchoring of yet another Lakefield production with the kind of nuanced portrayal of Sam that audiences have come to expect and finally, the sublime casting, chemistry and gravity provided by leads Kate Bemrose and Romano Watt.
But beyond the rush of playing to a live crowd, the lasting value of Mamma Mia! for the actors and crew alike was an opportunity, not simply to entertain but to be good and to express excellence through their craft. Because of their collective effort and dedication Mamma Mia!, wasn’t, according to acclaimed director Rachel Bemrose “merely good for a high school production but good by any and all measures.”
There are a lot of ways to measure the success of a show from a detailed breakdown of each act to the assessment of the final product but in the end the numbers speak for themselves, from the number of shows added, to the fact that for the first time ever, Lakefield, through Iain Beaumont’s tireless efforts, needed to provide (free) tickets to ensure that everyone got a seat. But the final assessment is simply this: more than one thousand people attended Mamma Mia!, not because they were directly connected to the cast, crew or even the school but attended for no other reason than they wanted to be temporarily transported from a cold Canadian winter to a small island off the coast of Greece.