Mamma Mia!


Truman Segal, Student Journalist

WEST ORANGE, NJ — Following last spring’s incredible production of “In The Heights”, it’s safe to say there was hesitance and uncertainty after it was announced that 2019’s spring musical would be Mamma Mia!. While Heights was full of depth and nuance and dealt with issues like class, race, and legacy, Mamma Mia! is more or less just a fun time with ABBA music.

However, as soon as anyone actually took their seat to watch the show, all worries washed away. After a thrilling overture, Gabrielle Florendo (Class of 2019)’s Sophie emerges on the dock singing “I Have a Dream” and the show takes off without slowing down.

It would not be a reasonable claim to say that Mamma Mia! isn’t the greatest musical ever written. Yes, the music is timeless (it is ABBA), but the book has faced criticism since the musical debuted in 1999. But it would also be unfair to judge a high school production over a script they have no control of.

What really worked in our school’s production of Mamma Mia! was the sheer enthusiasm and talent of its extraordinary cast. Standouts include the aforementioned G. Florendo’s perky and investigative interpretation of Sophie, a girl on a quest to find her father, Danielle Russell (Class of 2019)’s free-spirited yet responsible Donna, Sophie’s mother who isn’t sure if the truth about her fraternity is what’s best for her daughter, and Israel Soto Jr. (Class of 2020)’s charming Sky, who’s set to get married to Sophie in the second act.

Alex Perez (Class of 2021) is absolutely insane as Pepper, the bartender at Donna’s taverna, as he flies around stage, flings himself onto the ground, and exaggerates his jumps and dance moves to bolster the chaotic energy of his character. His foil is Jason Dort (Class of 2021’s) Eddie, who also works for Donna and is goofy, but is much more reserved in said goofiness. WIthout these performances brought out by Wendy Mapes’ stellar direction, these characters would’ve simply faded into the background as they do in the film adaptation.

All three dads also soar in their own ways, with pitch perfect casting. You can feel the pain and longing in Ruben Alexander Centeno (Class of 2019)’s Sam. Joseph Florendo (Class of 2021)’s Harry is just as fun, flamboyant, and faux-spontaneous as the character ought to be. And Joe Nalieth (Class of 2020) perfectly encapsulates Bill’s “The Dude-esque” spaced out adventurer spirit.

But what is Mamma Mia! without the Dynamos? Litzy Reyes-Polanco (Class of 2019) and Rachel Favetta (Class of 2020) steal the show together with numbers like “Chiquitita” and “Dancing Queen” and apart in Reyes-Polanco and Perez’s “Does Your Mother Know” and Favetta and Nalieth’s “Take a Chance on Me”, my two favorite numbers in the show.

In conclusion, the strength of the cast, bolstered by Wendy Mapes’ direction and John Hellyer’s vocal direction, helps West Orange High School’s latest production lean off of its middling script and lean into its fun, complex songs and idiosyncratic characters.