The summer of 2018 release of the movie, “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again” — a sequel to the popular movie adaptation of the stage musical “Mamma Mia!” — may have left some folks burnt out on ABBA, considering the Swedish pop group’s tunes color most of the story’s arc.
Kelly Gregersen, who has worked as Washougal High’s director and drama teacher for the past 15 years, has experienced the opposite effect while directing the school’s version of the musical, “Mamma Mia!”
“I’ve gotta admit, I’m becoming much more of an ABBA fan because it’s on 24/7,” Gregersen said. “I’m realizing just how incredible these are for little pop songs. They stand the test of time really nicely.”
The catchy songs will infuse the high school theater group’s “Mamma Mia!” production, which opens this week.
Gregersen said he wasn’t a big fan of the film adaptations of the musical, and wasn’t able to finish either movie, the first of which starred award-winning actress Meryl Streep. For his students however, the movies have provided a reference point during rehearsal.
“They really know these movies. They’ve watched them with their parents,” Gregersen said, adding that he prefers the stage version. “The fact that you’re there with those songs, I think the play really emphasizes the fun of this music more than the movie.”
Gregersen said his students brought up the idea of performing “Mamma Mia!” in the spring.
“I started looking into it, and we have a really good group of kids for it this year, and I just thought it would be a ball,” he said.
The production has presented some challenges. Gregersen said most musicals only have a few full-chorus numbers, while “Mamma Mia!” only has a few numbers that do not involve the full chorus.
“The kids have really knuckled down and worked like crazy on it,” he said. “I always encourage them, but it comes down to them. They put in work (at rehearsal), but they put in a lot more work when they’re not here.”
The message of the show is a familiar one for the high schoolers, Gregersen said. Although there are some slightly risque themes — the basis of the story is a paternity mystery — the real core theme is family and the different places it can be found.
“Family is not only the family we’re born into, but the family we choose,” Gregersen said. “The people we surround ourselves with are also our family. In high school, there is so much of that, you really build a family around you.”
Gregersen complimented the work the young actors have accomplished so far, noting that the production’s two female leads have never taken center-stage in a musical at Washougal High.
“I’m excited for them to have their time in the spotlight,” he said. He added that he is enthusiastic about what the audience will find on opening night too, if they can put up with a heavy dose of ABBA.
“I’m excited for people to experience this group of kids,” he said. “The person next to you may be singing — there is that warning. It might be the seatmate who is humming these songs.”