Here we go again: ‘Mamma Mia!’ returns to Corvallis High School after COVID-19 cancellations

ABBA musical showing at CHS from April 21 to May 8

Jonah Smith (left) and Elena Wright rehearsing for the Corvallis High School production of “Mamma Mia!” on March 8. The two hold roles as dancers for the musical, which is showing at CHS from April 21 to May 8.

Sam Misa, News Contributor

Cut short in 2020, Corvallis High School is now set to reopen its doors for showings of the musical “Mamma Mia!” from April 21 to May 8.
Based on the work of playwright Catherine Johnson, the musical features the music of Swedish pop group ABBA. The story follows 20-year old Sophie as she tries to find her father based on her mother’s diary entries from the year she was conceived.
Sydney Hoffman, CHS dance captain and the actress playing young Donna, who is Sophie’s mother, said one of the most difficult parts of this production was figuring out what could be salvaged from the 2020 play and what needed to be changed.
“We originally opened this show [in] February 2020,” said Laura Beck, director and producer of the play and theater program director for the Corvallis School District. “We had a three weekend run. We did two weekends… When we came in for our pickup [rehearsal] they told us to go home, there’s something going on.”
With COVID-19’s arrival in the United States, Oregon schools switched to virtual teaching for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year and most of the following year. For Beck and the rest of the cast, it was a couple of years before they went back into the theater.
“So we came back in [and] the sets, the costumes, the props, everything had just been sitting here for two years,” Beck said. “So we thought, ‘You know what, let’s do new auditions and just mount the show again.’”
COVID-19 made preparing for the show difficult for Beck because it was hard to hear people through their masks. Having masks also made it easier for the dancers to get winded while wearing them.
For Stage Manager and Assistant Director Sarah Schoeffler, her work was less affected by COVID-19.
“It hasn’t really affected anything in my department, it’s pretty much the exact same, we’re just in masks,” Schoeffler said. “It definitely hinders who can be at rehearsal and who can’t, which is challenging when trying to schedule things, but not much else.”
Beck has been the head of the CSD’s theater program for 15 years, and she stressed the importance of viewing the productions not as high school performances but as professional productions with high school actors.
“We bring in the best in the business of choreographers, scenic artists, everybody so that these kids actually get industry standard training,” Beck said. “We even have audience goers… And we may have 10,000 people see a performance of a very popular musical.”
When the play was being produced in 2019, Beck had been experimenting with turning the musical into a community collaboration project.
“Many of the actors are community theater actors,” Beck said. “In fact, many of the leads are adults. We were able to cast the characters who would normally be teenagers—they’re played by teenagers, and the characters who would normally be played by adults are played by adults.”
For members of the cast, including Janessa Minta who plays the protagonist Sophie, the musical feels more like a community production.
“All the adults are so supportive, and happy to foster this professional but happy environment for the students,” Minta said. “I think it’s a wonderful thing. It’s adults, elementary school kids, middle school kids and people of all ages.”
According to Beck, the plot of the musical is more “cute” than deep. Because the music during the play is from ABBA, Beck also plans to have the lyrics displayed on the wall so the audience will be able to sing along.
“The music is universally happy,” Minta said. “It’s just one of those shows that instantly boosts your serotonin because the whole lesson of it is to be light-hearted and enjoy life. I think that’s how people feel when they’re leaving the theater.”
To view dates and buy tickets to “Mamma Mia!,” information is available on Corvallis Theater Entertainment’s website.