Preview: ‘Mamma Mia!’ takes the stage


Junior Annalise Belle Klenow (right), and Seniors Arielle Blumenfeld (center) and Rebecca Helft (left) rehearse a scene from Palo Alto High School’s theater program’s “Mamma Mia!”. According to Blumenfeld, a struggle in producing a musical with many students involved is getting to know everyone on a deeper level. “Because [“Mamma Mia!”] is so big, getting to know every single person and everyone’s styles and techniques is hard, although it’s definitely also the most rewarding part of it,” Blumenfeld said. “Being able to work with so many new people, and also developing those relationships [with everyone] because that needs to happen before opening night.” (Photo: Leena Hussein)

Celina Lee and Leena Hussein

With singing and dancing performances to some of ABBA’s most iconic songs, students will take the stage with Palo Alto High School theater program’s “Mamma Mia!” opening 7:30 p.m. Friday in the Performing Arts Center.

“Mamma Mia!” — an adaption of the 2008 film — centers on former singer Donna Sheridan’s attempt to throw a wedding for her daughter Sophie. What she doesn’t know is that Sophie has secretly invited three of Donna’s ex-boyfriends to the wedding, hoping to learn which of the three men is her biological father. The story unravels in a high-energy musical that will feature over 100 Paly students in the cast, crew and band.

According to “Mamma Mia!” co-director and dance teacher Alyssa Bond, Paly theater chose this piece to give students new and unique opportunities.

It has been almost four years since Paly has produced a full musical and none of the current students have had that classic high school musical experience,” Bond said. Because of that, we wanted to pick a show that was fun-filled, super high-energy, and would provide the opportunity to bring together our entire community.”

Co-director Sarah Thermond said this musical caught the attention of many students because of the initial popularity of the music and film. 

“Mamma Mia! features beloved music from the Swedish band ABBA, disco nostalgia, and epic dance numbers,” Thermond said.It gives our student performers and musicians a chance to play a more contemporary score, and our student designers a chance to create something that falls somewhere in between a play and a rock concert.”

As the first musical since the pandemic, members of the cast, crew and band, are all experiencing it for the first time. According to senior Kyle Xu — who plays Harry in “Mamma Mia!” — there are many challenges to creating a full-scale musical after four years of pause.

“I’d say the challenges have been the schedule and rehearsal times — it’s hard to balance the rehearsals and still have time for other things,” Xu said. 

Senior Arielle Blumenfeld who plays Donna, said she has a lot of experience with musical theater productions, but this is her first time being part of the leading cast. Blumenfeld said she prepared for the big role in many ways. 

“There’s a lot of aspects that go into acting, singing and dancing,” Blumenfeld said. “I’ve prepped for auditions, [and] I’ve been doing theater for a very long time. Vocally, where to place your voice, the choreography aspects and just developing a character especially one with so much depth, makes [playing Donna] a lot of hard work.”

According to Blumenfeld, she spent a lot of time going over specific scenes and the emotions associated with them for her character. 

“I spend at least three hours every single day, not necessarily at rehearsals,” Blumenfeld said. “There’s different types of ways to just characterize somebody. I’m one of the people who likes to prepare, I [go] scene by scene, and how I want my emotions to change and [do] a little bit more character analysis.” 

Senior crew member Noah Boyarsky said designing costumes and sets for a musical of this caliber was a challenging process. 

“The process is a long and complex one,” Boyarsky said. “Every aspect of every costume has to be examined from the historical time period to the colors to the patterns to the fit. We do our absolute best with the resources that we have and thankfully many of our cast stepped up and lent us accessories and clothing pieces to make this show possible.”

The cast, crew and band consist of students with various experience levels. Xu is the only leading cast member who is new to musical theater, and he said he hopes audience members will share his excitement for the upcoming shows. 

“I chose to do this musical because I’ve never done anything musical theater related, and I wanted to try it out for the first time,” Xu said. “I want audience members to sing and dance with us because that’s the point of the show — it’s fun, it’s quirky, and you gotta move a little to have fun.”

“Mamma Mia!” will take place 7:30 p.m. Mar. 3rd 4th & 18th, and 2:00 p.m. Mar. 5th & 19th in the Performing Arts Center.

Tickets are $10 for Students/Seniors and $15 for Adults, for sale on the Paly Theater website.