Rachel Gerber, playing Donna Sheridan, performing “Money, Money, Money” in King David High School’s production of Mamma Mia! (photo from KDHS)
High school theatre programs have the power to unite a student body. At King David High School, community values are inseparable from the student experience, and their recent production of Mamma Mia! May 3-4 was a captivating demonstration of exactly that.
Mamma Mia! follows a young bride’s search for her birth father, leading her to invite three of her mother’s former lovers to her wedding. It is a tale of love, friendship and family, told through the beloved hits of the iconic ABBA. I was lucky enough to see the King David High School production of the show on its sold-out closing night May 4. The audience was brought to its feet by the final song, “Waterloo.”
Staging a musical such as Mamma Mia! requires teamwork and camaraderie. The show largely relies on its ensemble and King David’s ensemble and principal actors seamlessly collaborated in their singing, dancing and acting. Several of the actors agreed that the most meaningful part of the process was the cast coming together over the course of rehearsals and the performances.
The cast featured students from grades 8 to 12. The on-stage band, led by Johnny Seguin, was professional and impressive, providing a soulful and steady backbone for the actors. With an electric musical score, a heart-warming plot and countless laughs, any theatre’s take on Mamma Mia! is sure to delight its audience, and this production was no exception.
The graduating seniors of King David claimed the stage in roles that showcased their respective talents. The curtains rose as Kailey Bressler, playing Sophie Sheridan, enchanted the audience with an angelic rendition of “I Have a Dream.” Bressler – who, full disclosure, is my sister – portrayed Sophie with a balance of sweetness and confidence, accompanied by her breathtaking voice. While I did not see Mhairi Hemingson’s portrayal of Sophie the day before, she earned herself rave reviews – I heard she gave a genuine and graceful performance.
The introduction of Sophie’s mother, Donna Sheridan, and the Dynamos sent laughter and excitement throughout the audience. Nikki Wiseman brought energy and humour to the character of Rosie, skilfully counterbalanced by Kiera Katz’s poised and classy portrayal of Tanya. Both Wiseman and Katz said that a memorable part of the rehearsal period was developing the dynamic between their characters, and their efforts paid off, eliciting roaring laughter with each interaction. Completing the trio was Rachel Gerber’s portrayal of the matriarch, Donna. Gerber’s performance emanated confidence, energy and depth, bringing some to tears with her rendition of “The Winner Takes It All.”
The leading male characters of the show – Sophie’s three possible dads – also delivered heartfelt and vibrant performances. Shai Rubin’s Sam was dignified and upbeat. Ori Haber, who played Harry, shared that his favourite part of rehearsals was crafting the intricate interactions among the dads, who happen to be his real-life best friends. The actors’ friendship translated on stage, especially with the masterful comedic timing of Yair Cohen, playing Bill. Another standout was Jesse Millman’s exuberant stage presence as Sophie’s fiancé, Sky.
As King David prepares to send off its graduating class, Mamma Mia! proved to be the ideal narrative for its seniors. The story captures the journey of navigating unique paths while having the comfort of community to fall back on. It is about growing up and self-acceptance in an ever-changing world. Gerber and Bressler’s rendition of “Slipping Through My Fingers” perfectly captured the emotional core of the story – it was an emotional moment for the families of the graduating class, as well.
With their talent and joy, this remarkable cast and crew made Mamma Mia! a pleasure to watch, and a beautiful testament to the strength of King David’s community.
Alisa Bressler is a fourth-year student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont. She is an avid reader and writer, and the online director of the arts and culture publication MUSE Magazine. Bressler is a member of the Vancouver Jewish community, and the inaugural Baila Lazarus Jewish Journalism Intern.