HANOVER, NJ - The music of Swedish pop group ABBA has always captivated audiences worldwide. The same thing happened again when their music was adapted into a musical by playwright Catherine Johnson in 1999. Since then, its popularity has garnered it a film adaptation in 2008 (staring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Amanda Seyfried), with a recent 2018 sequel.
This musical is known as “Mamma Mia,” and on February 27th, 28th and 29th, the students of Hanover Park High School made this play their musical production this year.
“This year’s spring production of ‘Mamma Mia’ will be a show that gets the whole crowd on their feet,” said 16-year-old Emmy Henning, from Florham Park. “It will be an amazing experience I will never forget. I am so happy I was a part of it.”
Henning has been acting in and out of her schools since the second grade. And for “Mamma Mia,” she had the privilege of playing one its lead roles as Sophie Sheridan; a young lady about to be married and wishes for her father to give her away. And unbeknownst to her mother, she has invited three men who may be her father!
“Playing Sophie has been so much fun,” said Henning. “She is such a fun-loving character with a big imagination. She is a touching character that both the audience and I can relate to. I hope everyone falls in love with Sophie as a character I know I have.”
Eighteen-year-old East Hanover senior Kevin Gilroy, who plays one of the possible fathers Sam Carmichael, also had high hopes for musical’s reception.
“I am very excited for this year's production and think that it will definitely be a crowd favorite,” said Gilroy, who has been performing in musicals since the fourth grade. “I am very excited for everyone to see how much work we have put into this production. I think that my character has been very interesting to play, considering there is such an important backstory to take into consideration. I have enjoyed exploring my relationships with the other characters in the show and it has helped me to grow a lot as a performer.”
“Mamma Mia” was directed by a high school staff team consisting of Angelo De Fazio, Helen Britez, Amanda Patanella, Connie Weakland, and Joe Spina. All directors were happy by their student’s efforts on stage.
“The overall production of ‘Mamma Mia’ is one that is sure to wow audiences with the electrifying songs on stage,” said De Fazio, from Roseland, who has been involved with spring musical at Hanover Park since 2012. “Everyone loves the music of ABBA, and this musical has brought those songs to life with a fun and interesting story that unfolds. Each time we watch, the other directors and myself, we notice new and exciting moments.”
De Fazio has also been the director/producer/vocal director of theatre productions at East Hanover Middle School since 2008, and furthermore, the director of fall and spring theatre productions alongside producer Michaela Harris at Ridgedale Middle School in Florham Park since 2011.
“Our student cast, crew, and pit members are top notch,” said De Fazio. “Each student has devoted his or her time, energy, and talent to make this show as incredible as it is. We encourage our students to really learn and understand that a positive and productive process can produce a wonderful result. They have certainly taken that to heart, as evidenced by their dedication and wonderful performances/contributions on and off stage.”
And the audience members, numbering 300 for each of the three nights, felt the Hanover Park students’ dedication and energy. Many found themselves singing other to the musical’s classic songs, such as “Lay All Your Love on Me,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Money, Money, Money,” “The Winner Takes It All,” “Voulez-Vous,” “SOS” and “The Dancing Queen.”
“‘Mamma Mia’ is great,” said Florham Park resident Carol Stavraka, whose daughter Sydney performs as an ensemble singer/dancer. “I’ve seen the Broadway show and this is a very close replication. The scenery is fantastic and the kids are full of enthusiasm. They light up the stage!”
And the student cast couldn’t be more satisfied by the reception. Even when the last show was finished, they still felt like singing on stage, such as junior Linda Bruncaj, from Florham Park, who play main character Donna Sheridan. “Playing a character with such a complex background has enabled me to tap into emotions I didn’t know I could access,” said Bruncaj, who has been acting since her freshman year at Hanover Park.
“I am so grateful to have to opportunity to play such a strong and free spirited character. I think that this year’s spring production is one I will never forget. It has helped me grow so much as a performer and individual.”