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Mercy McAuley's "Mamma Mia"

Review by Ellie Lewis, Mariemont High School Cappies Critic Team

Mercy McAuley High School took a chance with their enthusiastic production of "Mamma Mia," asserting that the winner truly does take it all. 

"Mamma Mia" tells the story of soon-to-be-bride Sophie Sheridan, who invited all three of her potential dads to her wedding much to the horror of her mother, Donna. Through twists and turns, both Sophie and her mother not only strengthened their relationship, but developed others as well. Arriving at the West End in 1999, Broadway in 2001, and produced into the iconic film in 2008, the story has seen various forms and has worked itself into the lives of many. 

As a whole, the production was terrific. The robust ensemble demonstrated self-awareness with encapsulating and athletic dance numbers punctuated by strong lead roles. The mature themes of the musical were conveyed respectively, and the momentum never slipped out of grasp with vitality only increasing as the musical went on.

The leading roles of Donna Sheridan and Sam Carmichael, played by Danielle Nissen and Mark Wilmes, were memorable. Nissen's confidence took command of the stage, conveying her dynamic character with ease. Her broad, supportive voice shone through in numerous numbers, specifically, "Money, Money, Money" and "Super Trouper". Having a fair voice laced with vibrato, Wilmes contributed vocally in numerous numbers in addition to his inherent acting ability accentuated by self-assurance.

The supporting, featured, comic, and vocalist roles have much to be proud of. Gabrielle Mouch, in the role of Sophie Sheridan, stole the show with her impressive vocals and genteel demeanor, perfectly accompanied by Hunter Nichols as Sky. Performing "Lay All Your Love on Me" with dedication, the two had chemistry and a clear passion for performing. Bill Austin (Daniel Freeman) and Harry Bright (Brendan Wells) contributed with comedic chime, as well as Tanya and Rosie (Jill Allaben; MJ Gabriel) served up Donna and the Dynamos with passion and energy.

The tech and crew has much to be proud of. The student-constructed set was not only flexible and convertible but was realistic and allowed for efficient scene transitions. The sound and orchestra were compatible with the cast, navigating integrated dialogue within numbers well. Hair, makeup, and costumes allowed full characterization and contributed to the merriment of the musical.

Mercy McAuley High School had a dream of executing a wonderful performance of "Mamma Mia", a dream that came true.  

Review by Kamryn Lee, Simon Kenton High School Cappies Critic Team

Greece is the place to be for a little wedding and an unexpected family reunion. Mercy McAuley High School is where to hear classic song renditions of hit 1970's band ABBA and to meet three potential fathers in their production of "Mamma Mia!"

The story revolves around 20 year old Sophie Sheridan  (Gabrielle Mouch ), and her mother Donna Sheridan (Danielle Nissen ); Sophie's  father is unknown to her, but she happens across her mother's diary from the year she got pregnant and finds out there are three men that all have the potential of being her father. In an effort to have a traditional wedding in which the father of the bride gives her away, she invites all three men, hoping she'll know her dad instantly. Unfortunately, Sophie has no way of deciphering which man is her true father, so she and the three of them, Sam, Bill, and Harry keep their knowledge on the subject a secret from Donna. Donna eventually finds out the truth of the matter, however, as most mothers do.

Gabrielle Mouch had an out-of-this world singing voice and incredible chemistry with every other character she came in contact with, specifically with Danielle Nissen (Donna) and Brendan Wells (Harry Bright ). Tanya (Jill Allaben ) and Rosie (MJ Gabriel ), Donna's best friends and old back up singers, were hilariously memorable personalities. Brendan Wells (Harry) and Daniel Freeman (Bill) each took on accents very well; it added to the individuality of their roles. Sam Carmichael, who never stopped loving Donna and later marries her, was played wonderfully by Mark Wilmes; his voice was captivating. The ensemble, which was so large the stage had to be specially built upon to accommodate, worked together fantastically to hold harmonies and sound fuller, even while performing difficult choreography.

The set looked professional; it was beautifully designed and appeared easy to manipulate as scene changes went impressively fast. Lighting was a great factor in enhancing the setting- colors flashed during parties, basic highlights brightened up during the day and were also in conveying emotion, pink accents were used to symbolize romance, and a small spotlight against black was used to show fear. Sound was high quality; the talented orchestra was playing at a distinct volume in order to not overpower the actors. Costumes were simple for everyday wear and classically extravagant for Donna and The Dynamos's performances.

A feeling of adoration for long-lasting friendships and family is conveyed by Mercy McAuley High School.

Review by Abby Fortney, Simon Kenton High School Cappies Critic Team

"Mamma Mia," performed by Mercy McAuley High School, is a show that everyone should take a chance on. There is never a dull moment in this production as the cast and crew bring so much energy that it is impossible to resist the urge to sing along with this classic musical.

"Mamma Mia" was originally written by Catherine Johnson in 1999. This jukebox musical combines several classic songs by the 1970's band ABBA to cleverly tell the story of Sophie Sheridan, a young girl on an island desperately trying to find her real father before her wedding. However, chaos results from her efforts because it turns out Sophie has three potential fathers, all of who show up on the island the day before her wedding. 

As a whole, Mercy McAuley's production of "Mamma Mia" was anchored in its outstanding musical numbers. Songs such as "Take a Chance on Me" and "Slipping Through My Fingers" provided the show with a variety of hilarious and heartfelt moments. In addition, the sets for this production were extremely well-done and of the same quality as a true Broadway play. 

Lead actress Danielle Nissen, who played Donna Sheridan, flawlessly modeled the independence and ambition of her character as she captivated the audience. However, her talents extended far beyond acting as she proved herself to also be a fantastic vocalist. In particular, her song "The Winner Takes It All" was powerful enough to send chills up anyone's spine. Her male counterpart, Sam Carmichael, played by Mark Wilmes, was just as charming in his role. Mark Wilmes also demonstrated his remarkable musical talent when he sang in songs like "S.O.S".

Likewise, supporting actress MJ Gabriel, portraying the character Rosie, provided the show with a sense of light-hearted humor through her energy and outgoing personality as a character. In addition, Gabrielle Mouch, who played the character of Sophie Sheridan, was also both a talented actress and singer, as she perfectly embodied the girly and carefree nature of her character.

The technical elements of Mercy McAuley's production were phenomenal as well. The sets for the show were simply gorgeous as they were both detailed and realistic. In addition, even the large set pieces were able to be moved seamlessly which allowed for little to no downtime in the show. The crew also made remarkable costuming decisions. All of the costumes fit a trendy and tropical aesthetic similar to the rest of the show. The costumes for individual characters also aligned well with their personalities. For instance, Tanya, a character living a high- class yet fun-filled lifestyle, wore pantsuits and pencil skirts while the character Rosie, who is far more down to earth, often wore simple t-shirts and cargo shorts.

Overall, Mercy McAuley High School's production of "Mamma Mia" will leave all who see it "smiling and having fun" throughout the show and long after curtain.

Excerpts from Top Ranked Student Reviews

“The huge ensemble didn't miss a beat and created a vibrant energy that brought the stage to life. Intimate duets were just as full of energy as the huge, full-cast numbers; perfect vocals made songs including "S.O.S" and "Knowing Me Knowing You" with standout singers Danielle Nissen and Mark Wilmes  ovation-worthy. The show closed with a poignant rendition of "I Have A Dream," sung by Gabrielle Mouch.”

-Madeleine Magruder, Seven Hills School

“Also, the sets and the props used were not only creative but helped lead the musical to the storyline. The sound effect and lighting provided a more dramatic effect for the musical, blending in with the atmosphere.”

-Jasmine Fan, Seven Hills School. 

“The adored roles of Donna and Sophie Sheridan were played by Danielle Nissen and Gabrielle Mouch . Both Nissen and Mouch brought a fun-loving and charming charisma to the stage, and the duo had amazing chemistry, leaving the audience wishing there was more time for mother-daughter bonding scenes.”

-Hailey Bauer, Miami Valley Christian Academy

“The foundation of the show, both literally and figuratively, came from the gorgeous set that backed every scene. With a beautiful color scheme and an easily movable design, it was simply breathtaking to look at. Another visually stunning aspect was the handcrafted and picked costumes which ranged from appropriate 90's attire of low-waisted jeans to dazzling gogo boots for The Dynamos.”

-Liz Browning, Colerain High School

“Also making their marks on this vibrant performance were MJ Gabriel and Daniel Freeman as Rosie and Bill Austin. Each of these characters were individually hilarious and their duet number, "Take a Chance on Me," was easily the most humorous section of the show. Forrest Brown also shined in his comedic role as Pepper”

-Ellie Miller, Ursuline Academy

“The choreography is exceptionally creative, and the dancers seem to execute even the most complex steps with ease. "Under Attack" is a dream sequence that opens the second half of the show. The costumes incorporate glow-in-the-dark lights and intense choreography, making it one of the most powerful numbers in the show.”

-Emma Horn, Simon Kenton High School

“With his heartfelt vocals and captivating acting, Mark Wilmes stole the show as Sam Carmichael, one of Sophie's potential fathers. His emotions were superimposed upon others as Carmichael brilliantly demonstrated the changing emotions of a new dad at his daughter's wedding.”

-Samantha Flerlage, Mariemont High School

About The Cappies of Greater Cincinnati

The Critics and Awards Program strives to recognize Greater Cincinnati’s talented community of young writers, performers, and technical crews. High school theatre and journalism students who participate in the Cappies program are trained as critics, attend shows at other schools, and write and publish reviews. At the end of the school year, the student critics vote to give awards to their fellow students for outstanding productions, group and individual performances, and achievements in technical categories. Awards are presented at the annual Cappies Gala.

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