The show runs this weekend, March 14-16, 2019.
Inspired by the music and lyrics of some of ABBA’s greatest hits, “Mamma Mia!” tells the story of a young woman searching for her birth father, days before her wedding. Her mother’s complicated love life makes things difficult, with hilarious and heartwarming results.
“Mamma mia, here I go again.”
Thomas Jefferson teacher Sandy Barker has been the director of the TJ Musical Theater for 24 years. She values her time with the students outside of the classroom, being able to see them from a different perspective, “watching them interact with others, have fun, and build new relationships that might not have existed without the musical,” she says.
For the students, it’s about forming bonds while having fun singing and dancing to the ABBA classics.
“All the dancing!” exclaims Barker. “We have numbers that include line dancing; 70s favorites like the jerk, the pony, the locomotion; modern dances like the students do at Prom; and even a dance in swim fins.”
As a reflection of the ABBA music that inspired the musical, the production features a range of music from powerful ballads to energetic dance numbers.
“The kids love ‘Waterloo.’ They love the song, the dancing, and going out into the audience to get them involved!” says Barker.
Pressed for her favorite, Barker is conflicted. “I personally have so many favorites and for different reasons,” she admits. “I love “Our Last Summer” because of the 70s vibe of it, “Lay All Your Love” because of the dancing boys in their wet suits and fins, “Slipping Through My Fingers” because it reminds me of my relationship with my own daughter, “Dancing Queen” because of the energy of the kids on stage as they sing and dance….I could go on and on.”
“My my, how can I resist you?”
“This year’s shirt was a result of real teamwork!” says Barker. The design, illustrated by Excel’s Rob Crawford, contains several references (the guitar, the flowing music, the crown) to the song lyrics or musical plot points. But perhaps the most remarkable feature of the front design is the beautiful illustration of Greece, the musical’s setting.
“The students love the blue color, which was frankly a last minute decision,” Barker admits. “I had decided to use a sand color to fit the beachy Greek island feel, but, when it came time to pick, I decided on the blue to represent the ocean. The color with the pop of pink worked very well in the total design.”
The back of the shirt features not only a glittering disco ball and the silhouettes of Donna and the Dynamos in their classic pose but also the names of the students involved in the production. A long list of student names.
With a cast of 90+ students, 50+ musicians in the pit, and 30+ involved in crew and tech, nearly one-third of all the students at Thomas Jefferson is participating in this production!
“Having 90+ kids on stage several times during the performance is very challenging. Our stage and wing space is limited, and having so many cast members and run crew sharing the space can be a logistical nightmare,” says Barker.
But a new and bigger stage awaits the TJ Musical Theater.
“Bye bye, leave me now or never.”
This year’s musical is memorable for several reasons, and maybe the biggest is the fact that it will be the last production done at their current theater space. When the new Thomas Jefferson High School opens next year, TJ Musical Theater will move into its new, state-of-the-art facility.
“Knowing it is our last production on [this stage] brings a great sense of satisfaction and pride but also a feeling of sadness and loss,” says Barker. “Though it’s the bodies on and behind the stage that really make the performance, our stage has become a symbol of their love, their enjoyment, and their love of theater. I can’t help but associate all the wonderful memories and experiences I have had with that old stage.”
“The relationships between the kids, the directors, and staff has always been a strength of TJ Musical Theater, but, as we begin our final production on our old stage, the realization that this is the end of an era has made this year’s production even more meaningful.”
“My my, I could never let you go.”
“I’ve worked with Excel for years,” Barker recounts. “I have a display in the lobby of the 24 shirts we’ve had over the last 24 years of my directorship, and people constantly comment on how colorful they are.”
And over the years, Barker has seen how her students have cherished the shirts as a valuable keepsake from their musical experience. “The shirt serves as our representation of a team who has worked diligently together forming bonds and friendships that will last a lifetime,” she says.
And just like those friendships, their shirts will last a lifetime.