Saugus drama department ramps up to first-ever Forum performance

Jessie Nilsen, Sophia Zavala and Elizabeth Baca rehearse a scene from Mama Mia at the Forum at Saugus High School. Cory Rubin/The Signal

As they gathered in their drama classroom Wednesday morning, the students of the Saugus High School drama department said they could feel the anticipation leading up to the night’s debut performance of “Mamma Mia.”

The reason for their excitement — and a few nerves — was although “Mamma Mia” has been performed for decades in theaters across the country, and the ABBA soundtrack is one of Broadway’s most catchy and popular of all time, the Wednesday through Saturday night performances mark the first time the Saugus drama program is using their new theater, The Forum, which opened last fall.

Amanda Reyes, Amy Acevedo and Dylan Reilly rehearse a scene from Mama Mia at the Forum at Saugus High School. Cory Rubin/The Signal

“This is the first show in the new theater, and I wanted to do something that was big, spectacular and everyone had heard of in order to bring people in,” said Gina Painter, the SHS theater director and teacher. “The beauty of ‘Mamma Mia’ is that it’s so fun, all the songs are upbeat, you’ll be humming along and there’s a ton of choreography …  there’s so many dance numbers.”

This year’s musical — spread out across two alternating casts — is set to feature more than 43 drama students, 10 members of the Saugus High School orchestra and an entire professional tech team. Paired with live music, set design that includes a two-story balcony and costumes rented from professional theatrical costumiers, the students of Saugus High School will sing and act out the story of Sophie, a bride-to-be in search of her real father.

“We auditioned back in December and we started over winter break,” Painter said. “We needed four months to learn (everything).”

Edwin Danahy and Brooke Hougo rehearse a scene from Mama Mia at the Forum at Saugus High School. Cory Rubin/The Signal

With previous years’ performances having been musicals such as “Fiddler on the Roof” and “Beauty and the Beast,” Painter said she chose “Mamma Mia”  for the debut performance because not only is the soundtrack and story famous, but it’s also theatrically suited to the new venue.

“We had, for the last seven years that I’ve been here, been putting on our musicals in the multipurpose room,” said Painter. “That’s basically a glorified cafeteria … a concrete box. But the new theater is absolutely beautiful.”

Playing the lead of Sophie for the Wednesday and Friday shows is Saugus junior Sophia Zavala, and playing the protagonist on Thursday and Saturday is Saugus junior Brooke Hougo. And although they’ve both been involved in drama at Saugus for years, this is the first chance for both at being the leads in a musical.

Aly Longwill, Ember Miller and Amanda Reyes rehearse a scene from Mama Mia at the Forum at Saugus High School. Cory Rubin/The Signal

“This production is so incredibly important to me because not only is this my first lead and our first production in this theater, but it’s going to be on a bigger scale than we’ve ever done it before,” said Zavala. “And this show exudes so much love and everybody in the cast and everybody in the audience, I think, will feel that.”

The run time for the musical is approximately two hours and tickets are still available for Wednesday through Saturday night shows. Each night has a single performance beginning at 7 p.m., and tickets for students are $10 and adults are $12.

“You can bring your family because it’s so recognizable,” Painter said. “Some shows are a little obscure, but everyone knows ‘Mamma Mia.’ You can expect a good time.”

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