“Mamma Mia” is Virginia High School’s choice for its spring musical. This is its first musical in a few years and was chosen by students and their teacher, Joseph Jessee. Jessee is the chair of both choral and dramatic arts, so he oversees the musical, one-act play competitions in the fall, all choral events and performance opportunities.
“Student opinions were taken into account of course, but I also have a strong love for ‘Mamma Mia,’ so it was a little biased. Due to the pandemic, current students have never had the opportunity to put on a musical. This will be their first,” Jessee says.
Previously, VHS has produced shows such as “Legally Blonde,” “Grease” and “Shrek the Musical.”
The drama and chorus programs are collaborating to produce this year’s musical. The school’s building trades departments are constructing the sets. Jessee and Tim Michaels, building trades teacher, have worked together to create the set.There are 40 students involved in the musical in some capacity including stage hands, ensemble, leads, tech design, etc.
Jessee has been planning this musical since the summer of 2022. “I have easily put in over 150 hours of planning as a first-time musical director to make this production a reality with plenty more still on the way.I believe the dramatic arts are a place for students to develop their identity, think outside the box and create long lasting relationships,” he says.
Students are expected to rehearse three hours every Tuesday, and for an hour and a half daily during their assigned block. This does not include the rehearsal time they, particularly the leads, put in at home.
Lucy Tester will be playing Sophie. She has been a trained vocalist for several years, serving in state, regional, and national choirs. She also performed in last spring’s student-written plays.
Ayden Call will be playing Donna. She has over eight years of choral arts experience, is captain of the color guard, and performed in VHS’ one-act play last semester as well as last spring’s student-written plays.
Hailey Jolliffe will be playing Rosie. Jolliffe is a member of Highlands Youth Ensemble, an extension of Mountain Empire Children’s Choral Academy. This will be her first theatrical performance at VHS.
Carly Street will be playing Tanya. She has performed externally in theatrical productions for years, most recently starring in “Elf the Musical” at Theatre Bristol. She also participated in both the one-act play and last spring’s student-written plays.
Justin Mai will be playing Sky. Mai has played alto saxophone in concert and marching band for several years. This will be his first on-stage production at VHS.
Tyler Leach will be playing Bill Austin. This will be his first on-stage production at VHS.
Braiden Cross will be playing Harry Bright. This will be his first on-stage production at VHS.
Dale Brooks will be playing Sam Carmichael. Dale has been a member of the VHS choir for several years, though this will be his first on-stage production at VHS.
Students involved in the musical say that the friends they make and the experience and opportunities that are opened in the process are important to them.
“I believe the dramatic arts are crucial to developing social and emotional skills in schools today, something we lost during the pandemic. Adding the music to theatrical productions allows students the opportunity to develop their skills of public speaking, performance and teamwork. I believe it also provides a great space for a sense of belonging and self-discovery/assessment,” Jessee says.