COVID stopped this high school musical, now alumni return to help revive the show

Teresa Boeckel
York Daily Record

On a warm summer evening, Dallastown Area High School students and recent graduates practiced their lines, songs and dances for the musical, "Mamma Mia!"

It's a show the cast was set to perform in April 2020. Then the coronavirus pandemic hit the nation, and just three weeks from production, the school shut down.

The director, teacher Amy Anderson, kept setting new dates for the musical, which tells the story of a young bride's search for her birth father and features the hit songs of "ABBA." But as the lockdown wore on, plans for the show fizzled.

Riley Sharp, who is now an incoming sophomore at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, dances with students and alumni during a practice for "Mamma Mia!" at Dallastown Area High School.

"It was just a lot of disappointment for me personally, especially since it was my senior year, knowing I wasn't going to have like a big show to end it," said Josh Trout, who is now studying mechanical engineering at Lehigh University.

"Mamma Mia!" was not allowed to be livestreamed, which is why the school chose not to perform it in subsequent years with the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic, Anderson said. While students were rehearsing for the 2022 spring musical "Anastasia" earlier this year, the directors hatched an idea. Why not put on "Mamma Mia!" this summer?

York State Fair:Prices up, how to save money, and what to see at the big event

They texted the graduates to see who might be able to return, and some of the alumni, who were juniors and seniors in the spring of 2020, volunteered to come back. They, along with current students, have been rehearsing in the evenings since mid-May, and the show will go on July 7 through 10.

"... it's like a big comeback for me," Trout said. 

Dallastown senior Paige Langmead, left, practices with Josh Trout, who is now an incoming sophomore at Lehigh University, for "Mamma Mia!" which runs from July 7 through 10.

2020 graduate: 'Way more confident now'

In front of the big stage, with the massive Greek taverna set in the background, the recent graduates spoke about their desire to return to the stage at their alma mater.

Trout heard rumors that the show would be revived, but he didn't think it would actually happen. The leaders − Anderson and Jennifer McCleary, the vocal director − were persistent, though, and spent the time to gather the cast and crew to put the musical on, he said.

Riley Sharp, a 2021 Dallastown graduate and music and theater major at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, said she had come to peace with the postponement of the production in 2020. She was a junior at the time, and she went on to participate in two smaller shows − "Frozen Junior" and "Beauty and the Beast Junior" − in her senior year. Those performances had to be livestreamed because of COVID. She felt for the seniors who never had their musical.

Both responded "yes" when they received the invitation. Trout plays Bill Austin, one of the possible fathers of Sophie Sheridan. Riley portrays Donna Sheridan, Sophie's mother.

DRIVE program:Trucker shortage? This school district is doing its part to help ease the crisis

Sharp feels like her performance is better now than it was two years ago.

Trout said he, too, had accepted that it was gone. But he's happy that it's back, and he wants to get it done.

"I'm way more confident now," he said, comparing himself to when he was a senior.

The school has been holding on to a giant promotion sign for two years that was donated by the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia. The sign is displayed in the main lobby of the high school

Rachel Raine, a 2021 graduate of Dallastown, serves as the production stage manager. She works full time for Weis Markets. "Mamma Mia!" is her favorite musical, and she, too, wanted to come back in her role.

She shared the news with her co-workers, who asked her why she's returning.

"... I get to see my family again," she said.

'Incredible bonus':Dallastown student wins York County's 2022 Distinguished Young Women program

Investment in the musical pushed them forward

Much work and expense had been put into the production.

It required building the huge taverna, where the orchestra will play. It ended up being dismantled and stored on the stage for two years, Anderson said. The school also had spent money making the flashy costumes, and the sets had been finished.

The leaders figured they would recoup the expenditures through the ticket sales, but that, of course, didn't happen. The school's musical budget took a major hit, which is why the students performed less expensive, smaller shows in 2021, McCleary said. And those just broke even.

The school relied heavily on the spring production of "Anastasia" to get the program back on its feet so it could perform "Mamma Mia!" this summer.

"I think because we had invested so much in it, we just felt like this has got to happen," Anderson said.

When the school realized it was going to have a "normal" musical in the spring, the leaders decided to schedule "Mamma Mia!" for the summer.

Most of the cast has returned. Some of the performers, such as Paige Langmead, who recently won York County Distinguished Young Woman, are entering their senior year in the fall. Langmead plays Sophie, the daughter.

It's been nice to have the graduates return and revive old bonds, she said. "It's kind of like we picked up right where we left off."

Some roles had to be recast because not everyone was available. Some of the alumni are involved in their college experience or helping to run summer camps, Anderson said.

Individuals from other schools, such as Central York, Red Lion, Susquehannock and York Suburban, are helping with the show, too.

Despite having to work around vacations and summer jobs, they're managing to get the musical ready for production, Anderson said.

From the left, Paige Langmead as Sophia is shown with her "dads": Nigel Joseph, Corey Strayer, and Josh Trout during a promotion shot for the 2022 version of 'Mamma Mia!'.

Now the cast and leaders hope the public will come out to see the show.

"... this is like a passion project for everybody involved," Sharp said. "You can really tell that everybody's heart and soul is going into this."

See 'Mamma Mia!' at Dallastown Area High School

Date: July 7 through 10

Time: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $12

Location: Dallastown Area High School, 700 New School Lane

How to buy tickets:; Tickets also will be available at the door.

Recognizing others who have helped

Others who have helped with "Mamma Mia!" include:

  • Elizabeth Gaynor, choreographer
  • Lori Renee Weyant, costumer
  • Matt DeMascolo, lighting designer
  • Dan Anderson and Tim McCleary, set builders
  • Steve Langmead, painter
  • Bill Mohney, set designer
  • Scott Kaliszak, orchestra
  • Andy Hartley, sound

Teresa Boeckel is the trending reporter for the York Daily Record, part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Contact her at, by phone at 717-771-2031 or on Twitter @teresaboeckel.