The 16th Annual Cappies Gala Recap

The 16th Annual Cappies Gala, LIVE AND IN-PERSON for the first time in three years, was held at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center.  Cappies Critics, performers and presenters came out in their finest to celebrate high school theatre and the coveted Cappies Awards for the 2021-2022 season were announced.  Twenty-one schools participated this season, and the night was filled with drama, cheers, performances, and touching and poignant acceptance speeches.

The most crucial part of the Cappies program is the student critics.  Each school chooses three to six students who travel to schools across Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware to watch shows, write reviews, and nominate performers and crews for Cappies nomination consideration.  The top reviews are posted here on this blog.  This year, Jack McCullough (Harriton High School – 9th/10th grade), Arielle Oslon (Upper Merion Area High School – 11th grade), and Aiden Kaliner (Harriton High School – 12th grade) received the top critics honors for their grade level.  McCullough, Kaliner, and fellow nominee Nel Blinman, spear-headed Harriton High School as their school also took home the Cappies Award for Critics Team!

For performances categories, the biggest show of the night was the Big Fish!  Upper Merion Area High School’s touching and powerful musical took home seven Cappies awards including Stage Crew, Lead Actor in a Musical (Daniel Isajiw) and the coveted Cappies Award for Musical among their haul.  Archmere Academy, with their production of the classic comedy Once Upon a Mattress tied for second with four Cappies awards, including Lead Actress in a Musical (Serena Martin), and Sun Valley High School’s classic musical Oklahoma also took home four Cappies awards including sweeping the dance categories and Male Vocalist (Seamus McGroary).   The Hill School’s original musical, Love, Dot, won the Cappies for Song in a Musical with their haunting and captivating rendition of “Every Step You Take”.

For the Play categories, Conestoga High School’s powerful production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, took home four Cappies awards including the Cappies Award for Play Production, Lead Actor in a Play (Jared Bundens) and both the Lighting and Sound awards.  Episcopal Academy took home four Cappies awards for their production of Radium Girls, including Lead Actress in a Play (Katie Locke).  This was Locke’s second Cappies award for Actress in a Play, winning two years ago for her performance in Walk Two Moons

The complete list of nominees and winners can be found here.

2021 – 2022 Cappies Nominations and Winners

Thank you for a memorable, interesting, fun year of theatre.  We are looking forward to celebrating another year of high school theatre in the fall!

2021-2022 Cappies Nominations Revealed!

The votes have finally been cast for the 2021-2022 Greater Philadelphia Area Cappies Awards!  The critics and shows have persisted through thick and thin, through tech weeks and production weeks, through delays and final performances!  After twenty-one schools performed throughout the year starting way back in November, on Sunday May 1st, Cappies critics cast their votes and the results were released this week.

In the Musical categories, Upper Merion High School, with its dramatic and powerful production of Big Fish, was nominated for seventeen production awards, including six technical awards, eleven performance awards, and a nomination for overall Musical Production.  Other shows with top honors include: Haverford’s groovy production of Mamma Mia, with nominations in fifteen categories including Lead Actor in a Musical, Set Design, Orchestra, and overall Musical Production, Archmere Academy’s nine performance nominations for its classic comedy musical Once Upon a Mattress, which included Lead Actress in a Musical, Ensemble in a Musical, and overall Musical Production, and Sun Valley High School’s lively production the musical classic Oklahoma which captured eleven overall nominations, including Male Vocalist, Song, and overall Musical Production.

In the Play categories, Harriton High School’s sweet production of The Curious Savage garnered eleven nominations including Lead Actress in a Play, Supporting Actor and Actress in a Play, and overall Play Production.  Conestoga High School’s production of The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night earned seven performance nominations including Lead Actor in a Play and Play Production.  Episcopal Academy’s powerful production of Radium Girls gathered eight performance nominations, including Lead Actress in a Play and Play Production.  Rounding out the Play category, PA Leadership Charter School’s stunning modernized production of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet scored six nominations, including Lead Actress in a Play and Play Production.

For the critic awards, Harriton High School and Upper Merion High School received five nominations each, including four out of their six critics being nominated for top awards, while also being nominated for the Outstanding Overall Team award.  Archmere Academy, Conestoga High School, and Phoenixville Area High School also received Team nominations.

See the full list of nominations here –

The 16th Annual Cappies Gala, where the Cappies awards will be revealed for all the categories, will be held at the Upper Darby Performing Arts Center on Sunday May 15th at 6pm.  Tickets can be purchased here. https://gpcappies2022.brownpapertickets.com

So, get out your formal wear and get ready for an amazing night of celebrating high school theatre in the Greater Philadelphia Area!

Mamma Mia! – Haverford High School

Mamma Mia! by Haverford High School in Havertown, PA

May 4, 2022

Review submitted by Taylor Malone of Conestoga High School

Let it be known that you can dance, you can jive, and you can certainly have the time of your life when experiencing the groovy trance of Haverford High School’s musical Mamma Mia! As the curtain closes on such a sensational story, all you’ll be able to hear is chants of gimmie, gimmie, gimmie an encore before midnight!

As spunky Dynamo-singer Rosie says…it is very Greek. Mamma Mia! follows the harrowing journey of a curious girl, Sophie, as she explores new heights to learn who her father truly is. Good news is, she has a lead on who could be the mystery man. Bad news is…she has three leads on who he could be.

Despite having to step into this role at the last minute, Emma Swantak (Sophie), does a delightful job capturing the youthful impression her character needs. Stand-out solos prompted by her promising vocals include “I Have a Dream” and heart-felt duet with her mother, “Slipping Through My Fingers.”

Here she goes again, my, my, how can anyone resist her? That is the one and only Lily Guidetti, playing the spontaneous Donna, Sophie’s mother. Adding to the flare of not only her pants but also her personality too, Guidetti utilizes her charismatic and comedic physicality to mold a light-hearted atmosphere, showing the audience why she may be known as a “Super Trouper.”

Alongside this dancing queen stand her two partners in crime, Tanya (Katie Blickley) and Rosie (Ava Facciolo). Together, the trio mesmerizes the audience with their platonic chemistry, surely convincing the crowd they have been the iconic Donna and the Dynamos for as long as they have claimed. Masters of the disco, Haverford High School’s Vacationer ensemble hypnotizes viewers to the point where they are practically dancing in their seats with the funky tunes that are brought their way.

On stage seems to not be the only party going on, but indeed behind that curtain is another spectacular production. Transforming a stage into the tropical oasis of Greece is no easy feat, but it is surely no shock Haverford’s team can go above and beyond for this. Specifically, amazing creativity can be seen in Haverford’s Marketing/Publicity Team, run by Camille Stahl and Ava Facciolo. In addition to this abundance of talent is Caleb Schmitt plus his wonderful orchestra, which at such an early age is able to orchestrate this upbeat jukebox tune all by himself.

This isn’t the type of show to just start “slipping through your fingers,” with the cast and crew’s dedication to making this performance stand out from the rest. Before you know it, you’ll be hearing yourself say “I do, I do, I do” to any chance you can get to see Haverford’s tremendous productions!

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Review submitted by Lilian Rizek of The Hill School

Mamma Mia! What a show it was, at Haverford High School. The Haverford Drama Club performed a well-known 1999 musical composed of songs by the group ABBA.

Mamma Mia! takes place over the last twenty-four hours before the wedding of twenty-year-old Sophie. Her mom, Donna, owns and operates a taverna on a small Greek island, and for Sophie’s whole life she has been content not knowing her father. However, three months before the wedding, Sophie made an effort to identify and invite her father, but realized there are three men who could have that title, so she invites them all to the wedding where they are reintroduced to an island they haven’t been to in over two decades.

Though she held the role of assistant director for the show, Emma Swantak stepped in as Sophie less than twenty-four hours ahead of opening night. She was understandably uncertain about certain dances, however, Swantak nailed every song with a sweet and soft tone that was well suited to the character of Sophie. She brought great energy and excitement to the stage, keeping the audience invested in Sophie’s life and story. The role of Donna was held by Lily Guidetti, who brought a strong voice and clear skill to her role.

Sophie’s fiancé, Sky, was played by Nicholas Borgesi, whose strong voice and confident dancing brought a life to his part. Sophie’s three potential fathers were a strong supporting cast: from Sam (Michael Selfridge), with a voice and charm that captured the audience, to Bill (Ellis Singleton) and Harry (Colin Cleary), with acting and comedic timing that entertained in the best moments. The three meshed well together and with Guidetti and Swantak.

Katie Blickley and Ava Facciolo as Tanya and Rosie created a great bond with a balance of bickering and helping tones, and they filled the emotional challenges of their characters as well as bringing a great energy to their songs. The ensemble brought a great immersion to the show, creating the feel of being on an island. Though occasionally lacking in energy overall, the ensemble brought energy to every dance and demonstrated a clear mastery of their staging.

The technical aspects of the show were impressive. The lighting for the show was phenomenal, accurately catching each mood, with spotlights capturing every move. This was enhanced by the effective stage management, with perfectly timed cues and a clear communication among cast and crew regarding blocking and moving set pieces. The student-conducted orchestra completed the show, demonstrating mastery of the score and a clear relationship with the cast.

Mamma Mia! is a difficult undertaking, with the number of songs and the storytelling to be done. The entire cast showed an ability to work together and had a mastery of the show. “Thank You For The Music”, Haverford!

The Little Mermaid – The Academy of the New Church

The Little Mermaid by the Academy of the New Church in Bryn Athyn, PA

April 27, 2022

Review submitted by Audrey McCollum of Upper Merion Area High School

I can say with “Positoovity” that the Academy of the New Church’s production of The Little Mermaid was truly “Beyond My Wildest Dreams!”

The show follows Ariel, a mermaid princess who rebels against her father’s hateful view of humans and dreams to leave the ocean. When she eventually saves the man of her dreams from drowning, she decides she must make her way to land, even if that means making a deal with the abhorred sea witch, Ursula. Unfortunately, the deal takes away her beautiful voice, and she falls head-over-fins into trouble. But, even in the direst of times, her devotion to her prince carries her on in this tale of forbidden love.

Captivating the audience with her angelic voice during “Part of Your World” was Anya Durand as Ariel. Perfecting Ariel’s childlike infatuation with the human world, Durand’s portrayal of the yearning, ambitious mermaid had the entire audience just as entranced by her as Prince Eric was. Alongside Ariel was Evan Buss, who portrayed Prince Eric. With Buss’s gentle demeanor and a strong performance during “Her Voice,” it was easy for the audience to understand why Ariel gave up her voice for the man.

The Little Mermaid wouldn’t have been complete with Ariel’s anxious and neurotic companion Sebastian, played by Christopher Fox. Fox’s accented and unique voice shined in “Kiss the Girl,” and he was consistently hilarious in his attempts to not become the next meal prepared by the eccentric Chef Louis (Ainsley Odhner). Terrifying not only Ariel but everyone watching was Maggie Stine as Ursula, who ensured that her every word, whether it was lamenting her life story or performing “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” was dripping with malice. Ursula wouldn’t have been complete without her companions, Flotsam (Ainsley Odhner) and Jetsam (Meg Matsukawa), who were entrancing during numbers such as “Sweet Child.”

The ensemble was always ready to jump into action, dancing along to an oceanic rhythm in “Under the Sea” and following quick comedic timing in “Les Poissons (Reprise).”

Constructing the “Fathoms Below” was the talented ANC Stagecraft, who made the production beautiful to watch. However, the pretty sets wouldn’t have been complete without ANC Costuming Class’s stunning costumes. Ursula’s tentacles and Flounder’s shimmering fins ensured that the show was impossible to look away from.

“If Only” I could see Academy of the New Church’s Little Mermaid again and again!

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Review submitted by Evelyn Walker of Conestoga High School

Academy of the New Church made a splash with their first musical since 2018, The Little Mermaid. Impressive technical elements, character voices, and fast-moving dialogue brought new life to the classic show.

The Little Mermaid premiered on Broadway in 2008 and is closely based on Disney’s 1989 film of the same name. It tells the story of a young mermaid, Ariel, who is fascinated by the human world. When she trades her voice to a sea witch for legs in the hopes of wooing a human prince, Ariel discovers not only a new world but the power of home and family. 

The students displayed proficiency in character building along with set and costume production. Many scenes involved a flying system through which cast members were suspended above the stage. This system added to the performance and allowed the students to display their acrobatic abilities. Overall, the show was impressive in both technology and performance. 

Anya Durand shone as Ariel, having perfected the character’s voice and giving the audience a sense of nostalgia. Her vocal control was impressive, especially during the classic song “Part of Your World”, during which she swam above the stage on the flying system while belting, a feat which requires both core strength and incredible breath control. Durand was also a strong physical actor, especially when her character was trying to walk on human legs for the first time. Durand worked across from Evan Buss, who received the phone call that he would be playing Prince Eric just days before the show opened after the original actor could no longer go on. Not only did Buss have his lines and blocking fully memorized, but he also performed with emotion and a strong voice. 

Tara Pitcairn, who played Scuttle the seagull, flew onstage at the beginning of the show and had impressive physical acting throughout. She displayed strong dancing ability during the upbeat tap number “Positoovity” and kept the audience laughing. Christopher Fox’s Sebastian was consistently high-energy and fun to watch. Fox had a beautiful voice, which especially shone during “Kiss the Girl”. Working alongside Ainsley Odhner’s Chef Louis, Fox performed a hysterical chase scene following the raucous number “Les Poissons”. 

The technical elements were especially difficult for this show, with the flying system, a motorized boat, and even an explosion onstage. The crew handled all these elements well and carried out difficult scene changes with ease.

The cast of The Little Mermaid at the Academy of the New Church made audiences “part of their world” and brought them on an exciting adventure both on land and under the sea. 

Lost Girl – Abington Friends School

Lost Girl by Abington Friends School in Jenkintown, PA

April 27, 2022

Review submitted by Claire Meachen of Phoenixville Area High School

What happens after Neverland? When pixie dust and Peter Pan are no more?

Abington Friends School’s production of Lost Girl tells the story of Wendy years after her return from Neverland. She struggles with growing up and moving on as she consults people in her life who try to discover what happened to her, what is going on with her now, and how she is supposed to move forward. Suddenly, the classic tale of Peter Pan becomes a tale of young adulthood and finding one’s way.

The production overall was extremely well-timed. The entire cast and crew shared clear communication amongst them all as they seamlessly worked from scene to scene, exhibiting both Wendy’s own thoughts and characters of their own.

Nora Monahan (Wendy) carried the weight of the show, never stepping offstage for a moment. Her completely realistic moments of tragedy or impartiality further explored every nuance of the show. Monahan’s easy swinging between child-like and grown-up behavior also made the transition of her character increasingly relatable to the show’s target audience.

Isaiah Kirkland (Slightly) proved to be a force to be reckoned with on stage. His effortless and natural delivery of his lines conveyed intimacy and hidden feelings, feelings that the audience would not know Slightly had without Kirkland’s small quips, fidgets, or glances. Morgan Wilkins (Therapist) was also able to embody a complete understanding of her character. She exhibited emotional maturity not usually seen in high school theatre, but most definitely welcomed.

From the plethora of toys lining the stage, to the letters falling from the ceiling, Julia Rubin (Stage Manager), Olivia Blumenthal (Assistant Stage Manager), and Lucy Yingliang Duan (Props Manager) added a layer of complexity to the show that certainly did not go unnoticed. The amount of detail put into each prop was very clear and enhanced the show to a high degree.

Abington Friends School’s Lost Girl takes the audience on a journey of growing up with superb intimacy and consequential captivation.

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Review submitted by Kyra Keenan of Upper Merion Area High School

Have you heard about the girl? Some say Wendy Darling has gone mad, but in actuality, she’s lost something back in Neverland. Abington Friends School’s production of Lost Girl takes a beloved story and digs into the contemporary heartbreak it caused.

Wendy gives herself eight minutes to think about Peter Pan each day. Some memories she keeps, some she discards, and others she can’t seem to part with. She leaves the window open in the hopemof Peter’s return, leaving her with an unshakable sore throat and a persistent sadness. Wendy realizes that Peter has something of hers: a kiss. For Wendy to finally move out of the nursery and grow up, she knows she needs her kiss back. Wendy embarks on a harrowing emotional journey in Kimberly Belflower’s Lost Girl.

Abington Friends School’s magical performance highlights both the magic and the destitute aspects of Neverland. The entire cast displayed entrancing, indicative body language and engaged dialogue. Student-composed music by Katie Brady-Gold and Clay Lewis enhanced every scene with specific musical motifs for each character.

Wendy Darling, the lost girl herself, was excellently portrayed by Nora Monahan. Remaining onstage throughout the entirety of the show, Monahan admirably portrayed the grief that comes with growing up. She had excellent chemistry with the Lost Boys, fulfilling her motherly promises to care for them. Monahan’s emotional evolution was realistic and deep.

The Lost Boys (Oliver Peterson, Isaiah Kirkland, Nelson Cordon, and Sadie Mills) depicted the fun-loving and upbeat energy of young children. The ensemble played around with each other like true brothers. Specifically, Isaiah Kirkland (Slightly) was both comedic and emotional in his interactions with Wendy, making for a believable budding romance. Also notable was the therapist (Morgan Wilkins) whose optimistic energy was heart-winning.

The AFS Tech Crew added to the magic of the show, as it was well-equipped with special effects. Through sparkling falling snow or mysterious falling letters, the entire atmosphere filled with Abington’s performance. Stage Manager Julia Rubin kept the show running smoothly, perfectly orchestrating scene changes and managing a nursery’s worth of props.

Between grief and personal growth, Abington Friends School’s production of Lost Girl leaves the audience anything but lost. 

The Lightning Thief – Upper Darby High School

photo by Ryan Stone

The Lightning Thief by Upper Darby High School in Drexel Hill, PA

April 12, 2022

Review submitted by Anya Durand of Academy of the New Church

In a world in which fiction becomes reality and imminent death and failure are approaching, a young boy is thrown into a world in which he is ignorant and afraid. Upper Darby High School’s performance of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical sheds a unique light on the childhood favorite.

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, based on the book by Rick Riordan, originated its run off-Broadway for limited performances. It has since been most notably touring nationally in the United States and is set to return for another return post the quarantine of the COVID-19 virus that ended its last showing.

The story follows young Percy Jackson, played by Phoenyx Hawkins in Upper Darby’s production, the half-blood son of Poseidon who is thrown into the world of gods and monsters after being attacked on a school field trip. He is then forced into a quest in which he must prove his innocence in the debate over Zeus’s missing thunderbolt to stop a war between the gods. Hawkins was challenged with an unforgiving script and a complete lack of blackouts throughout the show, yet managed to carry almost the entire show’s energy. They were on stage nearly the entire show and not once broke character or faltered in keeping the audience interested. Their tone and breath support during both their mix and falsetto were clean, well thought out, and nothing short of masterful.

Notable among Percy’s leading performances was that of Kenneth Bruce as Luke and Alana Gangadeen as Annabeth. Bruce’s technical execution of his stunningly rich vocals and well-thought-out mannerisms were a thrill to watch, and Gangadeen’s clear and supported mix had both smoothness and fierceness necessary to pull off the character. In addition, Clarisse’s (Sara McGrenra) poignant and powerful mix and belt and Mr. D’s (Jeremiah Ortiz) hilarious portrayal of a sour middle-aged man who desperately needs a drink were shining gems within a chorus that lacked energy and enthusiasm for most of the show.

The orchestration backed up a chorus with standout performances from featured dancers and ensembles, such as Emma Gonsalves or the D.O.A. ensemble.

The technical aspects of the show included a creative and well-executed series of lighting cues as well as an efficient stage crew whose only faltering was through moving loud sets that challenged the actors on stage.

Upper Darby High School’s performance of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical was a unique and memorable performance of a childhood favorite, and served as a humorous work of childhood nostalgia.

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Review submitted by Aiden Kaliner of Harriton High School

Translating a childhood fantasy to the stage is no easy feat, yet, Upper Darby High School’s production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical did the unthinkable: they brought the Greek gods to real life!

Based on the best-selling novel by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical tells the tale of an outcast, fatherless, teenager, Percy Jackson, who wants nothing more than to be understood. When his substitute teacher turns into a raging Fury, a demon from the Underworld, Percy’s life turns upside down as he learns about his true identity–he is a half-blood. After arriving at Camp Half-Blood, Percy and his newfound friends, Annabeth and Grover, set off on a quest to retrieve Zeus’ missing lightning bolt while coming into his own.

Upper Darby High School’s production of The Lightning Thief was impressive because of the talented leading and supporting characters. Although the ensemble dipped in energy at times, the leading actors consistently delivered enthusiasm and captivating performances.

Phoenyx Hawkins, who played the iconic Percy Jackson, stole the show with their melodic vocals and childhood charm. Their portrayal of Percy was genuine and nuanced, filled with humor and snark when needed. Their comedic timing and dedication to the role was evident and admirable.

The rest of the supporting cast was as entertaining and talented as well. Kenneth Bruce (Luke) quickly became a crowd favorite with his jaded persona, refined tapping skills, and soaring vocals. Bruce’s stage presence was undeniable as he captivated the audience’s attention throughout the production. Meanwhile, Alana Gangadeen (Annabeth) was a stand-out vocalist. Her incredible vocal technique and thoughtful performance in “My Grand Plan” was a memorable and show-stopping moment in Act II. Other performers, including Josh Atkinson (Mr. Brunner/Chiron), Sara McGrenra (Clarisse), and Jeremiah Ortiz (Mr. D/Dionysus) displayed phenomenal talent in dance, vocals, and comedy, respectively. 

The technical aspects of the show, supported by the prepared stage management duo, Briona Kelly and Evelynn Deus, was nothing short of amazing. Most notably, the lighting design, by John Troy, helped to dramatize moments and convey the varying atmospheres and places the story takes place in. Whether it be the disco-land of the Underworld or the fauna of the woods, Troy’s thoughtful designs were effective and visually appealing.

Upper Darby High School’s production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical showcased many talented and electrifying performances and made audiences want to scream “Bring on the Monsters!”

Big Fish – Upper Merion Area High School

Photo by Cecilia Lee

Big Fish by Upper Merion Area High School in King of Prussia, PA

April 6, 2022

Review submitted by Gabriela Puntel of Abington Friends School

As the lights dimmed and the curtains were lifted, Upper Merion Area High School transported everyone into the world of Big Fish with emotion, skill, and dedication all around.

Published in 2013, this musical interpretation of the novel Big Fish tells the story of rediscovering faith in fatherhood, as Edward’s son, Will, challenges himself and the audience around him to distinguish fantasy from reality in his father’s tall tales.

Despite this being such a difficult production to pull off, The Underground Players of Upper Merion did an outstanding job navigating this show with infectious energy and immense dedication. Actors embraced their roles and beautifully delivered touching songs in ways that truly tugged at the heartstrings of the audience, and left them craving more. Elaborate flashback scenes were executed with ease, as they rivetingly revealed more and more about the characters and their life stories.

Edward Bloom (Daniel Isajiw) is a complex character with buckets of stories to tell. The only problem is not being able to know the truth from fiction. Isajiw masterfully embodied his character and impressively portrayed Edward in three different stages in his life with skillful acting and a burning passion. Older Sandra (Colette Egan) is the wife of Edward, and Egan did a fantastic job capturing the essence of her character and bringing everyone to tears with her beautiful rendition of “I Don’t Need a Roof”.

With countless stories to tell, a wide variety of memorable characters were needed to make this show complete. The cast did an outstanding job of exploring their roles, keeping the energy high throughout the production, and even providing comedic relief in the midst of intense storylines. An honorable mention includes Karl (Anthony Boyle), a tall giant and best friend of Edward. Boyle perfected his delivery of hilarious comments which caused the audience to explode in a roar of laughter every time. While at times the ensemble had inconsistency in facial expressions, their impressive range of well-executed harmonies made up for this observation.

A simple yet multi-purposeful set allowed for a myriad of unique scenes, and this set was strongly enhanced by its use of props. This was especially apparent during the song “Daffodils” where a total of 3,191 daffodil props were created to illustrate the beauty and magic of the moment between Edward and Sandra. Lighting was effectively utilized to show a clear contrast in flashbacks as well as help bring focus to characters and moments in scenes. This was particularly seen in “Time Stops” where the lighting was channeled to capture the beauty of the moment.

With enthusiasm, emotion, and talented acting, Upper Merion Area High School exceeded expectations with their production of Big Fish.

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Review submitted by Sarah Gorenstein of Friends Select School

Emotion rippled through the sea of audience members at Upper Merion Area High School’s production of Big Fish.  The company phenomenally captured both the fantasy of the musical and the passion of the touching story.

Written by John August with music by Andrew Lippa, the musical is based on the novel by Daniel Wallace. Set in Alabama, the story shifts between two timelines. One in the present-day real world, where father, Edward Bloom, is faced with mortality while his son, Will Bloom, prepares to become a father himself. In the storybook past, the audience follows Edward’s life as he encounters various fantastical beings, including his wife, Sandra. As time ticks by, Will tries to decipher the truth behind all his father’s eccentric stories.

The cast of Upper Merion’s production transported the audience straight into the storybook. The ensemble played a critical role in bringing this whimsical world to life. Fortunately, the performers were ready to give it their all, elevating large group numbers to lively heights, with energy and emotion until the final bow. The whole cast was comprised of strong vocalists  whose mixes filled the stage with vitality. Upper Merion excellently captured the drama of the compelling show with numbers like “Stranger” and “Daffodils”.

Daniel Isajiw flawlessly embodied Edward Bloom as he led the show with considerable talent. His performance, anchored in brilliant acting and strong vocals, captivated the audience. He effortlessly switched between Edward’s timelines and displayed the skill that went into bringing his character to life. Isajiw had remarkable chemistry with Michael Harding as Will Bloom. Their father-son relationship was lovable and genuine. From his heartfelt vocals to his technical execution, Harding provided an emotional core to the show. In addition to the Blooms, Colette Egan’s excellent vocals as older Sandra shone through in the song “I Don’t Need a Roof”. The audience was engrossed in the Bloom family’s heartwarming chemistry.

Further adding to the exceptional cast were beloved storybook characters like the Witch (Aileen Lutz). Her enchanting number “I Know What You Want” was brought to life with her dazzling vocals. As well as, the amiable giant, Karl (Anthony Boyle), captured lots of laughs from the audience through his humorous delivery. His heartfelt friendship with Edward was a notable aspect of the production.

The Upper Merion Stage Crew admirably executed the transitions between scenes, not a cue was missed. Most salient were the colorful lighting choices that animated the festive group numbers. The set for Big Fish was magical and intriguing, luring the audience into their wondrous world.

The cast members of Upper Merion’s Big Fish were truly the heroes of their story. 

Oklahoma! – Sun Valley High School

Oklahoma! by Sun Valley High School in Aston, PA

March 23, 2022

Review submitted by Aiden Kaliner of Harriton High School

Hidden underneath the beautiful mornin’ sunshine are bubbling tensions, conflict, and secrecy. Sun Valley High School’s production of Oklahoma! encapsulated the western prairie life quite phenomenally.

Written by the Golden Age duo, Rodgers and Hammerstein, in 1943, Oklahoma! is widely regarded as one of the most significant musical theatre pieces for revolutionizing the art form itself. Set in the early twentieth century, before the Oklahoma territory became a state, the musical revolves around the story of the complicated romance between Laurey, a farm girl, and Curly, a cowboy. The plot thickens with conflict, courtship, and even perilous murder.

The cast of Sun Valley’s production transported audiences straight to the farmland. With consistent and accurate southern accents, the leading and supporting actors were a joy to watch. Furthermore, the ensemble of dancers, most notably in the “Dream Ballet,” was astonishing and utilized their strong skills to accelerate the story. The ensemble, as a whole, sang through the classic score brilliantly. Their beautiful harmonies throughout the musical were pleasant.

Seamus McGroary was utterly captivating as Curly, leading the show with poise and talent. His performance, anchored in strong vocals and brilliant acting choices, enchanted audiences, specifically with his entrance of “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’.” McGroary’s charming demeanor played beautifully off of Ella Peterson’s stubborn Laurey. McGroary and Peterson’s growing chemistry was lovable, heartwarming, and genuine.

Kerra Johnson’s incredible portrayal of Ado Annie must be commended. Her show-stopping number, “I Cain’t Say No,” set the tone perfectly for the rest of her performance. Johnson’s stage presence brought lively energy and comedic relief to the production. Alec Cianci (Jud Fry) masterfully portrayed Curly’s foil. His terrifying and jaded acting choices, enhanced by his spot-on accent, added to the building suspense. Kayden Mariorine (Will Parker) entertained audiences with his dashing charm and humorous deliveries. The hilarious duo of Maiorine and Johnson was a stand-out aspect of the production.

The Sun Valley Stage Crew efficiently moved the set after each scene. The changes were quick and barely noticeable. Additionally, the Sun Valley Lobby Team, in charge of decorating the lobby to reflect 1900s Oklahoma, set the mood perfectly before walking into the theater. Although the lighting, designed by Gavin Closs, Emily Nguyen, and Dior Sy, left some actors in the dark when using the spotlight during the first act, the designers seemed to have improved during the second act.

Sun Valley High School’s Oklahoma! had audiences humming classic tunes while displaying the timeliness of yearning for love.

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Review submitted by Anna Fattizzo of Upper Darby School District

Most people are somewhat familiar with the foot-tapping fun of Oklahoma! Sun Valley High School’s production of Oklahoma! captured both the joy of the musical itself and the joy of seeing remarkable high school theatre!

Based on the 1931 play by Lynn Riggs titled Green Grown the Lilacs, Oklahoma! was the first work of legendary musical theatre duo Rodgers and Hammerstein. The Broadway production premiered in 1943 and the musical has since seen many successful rivals. Set in 1906 before Oklahoma became a state, the plot centers around the courtship of farm girl, Laurey Williams. Laurey finds herself conflicted between the cowboy protagonist Curley McLain and the foreboding farmhand Jud Fry.

Oklahoma! is considered a classic and the students of Sun Valley High School did it justice. The cast captured the spirit of the show all while delivering strong vocals and crisp choreography. The students were equally adept at capturing both the lighthearted moments of the show in high-energy numbers such as “Oklahoma”, as well as portraying the more serious themes in contemplative numbers like “Out of my Dreams” The absolute standout from the production was the “Dream Ballet”. The dance ensemble delivered a layered performance that was both poetic and engaging to watch.

Curly is characterized as charming and devoted to Laurey, and Seamus McGroary’s take on Curly was spot on. McGroary’s voice was impressive as he skillfully crooned famous numbers like “The Surrey with the Fringe on the Top”. Additionally, McGroary was a fabulous scene partner to Ella Peterson’s Laurey. McGroary and Peterson worked very well together balancing the comical banter between the couple and the more tender and intimate moments.

The supporting cast also delivered memorable performances. Kerra Johnson’s Ado Annie delivered a show-stopping rendition of “I Cain’t Say No”.  Johnson’s voice was clear and powerful and the physicality she used during her performance made it all the more enjoyable. Ado Annie’s love interest, Will Parker, portrayed by Kayden Maiorine also delivered a highly energetic and comical performance.

Although few, the student done technical elements of the production were well executed. Microphone cues and levels were mainly on point except for a few errors in the second act. The lighting though polished, at times, could have been better used to illuminate the entire cast’s faces more clearly. The crew did remarkably well with smooth transitions of large set pieces.

Sun Valley’s take on the great Rogers and Hammerstein classic was impressive. Both lead actors and the ensemble delivered a show full of energy, dancing, and ultimately fun. Sun Valley’s truly dynamic production of Oklahoma! once again reminded me of how great it is to see live theatre!

Hamlet – Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School

Hamlet by the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School in West Chester, PA

March 23, 2022

Review submitted by Clara Steege of Conestoga High School

To be or not to be? Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School (PALCS) sought to answer this age-old question through an inventive reimagining of Hamlet, turning out an undeniably successful result in the process. 

Out of Shakespeare’s many notable works, Hamlet may be the most well-known. Part of the reason for its success is the universality of its main character; Hamlet’s self-doubt and inner turmoil are not only significant drivers of the plot, but also allow the audience to empathize with him intimately. As all the characters navigate the challenges of Danish royal life – including death, betrayal, and madness – they also explore the nature of the human condition. 

PALCS added sophistication to the play as they interpreted how Hamlet would have played out in modern times, complete even with social media. Though certainly a lofty goal, they rose to the challenge with great skill. 

Perhaps the show’s greatest stand-out was its phenomenal acting. Nola Dowd led the cast as Hamlet, elevating every scene with her emotiveness. This ability was especially apparent when she interacted with other characters, highlighted by her snark with Polonius, harshness with Ophelia, and defiance with Claudius. These actors then played off her energy to further develop their own performances. 

In the role of Hamlet’s nefarious uncle, Trinitee Hoffman inhabited Claudius’s condescending nature with confident body language, dismissive facial expressions, and thoughtful vocal intonation. Natalie Petro, as Ophelia, was also strong throughout, but especially shone when she got to convey her character’s madness. She took her sung parts beyond a demonstration of her lovely voice by incorporating a captivating eeriness that enthralled the audience. William Bergbauer was remarkable as well, exhibiting both a depth of emotion and outstanding fencing skills as Laertes. 

Further enhancing the production were various tech elements, the most prominent of which was an impressive video wall as part of the set. This was fully utilized to display social media posts, prerecorded security camera feed, and live video from onstage. Along with perfectly synchronized lighting cues, the video wall helped set the mood in every scene. Rounding out the set, screen doors were used with lighting to show eavesdropping silhouettes, and simple bench pieces were constantly reconfigured to create a wide range of settings. Also notable was the makeup, with sophisticated details like a ghost look that included prosthetics. 

Especially considering that their show featured death so heavily, Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School imbued their performance of Hamlet with an impressive display of vitality. The creative interpretation of setting, evocative displays of emotion by the cast members, and excellent tech came together to produce a truly outstanding production. 

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Review submitted by Willa Hollinger of Abington Friends School.

When performing Shakespeare for modern-day audiences, there is often a disconnect between the language of the play and its reception by viewers. Specifically, how can the complex world of Shakespeare be made relatable to high school students? In PA Leadership Charter School’s recent production of Hamlet, the tragedy was directed with a distinct spin to attract younger viewers: Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, was a social media celebrity. Integrating familiar formats like TikTok videos, this modern take aimed to engage young viewers in Hamlet’s story as he becomes increasingly determined to avenge his father and kill his uncle.

The set of the actual play was spare, minimalistic, and effective at creating different spaces without much effort. To add to the slightly futuristic feel, a wall of monitors were mounted on the back wall, which notably portrayed the ghostly apparitions of the late King Hamlet in an almost holographic way. The screens were also used to perform several of Hamlet’s soliloquies, wherein videos of ensemble members popped up one by one on a monitor to recite a few lines each. Though creative, the decision to split up these soliloquies often took away from Hamlet’s personal, confiding thoughts.

Indeed, some of the brightest moments in the show were when leading or supporting roles got to shine on their own. Hamlet (Nola Dowd) excelled at this daunting role, seldom shying away from her character’s dark, comic, and complex spiral into madness. Hamlet’s uncle Claudius (Trinitee Hoffman) played a consistently articulate and three-dimensional rival, providing a strong contrast to Hamlet. Another bright spot was Ophelia (Natalie Petro), who profoundly captured the grief caused by Hamlet’s rash actions in an ethereal combination of singing, costuming and expressive makeup. Impressively, the final climactic fencing scene between Hamlet and Laertes (William Bergbauer) showcased student choreography by Bergbauer himself.

Though Shakespeare often requires big expressions to be fully conveyed, the full ensemble remained solidly engaged throughout the story, clearly eager to bring the tragedy to life. Aiding them in their acting during emotionally dark moments of the play, dramatic lighting and sound effects were often added to build the atmosphere. These cues were especially important for including the audience in the story, perhaps even more than the use of social media, because they encouraged the actors to break loose and emote more recklessly. In such a raw piece of tragedy as Hamlet, this willingness to be vulnerable on stage is ultimately one of the best ways for the actors to connect with their audience.

Matilda the Musical – Marple-Newtown High School

Matilda the Musical by Marple-Newtown High School in Newtown Square, PA

March 16, 2022

Review submitted by Aiden Kaliner of Harriton High School

Welcome to Matilda’s 5th Birthday Party, where Marple Newtown High School brought childhood magic and delight to the stage with Matilda the Musical!

Since its debut in 2010, Matilda the Musical, based on the well-known novel by Roald Dahl, has become a smashing success on the stage. Following the story of an immensely intelligent young girl, Matilda Wormwood, the musical charts her experience overcoming adversity at home, due to her irresponsible parents, and at school, due to her cruel headmistress. Sprinkled with a bit of magic and telekinesis, Matilda’s wit, strength, and courage propel her and her fellow students to do what’s right and be a bit rebellious.

With many of the teenage actors portraying children and the technical challenge of telekinesis, producing Matilda the Musical is no easy feat for any high school theatre company. Nonetheless, the Marple Newtown School District tackled the beloved childhood classic with ease and efficiency. With a majority of student-led technical departments, all students involved clearly invested many hours of dedication into the production.

Lucy DeFrancesco as Matilda delivered a heartwarming and touching performance. Her smooth and enchanting vocals were integral to the character’s development, and meanwhile, her genuine acting techniques made her portrayal feel childlike and adventurous. DeFrancesco’s rebellious performance provided the perfect foil to Peter Pilko’s Trunchbull. Together, the two led the enormous cast admirably.

Arianna Berryman and JJ Trainor, notable standouts among the supporting characters, as Mrs. Wormwood and Bruce, respectively, added lively energy to the production. Berryman’s astonishing stage presence as well as her strong dancing abilities shone during her performance of “Loud.” Overcoming technical difficulties with microphones, Berryman stayed consistent and dedicated to the extravagant persona. Trainor, captivating the audience throughout the course of the musical, impressed audiences with a soaring voice during “Revolting Children.” While the energy of the ensemble dipped at times, Trainor always delivered a show-stopping performance.

The sets–designed by Carly Grimm, Emma Geddes, Nyck Kuranaruk, and Michael McClean–were thoughtfully executed. Sticking with the theme of childhood and literature, the design team put careful attention into small details throughout the various platforms and bookshelves. Mia Nye, the stage manager, deserves recognition for keeping copious notes and ensuring all 92 cast members were accounted for. Additionally, Lucy DeFrancesco deserves tremendous applause for, in addition to leading the cast, her costume design.

Matilda the Musical was not only a miraculous return to live musical theatre for Marple Newtown High School but also a heartwarming and magical return to childhood fantasy.

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Review submitted by Kaitlyn Kaulback of Archmere Academy

M – a – t – i – l – d – a.  What does that spell? You guessed it! It’s Matilda the Musical, presented by Marple Newtown School District.

Inspired by a late 80’s children’s novel and premiering on the West End in 2011, Matilda the Musical follows child prodigy Matilda Wormwood as she enrolls in school when soft-natured teacher Miss Honey takes notice to her extraordinary academic abilities. Along the way, she endures her ignorant parents, strict disciplinarian Ms. Trunchbull, and her newfound power of telekinesis.

Lucy DeFrancesco’s portrayal of Matilda perfectly embodied the prodigy’s youthful, yet articulate disposition. With an extensive vocal range, DeFrancesco utilized both her lighter head voice and resonant belt in a multitude of songs such as “Naughty” and “Quiet”. As an excellent storyteller, she kept the audience engaged throughout her monologues by adding layers of emotion, building up the tension. Moreover, Arianna Berryman breathed life into the extravagant Mrs. Wormwood with excellent comic timing and physicality. Berryman’s bright, melodious vocals and vibrant energy in “Loud” showcased her incredible breath support and dance technique.

While the other characters possessed limited stage time, many supporting/featured actors took advantage of their little moments to make a lasting impact. From JJ Trainor’s (Bruce) stellar vocals in “Revolting Children” to Annastasia Cavanaugh’s (Lavender) commitment to physicality, this versatile supporting cast did not disappoint. Matilda’s Classmates, a subset to the whole ensemble, served as a dynamic and vital component that tied the whole production together. While the energy of the entire student ensemble remained somewhat dull in the first act, the cast bounced back with higher, more engaging energy for the second act.

Although Matilda’s telekinesis provides quite the technical challenge, Marple Newtown overcame these difficulties with impressive special effects, such as the coffee mug and chalk that seamlessly moved by themselves. Furthermore, the lighting, led by Tim Fitzpatrick, amplified the mood of each scene with many complicated cues spread throughout the production. Unfortunately, some sound issues arose during act one. Numerous mics frequently popped and cut out unexpectedly, missing key lines. Nevertheless, the microphone balance greatly improved in act two.

Additionally, stage manager Mia Nye demonstrated organization and diligence with detailed, color-coded script notes marking light, prop, and blocking cues. Thanks to Nye’s leadership, the stage crew ensured that all of the scene changes proceeded quickly and smoothly, displaying the team’s attentiveness.

Not only did the production showcase remarkable talent both on and off the stage, Marple Newtown’s Matilda the Musical reminds us that being a little naughty can bring out the miracle in all of us.