The Addams Family – by The Agnes Irwin School

agnes-irwin-4The Addams Family by The Agnes Irwin School in Rosemont, PA

November 22, 2016

Review submitted by Victoria Kline of Academy of the New Church

A daughter asking for her parents’ blessing, a married couple struggling with trust issues, and a jealous brother. These all seem like problems any normal family could face, but throw them all together and add a touch of insanity, a dash of darkness, and a sprig of death and you’ll get Agnes Irwin’s musical production of The Addams Family.

A musical based off of the popular comics by Charles Addams, it follows the hilariously dark and wildly dysfunctional Addams family who, while obsessed with death and darkness, also deals with problems the everyday American family does. Wednesday Addams, now grown to young adulthood, has invited her boyfriend and his parents to dinner. Both lovers desperately urge their strange families to act normal, which they utterly and comically fail to accomplish.

The plot centers on Wednesday (Laura Tobar), who played her part with a casually macabre expression and a sweet tone. However, sulky, sassy Morticia (Catherine de Lacoste-Azizi) stole the show with her mature voice and flamboyant acting, especially in her solo number “Just Around the Corner”. Gomez (Andrew Lengel) also stood out with his humorous portrayal of a father caught between the wishes of his wife and his daughter.

Notable supporting roles included Pugsly Addams (Grace Smith), with her clear, childlike voice; Grandma (Gigi Gardner), always seeming slightly off the deep end; and Alice Beineke (Olivia Freiwald), a woman prone to poetic, and occasionally operatic outbursts. Uncle Fester (Sabina Smith) also supported the leads hilariously as a ghost-conjuring necromancer with a soft spot for romance and a continually amusing voice.

The production was performed with the right ratio of deadpan to pizazz. The background cast was surprisingly energetic for a crowd of ghosts which made the group musical numbers fun to watch.

The talented sound crew backed up the actors and actresses, keeping the body mics of the cast almost flawlessly on track and balancing the volume. Although the lights weren’t always precise, the colors captured the moods of the different scenes well. Adding to the spooky feel were the costumes and makeup, the ghostly ancestors white from head to toe, contrasting the ubiquitous black of the Addams family’s fashion.

Agnes Irwin’s production of The Addams Family provided a humorously dark parody on family drama that shows us that sometimes it is okay to be a little crazy.

 

 

Review submitted by Brendan Carr of Germantown Academy

Full Disclosure: Agnes Irwin’s Friday night production of The Addams Family transported audiences into a world filled with comedic gloom!

Based off of the beloved comics, The Addams Family follows Wednesday Addams, an odd young woman who falls in love with “normal” teenager Lucas. When Lucas’s family visits the Addams family for dinner, Wednesday begs her family to give her “one normal night” so that she can impress Lucas, but things go horribly awry.

Agnes Irwin’s production was rooted by the chemistry and humor of the leading cast. Every actor was always in character on stage, making sure they delivered the comedic flair that The Addams Family calls for.

Catherine de Lacoste-Azizi put her heart into her performance as Morticia Addams. Her facial expressions and gestures made her character feel genuine while also adding to her haunting demeanor. She shined during “Just Around The Corner”, and, when paired with Olivia Freiwald (Alice Beineke), created one of the standout moments of the show with “Secrets”. Laura Tobar (Wednesday Addams) accurately illustrated Wednesday’s innocence and love for her fiancé, Lucas (Aditya Bhise). Her spot-on comedic timing combined with her vocal talent made “Pulled” an audience favorite.

Additionally, the supporting cast truly grounded the show and provided some surprising standout performances. Grace Smith (Pugsley Addams) illustrated her beautiful vocal talent during “What If”. Sabina Smith (Uncle Fester) consistently used a character voice while both singing and speaking which is a very hard thing to do. Gigi Gardner (Grandma) and Olivia Freiwald (Alice Beineke) kept the audience laughing throughout the show. These actresses beautifully turned punch lines written in the script into their own hilarious jokes. They stole the show during “Full Disclosure Parts 1 & 2” and “Waiting”.

On the technical side, Madeline Kaller and the AIS Costume Crew created exquisite costumes that were unique to each character. Memorable costumes included a custom made black dress with spider-webbed sleeves worn by Morticia Addams, and an Elizabethan styled dress with a corset and powdered wig designed for a dead ancestor. The lighting crew also changed the colors seen onstage as the two families moved throughout the Addams family house, making it feel as though the audience was moving along with them.

Agnes Irwin’s production of The Addams Family “pulled” audiences in, turning dark humor and lighthearted characters into an overall good production.

The Burnt Part Boys – by Germantown Academy

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The Burnt Part Boys by Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, PA

November 16, 2016

Review submitted by Neelam Pandya of The Baldwin School

Germantown Academy had no problem finding their way to the Burnt Part with their strong production of The Burnt Part Boys.

The Burnt Part Boys takes place in 1962 West Virginia. It follows the journey of two brothers, Jake and Pete, along with their friends Chet, Frances, and Dusty, up the mountain in search of the “Burnt Part”. With the mines reopening, Jake and Chet are going back to work at the same place that killed their fathers. His younger brother, Pete, is furious and scared that they will die up there. He takes Jake and Chet’s dynamite and vows to blow up the mine. Accompanied by his friends, Dusty and Frances, and inspired by his favorite movie, The Alamo, Pete sets out on his quest.

Overall, The Burnt Part Boys was a strong production with fabulous energy. The relationships between both the principal actors and the supporting cast enhanced the believability of the characters’ journeys throughout the show. The light dance numbers nicely balanced out the heavier moments of the show. The harmonies at the end of every song were consistently on the pitch, which upped the quality of the show. Cleverly, the miners were wonderful stagehands that provided a satisfying full circle moment when they came out at the end of the show.

The principal characters in The Burnt Part Boys led the show. They fully committed to the emotions of their characters and dealt with heavier topics head on. Vinit Joshi’s resentful and dependable Jake made the audience feel both his anger at his situation and love for his brother through his number “Disappear” and dialogue. As Jake’s best friend, Andrew Piszek’s Chet balanced out Jake’s resentment with his happy-go-lucky attitude. Danny Ritz’s Pete gave great emotion and intent to his character, which explained his motive for blowing up the Burnt Part. With his great diction and character work, Brendan Carr was a true standout as nerdy Dusty. Naomi Friedman rounded out the principal cast with her swashbuckling no-nonsense Frances.

The commitment of the ensembles of the miners and townspeople heightened the connection of the close-knit community of miner families in The Burnt Part Boys. The dancers were in step with each other and seemed to enjoy themselves, which added a sense of fun to the show. The relationship between the miner fathers and their heartbroken children at the end of the show created a sweet lighthearted scene.

Although not student led, the special effects and lighting, especially during the explosion, broke the fourth wall. It helped the audience believe that they were sealed in the mine with Pete, Jake, and their friends. Although the sound had a few volume and balancing mishaps throughout the show, it made sure that the story was not lost. The principals, in particular, were heard well.

The combination of strong solo and ensemble work made Germantown Academy’s The Burnt Part Boys a shining light within the darkness of the mine.

 

Review submitted by Emma Danz  of Harriton High School

“Hi ho, it’s off to work we go!” could have been the mantra of Germantown Academy’s company as they took to the stage amongst coal miners, cinematic legends of the 1960s, and dreamers hoping for a better future.

The Burnt Part Boys is a lesser-known musical written by Mariana Elder that ran Off-Broadway in 2010. An unconventional and stirring score blends bluegrass with classic show tunes to share the story of brothers Jake and Pete, who lost their father in a horrible mining accident known as the Burnt Part. Set ten years after the tragic event, the show begins with the reopening of the mine and the consequent emotions that unravel.

Sharing such a powerful story, Germantown Academy’s star-studded cast handled emotionally charged dialogue and moving music with dynamic grace. Atmospheric lighting, versatile set pieces, and an energetic ensemble formed a backbone, providing ample support for the principle leads.

Danny Ritz led the show as defiant dreamer, Pete – the younger of the two brothers. Enhancing his performance with compelling physical choices and commendable vocals, Ritz portrayed loss and hope with heartbreaking success. Jake, played by Vinit Joshi, met his brother’s match with impressive vocal strength and an engaging character arch, his inner struggle evident through expert acting decisions. Remarkably, Ritz and Joshi, although undeniable individual talents, became all the stronger when standing side by side.

Enlarging and complimenting the storyline, were unsung heroes and priceless friends, Dusty, played by Brendan Carr, and Chet, played by Andrew Piszek. Carr brought many a well-needed laugh and charmed the audience with sweet vocals, shining brightest in “Dusty Plays the Saw.” Joining the boys along the way was Naomi Friedman, the energetic and confident tomboy that could shoot a gun and sing a wonderful tune.

This wonderful show was only further enhanced by exciting special effects, including a realistic explosion of dynamite. Moving set pieces crafted a world of theater that transformed the world of the audience members, transporting them from wooden seats to toe tapping Texas. The student sound designer effectively handled body mics and volume levels. All of these components in conjunction with the talented cast were a fool-proof recipe for success.

A huge and well-deserved round of applause goes to the entire company of Germantown Academy’s The Burnt Part Boys! May they never stop singing the song in their hearts!

A Christmas Carol – by Archmere Academy

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A Christmas Carol by Archmere Academy in Claymont, DE

November 16, 2016

Review submitted by Abigayle Harnum of Bordentown Regional High School

The performers of Archmere Academy have plenty of Christmas spirit to spare with their production of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.

This heartwarming play tells the tale of an irritable old man who is unable to love and appreciate the people around him. Throughout the story, he is haunted by a series of ghosts who finally teach him that he must use the life he has been given to bring happiness to others with the time he has left on Earth.

This adaptation of A Christmas Carol featured an element that made the performance new and fresh, while being inclusive to the hearing impaired. The cast members playing characters with Christmas spirit used sign language while also speaking their lines. As Ebenezer Scrooge developed an understanding of the meaning of Christmas, he began to sign his lines and eventually became fluent as the show progressed.

Ebenezer Scrooge (Matthew Etzrodt) is a wealthy, elderly man who shuts out any one around him with the ever-popular phrase, “bah humbug”. With a simple arched back or an ill-tempered grunt, Etzrodt embodied the character’s age and complexity while portraying a maturity beyond his years. Another cast member, Caroline Quinn as the Ghost of Christmas Present, used humor and a fierce attitude to depict her character’s confident, sassy composure. Last but not least, Gia Mariano, Jackie Kraft and Arianna Abbrescia as the Ghosts of Christmas Past embraced the creepy and chilling aspects of their characters.

Cast members also used vocals and dancing to keep the audience engaged. Bella Abbrescia as Poor Child (Caroler) used her beautiful voice to sing various classic holiday carols, which wonderfully juxtaposed with the show’s eerie scenes. Archmere students Abby Kraus, Gia Mariano, Catherine Lawless, Annalise Mara, Grace Zhang, Arianna Abbrescia and Jackie Kraft used their dance skills to paint sinister pictures in their Ghost Dance choreographed by Catherine Lawless.

The technical aspect of this show went off without a hitch. Actors were heard very easily with the use of body microphones and students who played ghosts used microphones that echoed allowing them to seem inhuman, thanks to Helen Laster’s work. Makeup by Kyla McAvinue brought the characters, particularly Ebenezer and Jacob Marley, to life. Set changes were also very smooth and without error.

Archmere Academy’s production of A Christmas Carol was a great depiction of learning the true meaning of Christmas and it certainly gave the audience holiday cheer.

 

Review submitted by Caitlin Harvey of Delaware County Christian School

With ominous spirits and joyful carolers Archmere Academy dazzled the audience in their wonderful rendition of A Christmas Carol. They taught us to understand Christmas cheer, using symbolism in a physical way; Archmere Academy used sign language to show Christmas spirit and taught not only Scrooge, but the audience as well, words like family, friends, love, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion.

Matthew Etzrodt (Ebenezer Scrooge) tricked the audience into thinking an eighty year old man was on stage. Using an old man’s gait and a crotchety voice, Etzrodt convinced the audience he was in fact Ebenezer Scrooge, and left the audience in fits of laughter when he showed how grumpy and rude he really was. The three Ghosts of Christmas past, played by Gia Mariano, Jackie Kraft, and Arianna Abbrescia, performed excellently.

Caroline Quinn brought a modern, yet girlish character to the Ghost of Christmas Present, mocking Scrooge and keeping the audience entertained. Keelin Reilly (Scrooge’s nephew Fred) brought Christmas spirit to the show in his jokes and good cheer. At one point, Alex Weir’s mic fell off, a common mistake in shows, but he projected well and kept going.

Kyla McAvinue brought the play alive with her incredible skill in makeup. Jacob Marley stunned the audience with his vivid face, the Ghosts of Christmas Past dazzled the audience with their sparkled faces and the Ghost Dancers brought a dark and dreary feeling to the future with their darkened eyes and whitened faces.

Catherine Lawless also sparked the play with her amazingly choreographed Ghost Dance. Hats off to Kyla McAvinue and Alex Weir for choreographing a stunning Fezziwig party, and Weir even playing the violin amidst the dance. One can’t have Christmas cheer without carols, and Bella Abbrescia and the Carolers stunned the audience with their angelic voices and Christmas Spirit.

A giant round of applause to the Archmere students for retelling the classic tale of A Christmas Carol.

Antigone – by Unionville High School

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Antigone by Unionville High School in Kennett Square, PA

November 16, 2016

Review submitted by Jane Mentzinger of Westtown School

Unionville’s almost entirely student run production of Antigone took 2,500-year-old material and made it exciting, accessible, and highly relevant. Strong acting, brilliant creativity, and amazing tech work transformed Sophocles from long-dead Greek poet to present day political commentator. The audience was riveted.

Antigone, by Sophocles, is an ancient Greek tragedy. It tells the story of Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus. Antigone’s brothers Eteocles and Polynieces kill each other while leading opposing sides in a civil war. Creon, the new king, declares that Polynieces will remain unburied; he will be devoured by wild animals and publically shamed. Antigone buries her brother in defiance of Creon’s orders, and she incurs Creon’s wrath.

Unionville’s production had everything, from a huge, elaborate set to period costumes that sparkled. The actors even spoke some lines in Greek, with subtitles projected for the audience, a particularly effective and innovative touch that heightened the power of the material. Throughout the play, Creon’s costume and the entire set slowly deteriorated, symbolizing the devastating effect of his decisions, showing the unity between acting and tech.

Alex Kallis, as Creon, artfully played a man who slowly lost everything. He drew us into his growing desperation, making himself smaller and smaller as he transformed from all-powerful leader to a man without family, money, or country. Ashwin Akki portrayed Haemon, Creon’s son and Antigone’s fiancé; he and Kallis gave a highly charged depiction of a broken father-son relationship. Suchi Jain played Antigone, the moral center of the play, and she inspired the audience with her rebellious nature and strong attitude.

The Chorus, a group that comments on the action, worked in near perfect unison. Their movements, perfectly choreographed by Cameron Cofrancesco, evoked Greek statues and made the scenes visually thrilling. Choragos 1 and 2, played by Giselle Wagner and David Demarco respectively, proved remarkably powerful choral leaders.

The technical elements in the show were phenomenal. The set, designed by Megan Belgam and Victoria Vaughn, was incredibly detailed and well constructed. The costumes, designed and made by Marina Khazana, were beautiful and symbolic. The lighting, designed by Christopher Gehrke, was used to create both deceptively simple and highly complex effects, and was a huge element in the show’s success.

With lines like, “I was born to love, not to hate,” and “I plan to make this city great,” Unionville made ancient Greek tragedy modern and relevant.

 

Review submitted by India Henderson of Westtown School

Close your eyes. You hear original music and students speaking in fluent Greek. Now open your eyes. You see colorful lighting, an outstanding set – authentic-looking Greek architecture – and actors who are ready to do their best work. You are watching Unionville High School’s production of Antigone.

In this Greek tragedy, written by Sophocles around 441 BC, we learn the story of Antigone, whose brothers, Eteocles and Polynieces, were killed by each other’s swords in battle. Eteocles has died nobly, according to Creon, the King of Thebes, and deserves a proper burial, while Polynieces is left without burial for the dogs and birds to devour. Although Creon pronounces that burying Polynieces is punishable by death, Antigone is ready to die in order to ensure that she and her brother can live a triumphant afterlife.

It cannot go without being said the greatness of this show came from the impressive amount of student work and involvement. Students created everything – from lighting, to props, to the set, to costumes, to music. Additionally, something that stood out was the engaging energy of this cast. Their lines were spoken with conviction and their movements were always strong and intentional.

There were many standout performances, such as Suchi Jain (Antigone) who wowed the audience with her powerful voice and magnificent Greek skills. She flowed in and out of the language effortlessly. Ashwin Akki (Haemon) and Kenneth Kim (Teiresias/Damocles) matched Jain’s language ability and kept the audience on the edge of their seats with their authenticity and power.

Similarly, Alex Kallis (Creon) had great timing and a range of emotions that very clearly reflected the action happening in the play. Other noteworthy performances came from Giselle Wagner (Choragos 1), David Demarco (Choragos 2), Varshika Mandalupu (Narrator 1) and Mark Jankowski (Narrator 2) who all delivered their lines with clarity and grace.

The technical aspects of this performance were stunning. Firstly, the set appropriately created a tone for each scene as it symbolically began to crumble as Creon’s illusion of himself did as well. Additionally, the costumes, designed and made by one student, Mariana Khazana, complemented the acting and set appropriately. The music, composed by Eric Folmar solely for this show, was catchy, original. Lastly, kudos to the UHS crew for their speedy and smooth transitions that were unnoticeable throughout the show.

Overall, it is clear that Unionville High School’s cast and crew all carried their weight and worked equally in order to help the play reach its fullest potential.

Into the Woods – Jenkintown Middle / High School

Jenkintown 2.JPGInto the Woods by Jenkintown Middle / High School in Jenkintown, PA

November 16, 2016

Review submitted by Juliana de Lehman of The Agnes Irwin School

A pleasant night full of princes, princesses, a witch, a baker and his wife and their interwoven quests for their individual desires told through a twisted fairytale presented by Jenkintown High School.

Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods came to Broadway in 1987 and was commended by audiences, winning multiple Tony Awards. The story follows fairytales we all know and love, such as Little Red Riding Hood and Cinderella and weaves them into the storyline of a Baker and his Wife’s desire to have a baby. The fairytales are not told as we all remember them though. Into the Woods features a much darker insight into these fairytales, but these actors were up to the challenge.

Jenkintown High School put on a beautiful production compiled with a simple but detailed set, intricate makeup, and beautiful costumes. Students tackled the difficult play and hit the nail right on the head.

Every member of the cast brought something special to the show. One of the many parts of the show that stood out was The Witch, played by Avery Misinkavitch. Her powerful acting and vocals dominated the stage every time she made an appearance, especially in her performance of “Last Midnight.”

The Baker (Charlie Mangan) and Baker’s wife (Alicia McCarthy) stole the show, creating a dynamic and fantastic chemistry between the two characters. Both students provided excellent vocals and acting to the show while simultaneously leading the show and doing so wonderfully.

Supporting actors carried the show as well, such as Cinderella, played by Maria Cotsis, whose vocals made the show even more pleasant than it already was. Cotsis brought her A-game and continued to impress every time she would take the stage. Cinderella’s prince, played by Danny Wescott, and Rapunzel’s prince, played by James Gans, had the entire theater laughing during their comedic number “Agony.”

The set had fantastic attention to detail and although simple; it fit very well with the show and gave the actors plenty of space to perform. The props used in the play were fantastic and beautifully made. Even though the sound cut out a few times, the brilliant recovery from any mistakes they had made quickly made me forget.

Overall, Jenkintown High School’s performance of Into the Woods was amazing and provided the audience with a night full of laughter and awe of the talent on the stage, making them feel as if they were in their own fairytale!

 

Review submitted by Lia Della Porta of The Agnes Irwin School

Have you ever seen a world where all the acclaimed fairytales combine to tell their stories? A wondrous journey where bakers meet princesses, and witches meet little girls in red capes. Jenkintown High School beautifully brought all these characters and stories to life when they presented Into the Woods.

Into the Woods opened on Broadway in November 1997, with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and book by James Lapine. It was very popular and received ten Tony nominations, and won three Tony awards. The show centers on a baker and his wife embarking on a journey in order to have a child, and it adapts many renowned fairytales and their characters to complete the production.

Jenkintown High School performed the show excellently. Charlie Mangan as The Baker gave a compelling performance with incredible vocal talent. His ability to stay in character and his clear commitment to the role throughout the show really brought his performance to life. Another admirable portrayal was Maria Cotsis as Cinderella. Her bright and beautiful voice along with her expressive acting abilities drew audience members to the lovely character. The Baker’s Wife, played by Alicia McCarthy, had incredible comic choices that left the audience in utter laughter, and her acting was very distinguished and admirable.

One number that was particularly captivating was “No One is Alone”, sung by The Baker, Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood (played by Mattie McNamara), and Jack (played by Ethan Walters). The four actors and actresses showed full engagement in their characters in one of the most heart-wrenching moments in the show. The chemistry between them was clear and definite and elevated the beauty of the song.

In this production, the crew was delightfully exceptional. The set was simple yet powerful and worked with what was going on onstage, and transitions between scenes were very smooth and clearly well-prepared. The lighting was very colorful and elaborate, and drew the audience to the stage, while the sound was also very well done.

Overall, Jenkintown High School’s rendition of Into the Woods was very beautifully done, and all the audience members were left wishing they could live “Happy Ever After”!

Cabaret – by Friends Select School

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Cabaret by Friends Select School in Philadelphia, PA

November 16, 2016

Review submitted by Chelsea Chaet of Eastern Regional High School

It was just 1966 when composer John Kander wrote the beautiful masterpiece that is Cabaret. Set in Berlin, Germany during the 1930s, the dawn of Nazi Germany, the story follows American Sally Bowles and her life in Berlin working as a dancer at The Kit Kat Club. Narrated by the enthusiastic Emcee, Cabaret compels its audience with its characters, plot, and issues that remain prevalent today.

Friends Select School used a myriad of character choices/development– one that I have never seen before as an audience member at a showing of “Cabaret”. For one, to say that Alex Giganti as The Emcee stole the show would be an understatement. Giganti’s energy– continual through each number– shone effulgently through even the slowest of songs. His utter and complete dedication to his character was evident; with each hand motion, head bob, snap, clap, what have you, Giganti never failed to impress the audience. As an avid theatre enthusiast, his performance as The Emcee would have made Alan Cummings proud.

In addition to this, Sally Bowles, played by Nola Latty, gave a commendable performance. Her high belts were absolute music to my ears. It is no doubt that the role of Sally Bowles is extremely difficult to play, yet with Latty’s vocal, dance, AND acting skills, she attempted the role with grace and energy– a very fine job on her part.

The Kit Kat Club dancers, an ensemble consisting of predominantly females rather than men, served as the single ensemble in Cabaret. Featuring solo dancers such as Rosie, played by Emma Miller, The Kit Kat Club dancers were humorous and a joy to watch. The way that they all played off of each other yet kept in tact with their own originality was a bold choice for this show, yet one that worked well. With the help of student costume designer, Kate McGrath, the Kit Kat Club dancers, as well as the rest of the cast, looked exuberant, colorful, and each had a unique style depending on the character.

Because of the time period and setting as a whole, along with the emotional diversity of the characters and the maturity of content, Cabaret is considered a very difficult show, especially at the high school level. Despite this, the cast members put on a show that undoubtedly captured my attention with simply their energy and characterization.

 

Review submitted by Alyssa Rosenberg of Eastern Regional High School

In Friends Select School’s production of Cabaret, life was beautiful. The girls were beautiful. Even the orchestra was beautiful.

The musical Cabaret takes place in Berlin, Germany just before, and then during, the rise of the Nazis. It follows the story of American novelist Cliff Bradshaw, want-to-be-star Sally Bowles, aging landlord Fraulein Schneider, and her relationship with Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit salesman. The entirety of the show is underscored by the Emcee, who works as the bridge between the audience and the characters, often breaking the fourth wall.

The cast did an outstanding job of transporting the audience to 1930s Germany, specifically the Kit Kat Club girls and boys. Their numbers – choreographed by student Kayla Warren – were well-performed and highlights of the show. Additionally, the costume crew’s work paid off in spades. Each costume was so clearly selected for a reason, and fit appropriately in the time period.

Alex Giganti as the Emcee was the stand out of this production. His portrayal of the Emcee was dark, gritty, hilarious, and heartbreaking. Giganti’s enthusiasm for the role shined through in all of his numbers, making each and every time he was on stage a treat. Even his ballad – titled “I Don’t Care Much” – kept the audience engaged and left some in tears. Additionally, Nola Latty was commendable in her portrayal of Sally Bowles. She especially excelled in the moments of the show in which Sally’s break down becomes evident to the audience.

Playing the roles of Ernst Ludwig and Fraulein Schneider, Eli Luchak and Mary Graham, respectively, did great jobs in creating characters that were both likable and despicable in their own ways, Ludwig, for obvious reasons – his strong ties to the Nazi party – and Schneider in her cowardice and refusal to stand up against the party. To paraphrase a line from the show, if she was not against it, she was for it. In addition, Fraulein Kost, played by Kyra Stetler, and Herr Schultz, played by Avery Johnson, provided a few much needed moments of comic relief with their characters. And, as the show went on, they both did outstanding jobs in showing the darker change in both characters.

These days, Cabaret is all too relevant. Friends Select School’s cast and crew truly did a first-rate job in translating a script written in the 60’s to be just as relatable to today’s audiences.

 

 

Curtains! – by Dock Mennonite Academy

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Curtains! by Dock Mennonite Academy in Lansdale, PA

November 12, 2016

Review submitted by Anna Sherman of Cardinal O’Hara High School

Appalling reviews from The Boston Globe and the death of the lead actress all in the same day? When you are at the bottom, the only place to go is up. Dock Mennonite Academy proved exactly that in their captivating production of Curtains!

Curtains! is a whodunit murder mystery created by award winning Peter Stone. After his death in 2003, Rupert Holmes completed the script. Fredd Ebb wrote the lyrics, set to music by John Kander. Set in the late 1950’s, Lieutenant Frank Cioffi leads us on a captivating journey of twists and turns as suspicions heighten in the pursuit of a murderer hiding amongst the cast. Along the way, a friendship is healed and true love is found.

The stand-out number is this show was undeniably “The Woman’s Dead.” The whole cast came together to honor just-deceased Jessica Cranshaw (Mindy Marinko). Rather than being emotionally distraught, this number was emotionally joyous as they theatrically celebrate the fact that their cast is minus one.

Tying together the lively characters was Lieutenant Cioffi, played by Levi Longacre. Longacre morphed between a detective and a stage-struck romantic as he pursued the case. He was a lively gentleman, radiant with charm. It is more than understandable how Natalie Frank, as Nikki Harris, falls for him. The genuine, organic chemistry between Longacre and Frank was tantalizing and especially notable in their duet “Coffee Shop Nights.”

Additionally, there were two oversized personalities depicted. Christopher Belling (Isaac Longacre) enhanced the show with vociferous one-liners. Longacre wholly encompassed the role of cynical and flamboyant Christopher Belling. With silver hair and spunk, Danica Moyer as Carmen Bernstein was a doyenne and mother to Bambi Bernet (Olivia Messina). She was a powerhouse in “It’s A Business,” educating her daughter on the business side of theater.

The cast excelled with their constant costume changes, as they were all executed with ease. Each character looked put-together for their duration on stage. At times, microphone complications made lines inaudible, but this was not too large of a flaw.

Dock Mennonite Academy’s production of Curtains! was a dazzling performance, proving that the cast members undoubtedly were all “show people.”

 

Review submitted by Alexis Tuohey of Interboro High School

It was no mystery that Dock Mennonite Academy had a fantastic performance in their opening night of Curtains!

Curtains! is an upbeat and comedic show written by Rupert Holmes focusing on the story of the cast of a musical called Robbin’ Hood who are experiencing negative reviews at the Boston Colonial Theatre. When their untalented leading lady Jessica Cranshaw suddenly dies after the opening night performance, the entire cast is held in the theatre by Lieutenant Cioffi who comes to investigate the sudden death. When more people of the cast and crew fall to tragic deaths, the entire cast and production team become suspects.

Many outstanding performers were prevalent in this production. Lieutenant Cioffi, (Levi Longacre), had terrific stage presence and delivered his lines with ease and excellence. Christopher Belling, played by Isaac Longacre, kept the show upbeat with various comedic reactions that were timed and executed perfectly. Niki Harris, (Natalie Frank), created her character well and gave a nice performance overall.

Other notable actors and actresses graced the stage in Dock Mennonite Academy’s performance. Carmen Bernstein (Danica Moyer) portrayed her character’s development fantastically, being able to balance between Carmen’s business tactics to keep her show open and motherly instincts to make sure her daughter one day makes it to Broadway. Aaron Fox (Kenny Graham) connected with his character’s emotions and showcased his great vocal abilities in the song, “I Miss the Music.” Georgia Hendricks (Haley Mong) also gave a wonderful vocal performance.

The cast as a whole did a job well done. Vocals in all core songs were on point, and the cast’s use of props like handkerchiefs and flashlights in songs such as “The Woman’s Dead” and “He Did It” added an extra special touch to the performance. Lead and supporting cast members’ chemistry with one another never lacked energy or emotion as well.

Dock Mennonite Academy’s stage crew did a commendable job with quick set and scene changes. Stage Crew member Emma Hinnerschitz also made an eye catching scenic drop that added color and vibrancy to the stage.

Dock Mennonite Academy definitely proved that they are “Show People” in their splendid performance of Curtains!

 

Peter and the Starcatcher – by The Episcopal Academy

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Peter and the Starcatcher by The Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, PA

November 10, 2016

Review submitted by Emma Danz of Harriton High School

Joining the timeless tale of lost boys, fairy dust, and a boy who wouldn’t grow up, Episcopal Academy’s Domino Club created a world where sailors, orphans, and dreamers came together through laughter and tears to share Peter and the Starcatcher.

Peter and the Starcatcher imparts the imaginative prequel to Peter and Wendy, giving backstory to the age-old but forever young Peter Pan. Based off of the novel by Dave Barry and Richard Pearson, the theatrical adaptation initially took to the stage in California. Opening to successful runs both on Broadway and off, the show received several Tony Awards and rave reviews from the New York Times.

The ensemble-heavy piece highlighted Episcopal Academy’s impressive ability to move dynamically and expressively throughout the intimate black-box space. Each sharing ample stage time, the actors and actresses delivered lines with poignant timing. Actors were challenged with the loaded dialogue yet still portrayed the strong emotions of their complex characteristics with eloquence and poise.

Leading the quirky ensemble of characters was confident, headstrong Molly Aster, played by Helena Bryant. Bryant effectively balanced stubbornness and vulnerability with a practiced hair flip and warm smile. Opposite her, a kindred spirit and a challenge, stood Kelly Flynn, playing the unnamed orphan soon to become Peter Pan. Flynn’s emotionally charged stage presence beautifully portrayed both resentment and endless hope. The clear chemistry between Bryant and Flynn was heartwarming and essential to the show’s success.

The ensemble was rounded out by villains and comics, most notably Greg Smith playing Black Stache- the bumbling and inexperienced pirate looking for an adversary– and McKee Bond as Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly’s prim and loyal nanny. Prone to speaking in witty alliterations, McKee’s role is written in the tradition of pantomime dame, a convention of pantomime theater where men portray female characters with exaggerated melodrama. Both Smith and Bond maximized the humorous potential in their parts, using physically comedic expressions and movements alongside impeccable timing.

Never to be understated, Episcopal’s technical elements were integral to creating a believable atmosphere. Student lighting designer, Maddie Donatucci, utilized a variety of instruments to indicate isolated locations and communicate mood through differently gelled specials. Lighting cues flowed seamlessly and created another engaging dimension to the already dynamic piece.

Although the set will soon be struck and the costumes packed away, saying goodbye to this wonderful production will certainly not mean forgetting its beautiful message of home and heart.

 

 

Review submitted by Juliana Denick of Upper Merion Area High School

To have faith is to have wings. At least, that’s the premise of Peter and the Starcatcher, a play recently performed at the Episcopal Academy. The show is a prequel to Peter Pan and tells the story of how Peter became the Boy Who Never Grows Up. It takes on the themes of family, belief, loneliness, and love, and truly takes the audience through the emotional ringer. The show’s original run on Broadway was a success, winning five Tony Awards, and the Academy’s version certainly holds true to that legacy.

The show was performed in a black-box theater with a relatively small set, using only the center, four corners of the room, and the pathways between. The space, however, felt intimate and concise, enhancing the show, and making the audience feel as though they, too, were on an adventure with Peter and Molly. The staging was very dynamic and lively, moving around the room constantly, ensuring that each seat in the room was both the best (and worst) seat in the house.

The acting was phenomenal, with countless standout moments, but special attention should be paid to Helena Bryant, who played Molly, and Kelly Flynn, who played Peter. Both actresses encompassed their characters, and showed true acting grit. Their connection was tangible and intimate, and scenes the two shared were enjoyable.

While the show has a great deal of dramatic moments, it also has a copious amount of comedy, brought on mostly by Black Stache, the pirate played by Greg Smith, and Smee, his bumbling companion, played by Brooke Kraftson. The pair had excellent comedic timing, and they played very easily off each other. Their facial expressions and body movements were hilarious, and the duo had the audience roaring with laughter.

The ensemble and supporting cast were crucial to this production, giving the narrative, setting scenes, and playing the middle ground between heroes and villains. Characters like Slank, played by Emily Wingfield, Mrs. Bumbrake, played by McKee Bond, Teacher, played by Phoebe Barr, and Sanchez, played by Amalie Hipp, were easily crowd favorites for their humorous but small roles that truly commanded the stage and the audience’s attention.

Overall, the Episcopal Academy’s performance of Peter and the Starcatcher was truly stellar, and definitely not one to miss!

 

 

The Crucible – by Upper Darby High School

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The Crucible by Upper Darby High School in Drexel Hill, PA

November 2, 2016

Review submitted by Shelby Lenhart of Upper Merion Area High School

A fire once burned in Salem in 1693, and it burnt again at Upper Darby High School as they brought Arthur Miller’s prolific play The Crucible to life on their stage.

The gallows were never wanting of lives to take in Salem in the late 17th century as the infamous Salem Witch Trials plagued the small Massachusetts town. Arthur Miller’s timeless play is a creative, complex allusion at the scourge of the McCarthyism mindset of the 1950’s. The play follows the story of a town touched by madness and revenge as fingers point, leaving tragic hero John Proctor standing in its wake. The story details his harrowing journey of discovery and his battle to find sanity in a vengeful town.

The show featured intuitive staging, a dynamic ensemble, and creative use of space that rivaled even the most recent Broadway adaptation of the classic play. Students tackled the challenge of not only playing pious reverends, adulterous husbands, and sinful servants, but overcame it with a glorious outcome.

Rain Diaz, who played John Proctor, gave the character a raw, cathartic edge as he delivered his most poignant line, “God is dead!” His powerhouse performance drove the show with no lack of momentum. Paired with his tortured performance, Diaz provided the other half of a taboo chemistry with Abigail Williams, played by Gina Price. Her sadistic, sensual delivery of lines created a memorable, alluring character that could be both loved and loathed.

It would be a crime if Fabiola Alfred, who played the mystifying Barbados slave Tituba, was not mentioned. With the enchanting choreography of creating a potion, she captured attention and did not let it go, even despite her minimal appearance in the show. The girls of Salem, Abigail’s devout followers, were a natural part of the scene that added to the feel of judgment and childish mischief.

The beautifully constructed set allowed actors to use the space well, and the artistically designed lights lent a chilling ambiance to the show. The sound provided hymns, wind, and lush music to create a well-rounded, theatrical scene.

Upper Darby boldly accepted the challenge of such a famous show, and not only did it justice, but for a moment, embodied the spirits of those overtaken by the whirlwind of fear, jealousy, and defiance of Salem more than three centuries ago.

 

Review submitted by Trinity Pike of Upper Merion Area High School

Evil has taken Salem — but is it truly the Devil’s work, or is the source of the chaos much closer to home? Upper Darby High School desperately searched for the culprit in their compelling performance of The Crucible on Sunday evening.

Playwright Arthur Miller wrote this American classic to illustrate the frenzied paranoia of the Red Scare. In this small Puritan town, everyone knows each other too well. Petty grudges lead to false accusations, eventually erupting into a series of cruel executions.

Portraying the broad range of emotions motivating these harsh actions demanded mature sophistication from Upper Darby performers. The entire cast met the task, continuing to portray Salem citizens whether they were delivering lines or quietly shaping the atmosphere. Body language effectively paced the story through choreography and dialogue. Technical aspects highlighted the chemistry between actors while establishing the era’s anxiety.

Under the bizarre circumstances of Salem in panic, John Proctor (Rain Diaz) and Abigail Williams (Gina Prince) competed for leadership in a captivating dynamic. With organic, emotive gestures and tone, Proctor shifted gracefully between a grounded voice of reason and an anguished man furious at the witch trial executions. Williams was equally skillful as she extended Proctor’s suffering, waiting with madness in her eyes and a sinful smile for Proctor to accept her obsessive love. Targeted by Abby’s plot were Elizabeth Proctor (Rylee Curry), John’s wife, and Mary Warren (Gabi Greco), the Proctors’ servant, both of whom drew deep sympathy from the audience with breathtakingly convincing exclamations of sorrow.

Even characters with less frequent appearances portrayed nuanced personalities through vivid emotion. This made it especially heartbreaking to watch endearing old woman Rebecca Nurse (Cleo Hoey), motherly slave Tituba (Fabiola Alfred), and amusingly sarcastic Giles Corey (Mark LaVecchio) be sentenced to death by obstinate court authority Danforth (Mike Weir) as little girl Betty Parris (Genevieve Bruce) spiraled into insanity. Reverend Samuel Parris (Tom Geiger) and John Hale (Joe Gormley) both evolved from blindness towards the irrationality of accusations to fearful realization of the injustice behind the trials. While some line delivery was compromised by hurried speech, the consequences were minimal compared to the mesmerizing characterization accomplished by the ensemble.

Surrounding these talented performers was a versatile set that provided ambiance without imposing upon onstage developments. Salem’s modest wooden aesthetic grew ominous as red light leaked from floorboards in darkness, then returned to warm earthy textures during daytime scenes. Apt lighting and music choices amplified pivotal moments, revealing that careful thought contributed by all students involved. Strong visual cues and relevant soundtrack selections kept the story moving fluidly beyond microphone issues.

Explosive acting capability and tasteful technical choices combined to haunt audiences just before Halloween. Upper Darby High School’s unforgettable production of The Crucible left Abigail’s lethal gaze in the audience’s memory, warning many of the true power of a rumor.

The Infinite Black Suitcase – by Friends’ Central School

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The Infinite Black Suitcase by Friends’ Central School in Wynnewood, PA

November 2, 2016

Review submitted by Trinity Pike of Upper Merion Area High School

While grief possesses an overwhelming weight, it must be carried through life. Friends’ Central School took their suitcases with both sensitivity and sophistication. The cast and crew of Infinite Black Suitcase portrayed human resilience with insightful artistry in their Saturday performance.

Critically-acclaimed playwright E. M. Lewis sought a spectrum of emotion from the ensemble. Nuanced vignettes revealed a diverse cast, yet the characters shared a recognizable humanity as they grappled with trauma. A family suicide haunted the Kalinskis, while gay couple Dan (Evan Paszamant) and Stephen (Julian Shapiro-Barnum) faced the impending separation of the former’s death. Terminally ill Katie (McKenna Blinman) struggled to continue being the voice of reason for ex-husband Joe (Joe Schoepp) and current spouse Tony (Zoe Walker) as they wrestled with the knowledge of her death. These developments were balanced with humorous relief delivered by cheerful funeral director April (Alexandra Fiorentino-Swinton), sarcastic priest Father Sebastian (Jack Correll), and exasperated non-Catholic Frank (Ezra Kruger).

Each character developed complexity despite the brevity of their individual appearances. Stephen and Dan fostered a versatile dynamic, beginning with playful kisses and cheeky flower delivery, then slipping into the painful silence of holding each other as they awaited the inevitable. Janie Kalinski (Ciara Hervas) also expressed volumes of meaning without speaking, so shocked by the suicide that each movement trembled and each expression was marked with dolor. Stan Kalinski’s (Alex Bessen) frantic efforts to maintain the semblance of normality were laced with the same misery, but characterized with detail by the actor. His brother, Kal (Charlie Blumberg), was an especially important vehicle in revealing these hidden troubles with fiery arguments fueled by the confusion of loss.

Siblings Stephen and Liz (Noelle Mercer) also handled conflict skillfully. Liz was especially natural as she shifted between reasoning with her brother and displaying her own vulnerability. Friction between Tony and Joe was made tense with body language, but facial expressions revealed the sympathy they had for one another. Jake Harrison (Jacob Lynn-Palevsky) and his second wife, Anne (Karishma Singh), were another duo who vividly expressed both genuine love and frustrated distrust as they discussed Jake’s late first wife. These organic interactions and intricate portrayals emotionally connected the audience to the stage, tastefully framed by creative technical choices.

While technical aspects were not especially demanding, decisions made by the crew showcased the capability of the students as artists. The aesthetic drew effectiveness from simplicity, featuring a rustic set and everyday props. Transitions of nostalgic music, tree shadows swaying on the soft colors of backlights, and the silhouettes of characters exiting the stage remained impactful as they repeated throughout the show. Other additions were momentary, but equally powerful, such as the cast’s performance of Cat Stevens’s song “Moonshadow.”

Overall, the excellence of Friends’ Central School’s Infinite Black Suitcase was rooted in the artistic vision of its cast and crew. Skillful characterization and unique staging allowed Friends’ Central to gift audiences with a beautifully intricate memento mori.

 

Review submitted by Jane Mentzinger of Westtown School

Friends’ Central doesn’t shy away from challenging material. In 2014 they performed Angels in America, and this year they offered Infinite Black Suitcase. In both productions, the school explored issues of mortality, grief, and acceptance with sensitivity, insight, and even a bit of humor.

Infinite Black Suitcase, by E.M. Lewis, takes us to a small Oregon town where we spend one day with three interconnected families. Each family is struggling with the impending death of a loved one, and through their stories, we gather strength and develop compassion and empathy.

Friends’ Central’s production marked the show’s East Coast premiere, and the freshness of the material heightened the show’s impact. The cast fully embraced the toughest moments, not pulling any punches but instead welcoming our discomfort. The show never felt rushed. The actors gave time for their words to sink in and for the audience to process the emotions onstage. The silences in the show were just as powerful as the dialogue.

Julian Shapiro-Barnum gave a standout performance as Stephen Miller, a man who is torn apart watching his life partner lose his battle with a debilitating illness. Shapiro-Barnum never wasted a line, filling every phrase with emotion and pain. Evan Paszamant, who played his partner, never gave us a respite from physical pain; even as he walked offstage, we winced. The actors had touching chemistry, conveying strong affection and connection. Even their everyday, familiar conversation carried the weight of their joint burden.

Joe Schoepp, as Joe Stricklin, gave a nuanced performance, showing both understandable anger and unexpected depth when arguing with his ex-wife’s new wife, Tony Liu. Zoe Walker, as Liu, matched Schoepp’s skill, showing her character’s strength. Later, as Schoepp and Walker sat together in a bar, they came to an understanding driven by their mutual pain and love for their dying partner.

The lighting design, by Hannah Benjet, beautifully enhanced the production. The background was filled with colored lights that changed with the mood of the scene. Projections of clouds added to the small town setting. The stage never went fully black even between scenes, signaling the audience that the stories were connected rather than discrete.

At the very beginning of the show, the actors lifted up suitcases and let them fly out, showing them giving up their journey and their lives. At the end of the show, flowers sprouted everywhere, and we were filled with our own individual dreams for some form of afterlife and with the reality that life must go on for those left behind. Friends’ Central faced the brutality of death head-on, but left us rejoicing in the common bond created by our joint mortality and in the comforting power of love.