Grease – by West Chester East High School

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Grease by West Chester East High School in West Chester, PA

February 28, 2017

Review submitted by Jane Mentzinger of Westtown School

If you want to jam to some rock and roll or dance in your seat to the hand-jive, West Chester East’s production of Grease is the show for you. “We Go Together” is certainly true for West Chester East’s cast.

Grease is all about the Elvis Presley-fueled greaser culture of the 1950s. Written in 1971 by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, the show follows Rydell High Schoolers dealing with friendships, romantic relationships, and growing up. West Chester East performed the school edition, which takes the sex and drugs out of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Family-friendly was the goal.

The production was marked by energy, great dancing and a strong ensemble. The deleted story lines compromised the show’s dramatic power, but the cast made the absolute most of the fun musical numbers. The dancing was well executed and beautifully synchronized, which was particularly impressive given the large cast. The production took advantage of the big, talented cast by effectively expanding several typically small-scale numbers.

Georgia Naples, as Sandy, had a lovely voice, as demonstrated by her strong rendition of “It’s Raining on Prom Night.” John Fordyce played Danny, and he perfectly balanced the toughness that made him the coolest guy in high school and the sensitivity that made him Sandy’s soul mate. Naples and Fordyce had terrific chemistry, which was prominently displayed in their climactic “All Choked Up” number.

The big dance numbers made this show truly memorable. In “Greased Lightnin’” the cast wowed the audience by mixing the show’s iconic dance moves with innovative, creative steps. “Born to Hand-Jive” and “Shakin’ at the High School Hop” had the whole cast dancing in pairs, providing a visual change of pace and showcasing brilliant partner dancing. Kyle Puchalla, as Sonny, stole several scenes with great one-liners and hilarious body language. James Shafer and Jamie Cohen, as Roger and Jan respectively, were endearing in their comic but still romantic duet, “Mooning.”

The stage crew moved sets quickly and seamlessly, often while half the cast was on stage dancing. The orchestra provided perfect accompaniment, stand-alone great music, and 50’s spirit. The conductor even wore a pink lady jacket!

Everyone walked out of West Chester East humming.

 

Review submitted by Carly Goldberg of Phoenixville Area High School

Navigating love and friendship is never easy as a teenager, and West Chester East High School captured the highs and lows of senior year in their energetic production of Grease. Their solid 1950’s throwback was a fun and family-friendly tribute to the classic movie.

Grease first premiered on Broadway in 1971, and the iconic film based on the show was released in 1978, starring Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta. It went on to inspire the unsuccessful Grease 2, but remains a favorite American film.

The story of Grease follows the romantic path of Sandy Dumbrowski and Danny Zuko, two high school students in a summer fling. As they return to school and realize that they now go to the same building, Danny rejects Sandy in front of his cooler friends, and Sandy tries to move on. Other romantic encounters occur between Danny’s group of friends, the Burger Palace Boys, and Sandy’s new squad, the Pink Ladies.

West Chester East’s take on the show was fresh and lively, with a marvelous cast that really reflected the spirit of the show. Sandy and Danny (Georgia Naples and John Fordyce, respectively) led the show with impressive chemistry and great vocals, even overcoming slight microphone issues. Their relationship was convincing and their reconciliation occurred perfectly with “All Choked Up” at the end of the musical.

The supporting cast filled out the show quite nicely as well, with the sassy Rizzo (Odessa Acker) and peppy Patty Simcox (Casey Knipe) contrasting each other in every scene. The comedic Sonny LaTierri (Kyle Puchalla) used his humor to add to the show, and the adorable duo of Jan and Roger (Jamie Cohen and James Shafer) nailed their romantic rendition of “Mooning.”

The ensemble was another highlight of the show, as they filled the stage with high energy and well-executed dance moves. Their facial expressions showed a great level of engagement in the show.

Overall, West Chester East High School’s production of Grease was an exciting and peppy spectacle that could surely give the movie a run for its money.

 

The Odd Couple (Female Version) – by Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy

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The Odd Couple by Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, PA

February 8, 2017

Review submitted by Emily Lewis of Unionville High School

You have heard the old saying “opposites attract” … Well believe it or not, this theory is not always true. Especially when talking about divorcèes, Olive Madison and Florence Unger. Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy had the audience belly laughing to their interpretation of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple (Femal Version). The show details two recently divorced women and their experiences of living together. With one being content with living in a pigsty and the other obsessed with cleanliness, the two face many challenges related to their incompatibility.

Olive Madison (Rivkah Wyner) is a rather outgoing woman who possesses the qualities of a slob seeing as her apartment floor is covered in clothes, food and everything in between. Florence Unger (Sabrina Chevlin) is the exact opposite. Flo is far more introverted and can be categorized as a neat freak. Wyner and Chevlin highlighted the striking differences in their characters impressively. Their use of physical comedy was especially notable and well executed.

Mickey (Ruthie Davis), Renee (Gavi Weitzman), Vera (Ruthie Cohen), and Sylvie (Sarah Eckstein-Indik) are a humorous bunch who partake in ladies’ night at Olive’s house with a bottle of liquor and an excess of man problems. The aspect that made this group so relatable was their well-developed chemistry. Each woman brought a distinct personality to the Trivial Pursuit game, carrying its own sense of humor.

Manolo Costazuela (Jack Zweben) and Jesus Costazuela (Zach Sherman) are two brothers who end up on a double date with Olive and Florence. Zweben and Sherman utilized their stage time in a clever manner. They acted together as a synchronized and humorous pair incredibly well.

Student director, Yonah Hamermesh, comprised a simply wonderful put-together show. The stage manager (Sophia Shapiro) and assistant stage manager (Sarah Nelson) appeared to be efficient and organized, seeing as timing was excellent and there didn’t appear to be any unplanned mishaps. The few sound effects (Charlie Foster and Sophia Shapiro) were on time and appropriate to the scene. Costume, hair and makeup (Orli Friedman, Sarah Nelson, Maya Pur) were always fitting to the character’s personality and functional.

Yonah Hamermesh wrote in her director’s notes for the show that she wanted to do this show “because of its powerful message of gender equality and the power of women that is constantly suppressed in modern society.” Olive and Florence taught us “that anyone can be strong, independent, and beautiful”.

 

Review submitted by Maria Cotsis of Jenkintown High School

Ever heard the expression “opposites attract”? The validity of that statement really hinges on the circumstances. When disorderly woman who is rather disorderly lives with a meticulous neat freak, there is bound to be discord. There is something very amusing and relatable about two distinctly different roommates trying to live cordially under the same roof. Barrack Hebrew Academy’s Take on The Odd Couple (Female Version) kept each audience member anticipating a laugh.

The Odd Couple, written be Neil Simon, premiered on Broadway in 1965. Off of the play branched several derived works, including the 1970’s sitcom of the same title. In 1985, the play was featured on Broadway again, only revised to fit a female cast. This version surrounds two women named Florence Ungar and Olive Madison. Olive is living single and carelessly while Florence is in despair over her separation from her husband. Though slightly apprehensive, Olive invites Florence to live with her. Their conflicting personalities and banter serve as the main comical components throughout the show.

Barrack Hebrew Academy did a wonderful job at capturing the true atmosphere of the show; the actors portrayed the roles with an authenticity that made the plot believable. An actress that most definitely deserves mention is Sabrina Chevlin. Sabrina gave depth to Florence’s character in her raw emotion and body language. Her awareness of the character’s mindset was always apparent. Olive’s disposition was brought out effectively as well; Rivkah Wyner gave a solid and consistent performance. Characterization was strong throughout the cast.

I enjoyed the prop, costume, and set choices. They were realistic yet they were not underdone. The actors used the space effectively. The lighting was appropriate and did not distract from the audience. The choice of a subtle light cast over the table as it was being set allowed an additional comedic aspect. One critique that I would have is about the use of sound effects. They occasionally broke the mood and authenticity of the production.

Overall, I enjoyed the show and was very impressed considering that it was student directed. I commend all contributors for adding several creative elements.

Rent: School Edition – by Westtown School

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Rent:  School Edition by Westtown School in West Chester, PA

February 8, 2017

Review submitted by Varun Andrews of Bordentown Regional High School

Devastated by poverty, drugs, and the AIDS epidemic, New York City was an extremely harsh environment for many in the late 1980’s. This New York City was brought to life in Westtown’s amazing production of Rent.

The revolutionary rock musical, Rent, delves into a number of dark themes such as homelessness, drug addiction, and queer life while exemplifying the resilience of the human spirit. With music, lyrics, and book by Jonathan Larson, Rent became an instant hit in the hearts and minds of its audiences, going on to win four Tony Awards and running on Broadway for a whopping twelve years.

If there is one idea that Rent tried to express more than others, it was the idea of love. This was easily visible with the cast as a whole from the opening number all the way to the finale. Although, the cast’s energy was lacking at some points, their exemplary chemistry made up for that and allowed Westtown to make the presentation of the story incredibly alluring.

The narrator of the story, Mark Cohen, was remarkably portrayed by Sally Harpster. Her strong acting skills coupled with her superb vocals allowed the production to go to greater heights. Tom Collins, who was played by Isaiah Fernandez, also delivered a noteworthy performance. Fernandez’s masterful voice, especially in the reprise of “I’ll Cover You”, melted audience’s hearts.

The real stars of the production though were Joanne and Maureen, portrayed by India Henderson and Maddie Kreitzberg respectively. Whether it was Joanne’s sensational solo in “Seasons of Love” or Maureen’s brilliant performance in “Over the Moon”, nothing compared to their jaw-dropping version of “Take Me or Leave Me”. Their voices blended beautifully resulting in a one-of-a-kind powerful performance.

The technical aspects of this production should not go unmentioned, as they developed and enhanced the production immensely. Balancing the sound of the band and the microphones was no easy task, but Westtown technical crew delivered beautifully with only a few mishaps. In addition, costumes for all characters were precisely chosen and complemented the time period marvelously.

Westtown’s production of Rent was filled with powerful performances, poignant climaxes, and priceless lessons. Rent reminds us that even though there are 525,600 minutes in a year to share the message of love, there’s no day but today to live and love.

 

 

Review submitted by Faith Warmhold of Delaware County Christian School

“You always said how lucky we were that we were all friends. But it was us, baby, who were the lucky ones.”

Jonathan Larson’s Rent is the story of seven friends who are all trying to get by in New York City during the early 1990’s. Each character is dealing with some issue, but whether it is AIDS, drug addiction, or grieving the death of a loved one, they all come together to try and forget their problems. Rent was an extremely popular show when it first came out because it was a rock opera, which was very appealing to the teens at the time. Unfortunately, Jonathan Larson died the day of the last dress rehearsal, so he did not live to see his show’s success.

Westtown gave a very captivating performance of Jonathan Larson’s Rent. All of the cast members got on stage and had fun with their songs and dances, which left the crowd energized and wanting more. Rent deals with a lot of very heavy topics, but the cast gave a very mature performance that helped show the audience what life can be like when dealing with these issues.

The actors and actresses in this musical gave very moving performances with their natural chemistry with one another and their strong vocals. Three people whose vocals were especially notable were Mercedes Horton (Mimi), India Henderson (Joanna), and Maddie Kreitzburg (Maureen). These three girls’ voices were strong and left everyone wanting more. All of the actresses and actors gave very mature performances, even if they were playing a character who had a different sexual orientation or gender than their own.

On top of performances, Lily Cunicelli did a great job of capturing the image of 1990’s fashion with the casts’ costumes. Whether they were homeless or a “rich jerk”, everyone was dressed in a typical and well thought out 1990’s outfit. The set was also very well built and helped transport us back to the 1990’s. Although it was sometimes hard to hear the orchestra, the five-person pit accompanied the cast beautifully. The cast also made a video that they projected on a wall during the end of the show which was a very nice touch, even though some of the video was obscured because there was a window in the way.

Overall the cast of Westtown’s Rent gave a very memorable and mature production that left us all wanting more.