Titanic! the Musical – Cardinal O’Hara High School

Cardinal - Titanic 3

Titanic! the Musical by Cardinal O’ Hara High School in Springfield, PA

November 28, 2017

Review submitted by Anna Bobok of Upper Merion Area High School

Titanic! The Musical at Cardinal O’Hara High School had audiences “Doing the Latest Rag” from the first note to the close of the curtains!

On April 10th, 1912, thousands crowded on board the R.M.S. Titanic, the largest water vessel of its time and a supposedly unsinkable ship. By April 15th, the ship was completely underwater and less than half of its passengers and crew had escaped on lifeboats. The shipwreck was discovered in 1985, inspiring lyricist Maury Yeston and book writer Peter Stone to collaborate on a musical detailing the disaster and the real people it impacted. The musical won several Tony Awards in 1997, including Best Original Score, Best Book, and Best Musical.

Dylan Rooney (Thomas Andrews), Jack Williamson (J. Bruce Ismay), and Brian McAnulla (Captain E. J. Smith) played well off each other’s energy, which was especially evident in “The Blame”. The actors utilized this song to raise the stakes of the show through their strong portrayals of tension and anger that engaged the audience fully. Rooney was a particular standout of the trio with his songs “In Every Age” and “Mr. Andrew’s Vision” showcasing his soaring vocals.

Grace Grassi (Kate McGowan) played her character expertly with an authentic Irish accent. Her voice was especially strong in the number “Lady’s Maid”, where she managed to command the stage amidst a large ensemble. Kevin Bonnell (Frederick Barrett) portrayed his lovesick role with heart and charm, evident in his songs “Barrett’s Song” and “The Proposal”. Katie Till (Ida Straus) showed off her powerful pipes in “Still”, a beautiful song where she blended well and created good chemistry with Gavin Lewis (Isidor Straus).

Kristina Goldhorn and Brennen Frame (Alice and Edgar Beane, respectively) added elements of humor and fun to the show, which really helped brighten the bleak tale. Frame’s dry one liners countered Goldhorn’s eccentric portrayal extremely well, and laughter was heard every time the pair was on stage. Connell O’Brien (Henry Etches) had an infectious energy throughout the whole show that was especially showcased with the number “What a Remarkable Age This Is”.

The show’s marketing team made good use of technology with their impressive time-lapse video of the set building process and interviews with the cast. Their creativity was showcased with their handmade Titanic bow outside the auditorium. Audience members and critics alike utilized this for photo opportunities and it made the overall theater experience a lot more fun and inclusive.

Cardinal O’Hara’s actors and actresses gave a stellar production of Titanic! that was far from a shipwreck!

 

Review submitted by June Sanchez of Upper Merion Area High School

The legend of the Titanic is one known to the masses. For over a century, the story of a glamorous, impressive ship doomed from the start has intrigued and inspired numerous creative works. Cardinal O’Hara High School’s rendition of Titanic! The Musical delves further into the tragic historical narrative, introducing the audience to the passengers of the Titanic themselves.

A tale of what became of the world who set sail, Titanic tells the infamous story of the seemingly unsinkable luxury liner shipwrecked on its maiden voyage. But before thousands met their bitter demise, they had hopes, dreams, and their own story to tell. Titanic details the lives and deaths of those aboard the “ship of dreams” while highlighting themes of class struggles, the ever-expanding technological pursuits of the human race, and the problems posed by excessive pride. The show received immense critical acclaim upon its 1997 Broadway release, winning Tony awards for “Best Musical”, “Best Book”, and “Best Score.”

Cardinal O’Hara’s cast tackled an ambitious and involved production with immense energy and enthusiasm. Although the cast occasionally struggled to find their harmonies during group numbers, they compensated through a few standout vocalists and excellent comedic timing throughout.

Dylan Rooney (Thomas Andrews) expertly encapsulated the internal struggle of the ship’s designer and builder grappling with the reality of his failures. His standout vocals and heart wrenching epiphany in the Titanic’s final moments during “Mr. Andrew’s Vision” reflected the cruel and tragic fate of a ship that just hours before was his source of immense pride. Grace Grassi (Kate McGowan) created an authentic character through her melodic vocals and hopeful imagination of what her life would be like in America.

Kristina Goldhorn (Alice Beane) and Brennan Frame’s (Edgar Beane) charming portrayal of a couple, who couldn’t see eye to eye on their fellow passengers, lent several moments of lighthearted comic relief to the production. Brian McAnulla (Captain E.J. Smith) and Jack Williamson (J. Bruce Ismay) effectively conveyed the conflict of their prideful and power-hungry characters as they argued over who really was in charge of the Titanic. Additionally, Katie Till (Ida Straus) and Gavin Lewis’s (Isidor Straus) bittersweet rendition of “Still” during their final moments reflected the genuine chemistry between the actors.

Beyond the stage, the Titanic Marketing Team extended the ambience of the show throughout the school. Their creation of an impressive lobby display featuring a gigantic ship balcony provided an ideal photo opportunity for audience members.

Cardinal O’Hara High School’s cast and crew brought the legendary tale of a doomed “floating city” to the stage through their production of Titanic! the Musical.

 

 

 

Radium Girls – Phoenixville Area High School

Phoenixville - Radium Girls 3

photo by: Mike Lantzy

Radium Girls by Phoenixville Area High School in Phoenixville, PA

November 21, 2017

Review submitted by Trinity Pike of Upper Merion Area High School

Dress, shoes, and smile all aglow. The sight seems beautiful, but light is cast to hide the darkness. While radium seemed to glimmer with promise upon discovery, the chemical was later revealed to be a lethal poison. Phoenixville’s production of Radium Girls portrayed the historical revelation, transforming a lively, carefree world into a haunting portrait.

Throughout her work, playwright D. W. Gregory juxtaposed the excitement of scientific discovery with the horror of debilitating illness. At the U.S. Radium Corporation, hundreds of female factory workers giggled and gossiped as they painted dials, dipping the brushes into their mouths to give their teeth an extra shine. But the painters contracted a mysterious disease that rotted their gums and even lead to death. Terrified by these effects, Grace Fryer struggled to sue the company, grappling with family, fame, and her unfortunate fate.

Phoenixville met the challenges of this story with maturity and sophistication. A versatile ensemble lent a dynamic atmosphere to each moment. Many cast members portrayed a wide range of emotion, conveying the panic associated with the danger of radium. Stage transitions never distracted from the sense of urgency, collaborating with lighting to seamlessly shift from one scene to the next.

Julianita Vlad (Grace Fryer) drove the show forward with her own unique energy. Beginning as a simple, obedient girl, Vlad evolved into a powerful woman, hands trembling and voice harsh as she furiously demanded that others recognize the injustice before them. Alek Wasserman (Arthur Roeder), provided a compelling performance as her employer and adversary. As persistent denial became profound guilt, Wasserman’s matter-of-fact delivery gave way to emotional vulnerability.

Alongside Wasserman was his wife, Rachael Hesse (Diane Roeder), who realized the gravity of the situation before he did. Their explosive argument was authentic and impactful, showcasing their chemistry as well as Hesse’s individual sophistication. Vlad’s friend and fellow factory worker, Xandra Coleman (Kathryn Schaub), displayed skillful characterization as she begged others to recognize her suffering, crying out with genuine sorrow. Other standouts included Brennan Becker (Dr. von Sochocky) with his convincing German accent and Kyra Bernotas (Sob Sister Reporter) with her hilarious over-the-top presence.

These performances were framed by effective technical decisions. While these aspects of the show were minimal, they were also well-executed. Led by Jesse Ercole, lighting was sometimes selective to grant certain moments a sense of intimacy, while a broad, bright stage accommodated for more activity. Stage manager Hayley Barvitskie supervised a team of crew members who set each scene quickly and quietly.

Phoenixville’s rendition of Radium Girls was excellent. Simple yet thought-provoking, the production paid a respectful homage to the factory workers who fought long ago.

 

Review submitted by Lionel McCulloch of PA Leadership Charter School’s Center for Performing and Fine Arts

Phoenixville Area High School’s gut wrenching, glowing production of D. W. Gregory’s Radium Girls sent shivers down spines as the characters rotted away on stage.

The play’s cold hard reality of imminent death, caused by young girls’ innocent trust countered by a corporation’s calculated corruption, documents a true story of factory watch painters during the 1920’s radium boom. The girls dab each other playfully with poison, and joke about the way their clothes shine at night. With each brush stroke, time ticks towards judgment day.

One of Gregory’s most produced plays, Radium Girls masterfully tells the tale of Grace Fryer, a young watch painter working for the Radium Corporation. She started working there as a teen, leaving school to help provide for her family and quits her job as she plans for her wedding. Exposure to the radium paint causes her and the other girls working in the factory to physically deteriorate as the play progresses. The rest of the play follows her pursuit for justice and her stagnating relationship with her fiancé.

PAHS Theater Guild cast almost fifty actors in their production. Gregory’s fast-moving play was originally created for ten. The casting choice served more students and gives the play more mass on the large stage, but reduces some of the flow during the short and choppy scenes. The stage’s size, however, facilitated quick and efficient set changes to alleviate the need for the intimacy suggested by the play’s style.

Providing a shining performance, Julianita Vlad, as Grace Fryer, was the heart of the show. Her innocence and sweetness in the beginning was equaled by her strength and fierce righteousness as she stared her static, corporate killer, Arthur Roeder (played by Alek Wasserman) in the face. Another standout performance was Rachael Hesse’s portrayal of Mrs. Diane Roeder, with her genuine fear of her husband’s actions and inactions – and what they may cause to happen in the future.

Tech was simple in this production, with a mostly barren stage, wooden furniture against black drapes, and stark lighting to focus audience attention. The lighting made the large stage a little smaller, bringing a touch of the intimacy required for such an emotional piece.  Simple sets allowed for time to move quickly, which reflected the speed with which the radium killed each girl.

Time is the radioactive glowing enemy in Radium Girls. Faces shine then rot with time. Truth is revealed with time. Radium, revenge and righteousness all come in their own time. With the powerful message of women standing up for what is right Phoenixville Area High School’s Radium Girls provides a timely message to stand together and speak with one voice.

Legally Blonde – The Agnes Irwin School

Agnes Irwin - Legally Blonde 3

Legally Blonde by The Agnes Irwin School in Rosemont, PA

November 21, 2017

Review submitted by Victoria Kline of Academy of the New Church

Pom-poms, puppies, and fashion-advice met with the competitive realm of Harvard Law in the Agnes Irwin School’s production of Legally Blonde this weekend.

After being dumped by her boyfriend who says he’s looking for someone more “serious,” sorority girl Elle Woods takes on Harvard Law to prove she’s the one he wants. With the help of a determined law student, a compassionate manicurist, and a falsely accused fitness trainer, Elle discovers that the only person she needs to prove herself to is herself. Based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer motion picture, Legally Blonde is an upbeat musical about love, loyalty, and finding one’s true calling.

The stage was brought to life by the students of Agnes Irwin with ever-increasing energy and strong background vocals. The Delta Nu sisters, Elle’s tried and true posse of loyal friends, kept spirits high on the stage in numbers like “Omigod You Guys” and “Bend and Snap,” and in larger numbers energy soared as the house itself was filled with pom-poms and Irish dancing.

Acacia Pressley starred as Elle herself, tackling the difficult musical score with power, pizazz, and a startlingly clear tone. Leading alongside Pressley, Nick Shaffer’s enthusiastic acting abilities found their outlet in the character Emmett Forrest, Elle’s new Harvard love interest.

Standouts among the supporting cast included Wren Francis as Paulette, a quirky and sweet manicurist who dreams of finding love in Ireland, and Fiona Moser as Brooke Wyndam, a fitness trainer wrongly accused of murdering her husband. Francis’ wistful vocals and indefatigable smile lit up the stage, and Moser performed a difficult solo perfectly, while jumping rope. In “Whipped Into Shape,” Brooke teamed up with a talented ensemble of prison women to put on one of the best numbers of the night, complete with spot-on execution of choreography and impressive vocals.

Accompanying the energetic cast were fun costumes and a minimalistic but well-executed set, which provided a good backdrop while letting the actors take center stage. Although some technical errors occurred, the cast persevered and spirits stayed high throughout the whole show.

Lighthearted yet surprisingly deep, the Agnes Irwin School’s production of Legally Blonde showed the importance of loving yourself for who you are: blonde, brunette, or anything in between.

 

Review submitted by Namita Rao of Plymouth Whitemarsh High School

With a lot of pink and overflowing energy, Elle Woods tackles stereotypes and scandal and proves that even a Harvard lawyer needs some flair! The Agnes Irwin School’s production of Legally Blonde was an unmissable performance.

Based on the novel by Amanda Brown and the popular movie starring Reese Witherspoon, Legally Blonde follows the transformation of Elle Woods as her life is turned upside down when her boyfriend Warner breaks up with her to attend Harvard Law. With her charm and wit, Elle pursues her ex to Harvard to win him back and Elle comes to realize her potential.

The cast never failed to exceed expectations. Elle’s friends, the Delta Nu sisters, brought energy and life into every dance, especially in “Omigod You Guys,” where they perfectly captured the typical sorority girl group. Also, the girls in “Whipped Into Shape” made singing while jumping rope and dancing look effortless!

Acacia Pressley’s rendition of Elle Woods was unforgettable. Her positive attitude and strong voice commanded the theater. She brought the character to life with her perky body language and interactions with the other characters. Her chemistry with her ex-boyfriend Warner, played by Kevin Bonnell, was admirable. Everyone in the audience could relate to her experience pining for a guy. Nick Shaffer captured the bookish role of Emmett Forrest well, although his chemistry with Elle was lacking in a few scenes.

Lia Della Porta’s rendition of Vivienne, Warner’s new girlfriend was perfect. The audience wanted to hate her stuck-up, overachieving, wealthy character, but soon grew to love her. Her solo was short but powerful, as well as Fiona Moser’s solo in “Whipped Into Shape,” where she embodied the spunky role of Brooke Wyndham. Wren Francis brought the role of Paulette, Elle’s hairstylist-turned-best friend, to life. She wowed the audience by keeping her hilarious accent consistent during her solos.

A simplistic set was used, but was still effective and versatile. The costumes were also accurate to the early 2000s time period as well. Amidst some sound issues and spotlight misplacements, the crew did a great job transforming the stage to fit the story.

All in all, the Agnes Irwin School’s talented cast in Legally Blonde proved that blondes can do anything!

Getting Sara Married – Overbrook High School

Overbrook - Getting Sara Married 1

Getting Sara Married by Overbrook High School in Pine Hill, NJ

November 21, 2017

Review submitted by Emma Yeatman of Springside Chestnut Hill Academy

There really is no correct response when someone’s meddling aunt has a man knocked unconscious and delivered to her door. However, Overbrook High School handled such situations with comedic aplomb, leaving the audience roaring in their production of Getting Sara Married.

Sam Bobrick’s lively comedy tells the story of Sara Hastings, a career woman claiming to neither need nor want a man, who is understandably horrified when her well-meaning aunt has a potential suitor abducted and hand-delivered to her New York apartment door. Events from there spiral into a slapstick comedy and surprising romance, accompanied by perfectly integrated social commentary.

With a fabulously painted New York skyline as a backdrop, the actors portrayed dynamic and complex characters without losing the show’s comedic elements. Augmented by well-timed sound and lights, the performance was marked by the cast’s skill in comedic timing and physical comedy.

Leading actress Carly Underwood portrayed a multifaceted and stunning Sara, the facial expressions and emotional range of which were a delight for the audience.

The supporting cast was truly blessed with Isaiah Robinson’s Noogie, a self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades and excellent voice of merriment when the rest of the characters have their fits of kidnapping-related hysteria. His physical abilities created an unforgettable mid-show allergy attack, and his dedication to lying facedown on the floor for an extended scene is to be admired. Aunt Martha (Zoe Muller) presented a delightful foil to Sara’s slightly uptight professional drive as a laid back but determined catalyst for plot and laughter. Her accent and look of nonchalance in the face of potential criminal charges left the audience in stitches.

The magnificent set painting (Overbrook Paint Crew and Advanced Technology Students) created a gorgeous East Side skyline. The areas at the sides of the stage for characters in other apartments to throw their two cents in via phone calls were beautifully simplistic, never drawing attention when not in use but still managing to portray a full room when inhabited. The light cues for these were wonderfully timed, portraying well the sudden stops and starts of phone conversations. The sound booth created everything from door bells to a New York themed soundtrack for mood purposes. The mics were well run and shockingly clear for a high school performance, although there was a slight ringing sound noticeable at some points.

Overbrook High School pulled off Getting Sara Married, a small cast, high energy slapstick comedy with aplomb, delivering both laughs and several things to think about regarding our courtship process.

 

Review submitted by Alexandra Kafrissen of Germantown Academy

Following savvy and empowered lawyer, Sara Hastings, on her humorously unconventional journey to love, Overbrook High School’s Getting Sara Married brought the audience an enjoyable performance full of energy and laughs.

Written by Sam Bobrick, Getting Sara Married tells the story of unmarried lawyer, Sara Hastings, who feels as though she is much too busy to get involved in romance. Her Aunt Martha however, has decided to take matters into her own hands and pick out a husband for her niece. Aunt Martha chooses the already engaged Brandon Cates and uses some hilariously unorthodox methods to make sure the two of them spend time with one another.

With a very small cast of six people, actors handled the substantial amount of lines well with few mistakes. Remaining onstage throughout the entire show, Carly Underwood (Sara Hastings) handles her immense amount of lines beautifully and with great articulation that was paired with high energy.  With a host of edgy one-liners juxtaposed with a sweet sincerity (particularly in Act Two), Carly Underwood performed the role of Sara Hastings in an earnest and believable manner that succeeded in getting the audience to root for romance. Jacob Gameron nicely complimented Underwood with his portrayal of Brandon Cates, a potential husband that Aunt Martha has chosen for Sara.

The humor in the play was truly brought to life by Isaiah Robinson playing the role of a “special” delivery man hired by Aunt Martha. Robinson achieved consistent laughter with his fantastic comedic timing that provided for a scene stealing role that quickly became an audience favorite. Bringing energy and laughs as well as an impressive New York accent was Zoe Muller as Aunt Martha. Muller’s take on the overbearing matchmaker of the play provided for a lovely contrast to her far more straight-laced niece.

The vibrant and detailed set was truly a highlight of the production. In particular, the beautifully painted backdrop of New York City in Sara’s apartment window was especially impressive and gave the audience a deeper sense of location during the play. The simple yet effective lighting added a bright and cheery aspect to the play as a whole.

The entertaining cast of Getting Sara Married put on a moderately short yet enjoyable performance that left the audience rooting for love.

 

 

Hamlet – Unionville High School

Unionville - Hamlet 1

Hamlet by Unionville High School in Kennett Square, PA

November 14, 2017

Review submitted by Alexa Rode of Sun Valley High School

To be at Unionville’s production of Hamlet, or not to be? That is the question. From their phenomenal female Hamlet to their beautifully built graffiti wall, the Unionville cast and crew kept the audience on their toes and at the edge of their seats from beginning to end with their modern adaption of this classic play.

Hamlet is a play that was written in 1599 by William Shakespeare after the loss of his son. The curtain rises to a depressed Hamlet who is in the process of mourning the loss of his father. He is called home to Denmark for the funeral just to discover that his mother has been remarried to his uncle less than a month following her husband’s passing. Throughout the play, the audience witnesses Hamlet slowly spiraling into a state of insanity with an ending that goes to show why Hamlet is considered one of Shakespeare’s great tragedies.

This production was impressive from beginning to end. The sets were magnificent, the pit’s rock and roll score written by Eric Folmar really benefited to the modern aspect of the production, and every actor and actress portrayed their roles with the emotion that would have given the bard himself chills.

Perhaps the most risky decision this show made was casting the lead, Hamlet, as a female. Suchi Jain did not fail to show why she was the absolute right choice for this part. Despite her gender, her depiction of the pessimistic prince was practically perfect. Jain really threw herself into the character, from her body language to the rather insane look she consistently held in her eyes, she never strayed focus from the action that was happening onstage, even when it was just her.

The supporting character that left jaws dropping all over the audience was Ophelia, portrayed by Rachel Tierney. This hopeless romantic won the favor of many and delivered an overall outstanding performance including several spine-chilling scenes that left the audience in awe.

The tech in the show was very impressive. The scene changes moved smoothly, even when they had only seconds for a transition in the pitch black. The lights added to the overall quality of the show, along with sounds such as the echo added when the ghost would talk that gave off the eerie vibe of the scene.

To thine own self be true, putting on a show like Hamlet is not an easy thing to do… but Unionville sure did it! Whether the talent was onstage acting or offstage working sounds and lighting, Unionville’s production of Shakespeare’s Hamlet proved that though the play itself may be a tragedy, the production with such a talented cast and crew was a success.

 

Review submitted by Tommy Christaldi of Sun Valley High School

William Shakespeare said, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”  If this is to be believed, Unionville High School must have thought their production of Hamlet was wonderful.

The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, written sometime around the turn of the 17th century, is arguably Shakespeare’s most famous work.  The story of a young prince in turmoil over the death of his father at the hands of his uncle (and new stepfather) has been performed and adapted countless times.  While Shakespearean language is archaic, Unionville was quick to alleviate confusion, modernizing the show without altering the timeless dialogue.  In direct opposition to the Elizabethan custom of men performing all roles, Unionville took a unique yet effective approach in lifting all gender restrictions of their characters, most notably Hamlet himself.

Hamlet is a demanding show, and Unionville’s actors handled it very well, but it was those that were not on stage that elevated the performance.  Scenes were accompanied by meticulous lighting and occasional music to accentuate the already weighty dialogue.  In scenes where Hamlet’s father’s ghost took the stage, shades of blue, echoes, ghastly makeup, and sharp guitar chords created an atmosphere of horror that stole the show.

As the title character, Hamlet has the most important lines in the show.  Many times, Suchi Jain, Unionville’s young prince, was alone onstage, but she never wavered in her precise delivery.  Every line was clear and confident, conveying emotions from sorrow to fury.  Jain’s vehemence was present from the onset yet somehow managed to grow as Hamlet “went mad” to lull his uncle into a false sense of security.  The famous “To be, or not to be” soliloquy was especially poignant, as Jain articulated each line carefully, altering her facial expressions, showing true understanding of a very complex character.

Of course, without anyone to interact with, Hamlet would be a series of monologues, not a classic tragedy.  While Jain’s intensity was unmatched, everyone else made their characters equally memorable.  Rachel Tierney’s Ophelia began calm and composed, making her final, screaming appearance even more shocking.  With much stage time if not as many lines, King Claudius (Matt Caputo) and Queen Gertrude (Meghan McClosky) used subtle expressions to capture attention and add to the scene without being distracting.

Technically, Hamlet was stunning.  While the rock music, written by Eric Folmar and brilliantly performed with Calvin Collison and Eli Sheppard, clashed with the formal tone of the show, it still fit perfectly.  Sets included two detailed, almost professional portraits of the current and former King, but were relatively simple otherwise.

Unionville High School’s excellent performance found the method in the madness of as complicated of a show as Hamlet.

 

 

Much Ado About Nothing – The Baldwin School

 

Baldwin 1 - Much Ado

Photo credit:  Anna Bunting and Audrey Senior

Much Ado About Nothing by the Baldwin School in Bryn Mawr, PA

November 14, 2017

Review submitted by Phoebe Barr of Episcopal Academy

Perhaps the essence of a great Shakespeare comedy is one that leaves the audience with a sense of ridiculousness; the ridiculousness of life, of love, of gossip, and above all, of human nature. Baldwin School’s Much Ado About Nothing captured this ridiculousness perfectly, bringing to the stage a playful, well-acted and heartwarming performance.

Romantic leads Benedick (Lionel McCulloch) and Beatrice (Melia Haggino) are dead-set against ever falling victim to such a debasing sentiment as love, until their friends decide to play matchmaker and spread rumors that the two have fallen for each other. Meanwhile, Claudio (David Zachai) woos Hero (Katrina Conklin) and Don John (Ashley Tate) does his utmost to cause trouble for their upcoming marriage. In the end, the day is saved by the Watch, a bumbling gang of misfits led by the idiotic but lovable Dogberry (Alexis McCall).

The show’s physical comedy was its greatest attribute, marvelously timed and frequently hilarious, bringing life to scenes of dialogue while keeping their rhythm flowing smoothly. Shakespeare’s dialogue is incredibly difficult to pull off, especially in a high school environment, but actors displayed a professional-tier mastery of the wordcraft. A slideshow above the set provided periodic summaries of what was happening onstage, but this addition appeared not to give the cast enough credit; the lines were delivered with a clarity that rendered it unnecessary. The actors looked completely comfortable in their roles, making the show’s characters pop onstage. Many girls were tasked with playing boy’s parts, which they did superbly; an especially stand-out performance being Emily Thompson as Hero’s father Leonato. Other stand-out performances included Benedick and Beatrice, who could have performed the show alone with the amount of energy and passion they brought to the stage, and the Watch, especially Dogberry, whose comedic relief never failed to elicit uproarious laughter.

The sound choices (designed by Lionel McCulloch and Isabelle Aldrete) and costuming choices (by Alexis McCall, Audrey Senior, and Skylar Zachian) were mostly timeless, bringing the story out of a strictly period aesthetic and into a more universal one. The sets (by Alyssa Morales and the Advanced Acting Class) and lighting cues (by Rebecca Resnick), though simple, were effective, and the use of shadow at points, for instance, to cast darkness on Don John’s face when he is plotting treachery, was a small choice, but interesting. Overall the technical aspects of the show supplemented the performances in an excellent way.

Performing Shakespeare is a daunting task for anyone, old or young, and the Baldwin School production of Much Ado About Nothing succeeded with flying colors. It was believable, it was engaging, and, as is always most important in a comedy, it was wonderfully funny.
 

Review submitted by Emma Danz of Harriton High School

Lovers, villains, and a rag-tag crew of neighborhood watchman? Much Ado About Nothing at the Baldwin School certainly was something!

This acclaimed play is one of Shakespeare’s most popular works. Two couples, Benedick and Beatrice and Hero and Claudio face the consequences of gossip and trickery as they prepare for the latter’s wedding. Written around 1598, the show has seen its fair share of stage and film adaptations.

The Baldwin Maskers had their own spin for this timeless show.  In homage of that concept, the show was staged without a definitive time period.  Instead elements of modern day culture and conveniences melded with the aged language and customs prominent in the story.  Additionally, a projection screen provided a synopsis for the audience in an effort to translate the difficult Shakespearean dialogue.  While the intention of both these ideas were clear and appreciated, the execution lacked cohesion and provided some distraction.

Contrastingly, Melia Haggino (Beatrice) was enrapturing.  She commanded the stage with grace and wit, while showing an excellent grasp of the complex language.  Equaling her in presence and humor, Lionel McCulloch shined as Benedick.  Starting as sworn enemies, the pair showed dynamic range as they shifted from biting remarks to loving sentiments.

The ensemble cast served as a support for the entire show.  Crucial to its success, they incorporated hilarious moments of physical comedy which enhanced the energy of the production.  Notable performances include those of Kate Park and Alexis McCall.  McCall, as the endearingly bumbling Dogberry, headed the motley neighborhood watch, an enthusiastic group that commendably committed themselves to each character and their group as a whole.

Tech and design elements are essential to the believability of a story. A stand out addition, Alyssa Morales and the Advanced Acting Class designed the wonderful set.  Incorporating distinctly Shakespearean elements with modern additions, the stage felt simultaneously grand and inviting.  Coupled with lighting by Rebecca Resnick, the mood of each scene was effectively conveyed.

An all-around engaging and impressive production, the Maskers delivered hysterical comedy and heartbreaking sadness with ease and ability. So, “sigh no more,” but give a huge round of applause to the cast and crew at Baldwin.

 

The 39 Steps – Upper Merion High School

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The 39 Steps by Upper Merion High School in King of Prussia, PA

November 14, 2017

 

Review submitted by Varun Andrews of Bordentown Regional High School

To execute a fast paced and witty Alfred Hitchcock spy thriller, a cast must truly put their hearts and minds into a production. Upper Merion Area High School did just that in their outstanding production of The 39 Steps.

This intriguing and riveting play plunges audiences into the world of Richard Hanney, an ordinary man, who finds himself on the run to finish a mission that was never meant for him: to keep English government secrets out of the hands of an espionage group called “The 39 Steps”. Based on the 1915 novel by John Buchan and the 1935 film by Alfred Hitchcock, The 39 Steps was adapted for the stage in 2005 by Patrick Barlow, going on to become a two time Tony Award winner and hit in the hearts of its audiences.

Upper Merion Area High School’s production of The 39 Steps was anchored by the excellent comedic timing and versatility of the ensemble. Their ability to make the audience laugh while portraying multiple characters was truly a commendable feat that allowed the show’s hilarious script to be brought to life.

Neil Patel, who played Richard Hanney, portrayed his character well and displayed excellent acting skills, with an undying enthusiasm for his character. Opposite to Hanney, was the character of Pamela, marvelously portrayed by Kaci Walter. Walter exuded amazing stage presence, evident through her spats with Richard Hanney, and took her character to a whole new level.

What cannot go unmentioned though is the astounding chemistry visible through a number of character pairings throughout the production, most notably between Ryan Slusky and Luke Preston who played two police officers. Their exemplary interpretations of their characters allowed the production to advance effectively, and allowed them to nail every one of their jokes. Hats off as well to Justin Halpern who flawlessly played three different characters, and managed to make the audience laugh every time he was on stage.

The technical aspects of this production should not go unmentioned, as they developed and enhanced the production immensely. The stage management and crew did a superb job in managing every one of their set changes, making every scene look as real as possible. Julia Denick, who was in charge of costumes, took the production to greater heights through the use of her vivid and elegant style for every character’s costume.

Upper Merion’s production of The 39 Steps was filled with endless humor, excellent acting, and exceptional chemistry. While one may consider this a tough task, Upper Merion continued to charge head on and in the process put on a production that was truly inspiring.

 

Review submitted by Namita Rao of Plymouth Whitemarsh High School

“And then I thought – wait a minute! Come on Hanney! Pull yourself together man! Find something to do, you bloody fool! Something utterly pointless — I know! A play! That should do the trick!” Sitting on his armchair in his London flat, Englishman Richard Hanney hilariously explains the plight of his pointless existence. In their production of The 39 Steps, Upper Merion High School’s Underground Players delivered this “pointless” parody with a great display of talent.

Mix a spy novel and a bit of Monty Python with Alfred Hitchcock and you have the unmissable comedy of The 39 Steps, set in a world of 1930s espionage. The show centers around the journey of Richard Hanney, who agrees to help a spy, Annabella, to recover air defense plans from a secretive spy network called “The 39 Steps”.

Throughout the show, the cast never failed to exceed expectations. The play was originally written for four actors, but Upper Merion’s seamlessly adapted the show to fit sixteen parts. The ensemble did an amazing job swiftly switching from role to role, changing accents and mannerisms on the fly. It was bit difficult to understand a few of the jokes and puns due to these accents, but overall, the cast’s diction greatly improved in the second act.

Neil Patel as Richard Hanney epitomized the very bored Englishmen in contrast with the over-exaggerated supporting characters. Most endearing was Hanney’s relationship with Pamela, played by Kaci Walter, a normal woman who somehow got tangled in the story. Their onstage chemistry grew after each situation they faced together and Walter and Patel’s evolving relationship filled the show with banter and a hint of romance.

Anna Bobok’s rendition of the character, Annabella Schmidt, was one of the most memorable performances in the play. Her dramatized German accent and exaggerated collapses had the audience laughing as she kept uttering a few words, but then reviving herself to give another hilarious dying statement. Chris Perez’s rendition of Professor Jordan was the perfect mix of intimidating yet collected, as Hanney comes to realize that he is the true leader of The 39 Steps.

The sets, hair, makeup, and costumes were definitely accurate to the 1930s. The center set piece was very versatile in offering many settings where the characters traveled. The crew did an amazing job with the technical aspects of the performance, without any hiccups in sound effects or microphones.

Upper Merion High School’s production of The 39 Steps was an incredible feat that they executed with dignity and mirth, drawing in the audience as the uncovered the mystery of the spy organization.

 

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat – Dock Mennonite Academy

Dock Mennonite - Joseph 1

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by Dock Mennonite Academy in Souderton, PA

November 14, 2017

Review submitted by PJ Williams of Ridley High School

With a talented cast, impressive technical features and a beautifully written story, audience members should “Go, Go, Go …” to see Dock Mennonite Academy’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat!

Written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is a musical retelling of the biblical stories of Joseph and contains stories from the Book of Genesis. The production professionally premiered in 1970 and, due to its acclaim, has since become one of the most widely produced musicals for high schools and amateur theatres.

Senior Alex Martin led the production portraying the title role of Joseph. Martin’s strong vocal abilities and great commanding stage presence allowed him to truly support the stories being told and carry the production with ease in the audience member’s eyes. Martin’s powerful rendition of “Close Every Door” at the end of Act One left the audience in awe and thinking about it well into the intermission.

Contributing to the performance were the three narrators. The talented female narrating trio was made up of Carlie Coco, Alexa Kennel and Hannah Landis. All three were very entertaining to watch and seemed to never have a dull moment onstage. Their beautiful vocals seamlessly narrated audience members from scene to scene, making the production easy to follow and very fun to watch.

Supporting the production with his portrayal of the Pharaoh was senior Levi Longacre. While not appearing as the Pharaoh until the second act, Longacre took every moment he had onstage and still gave an unforgettable performance, truly channeling the King of Rock and Roll. While singing and dancing, Longacre also impressively managed to play the electric guitar onstage for his entire song, something that can not be an easy task for anyone.

Dock Mennonite Academy’s talent did not stop at the stage, the show’s technical aspects were almost all student done as well! The production’s lighting, designed and executed by Sydney Cardy, truly enhanced the performance and really helped set the mood of certain scenes. Cardy also took on the daunting task of lighting the stage in each color of Joseph’s technicolor dreamcoat, a task that may have taken a lot of work, but truly paid off. Adding to the beautiful, vibrant lights was Jackson Bell’s sound design. Although sometimes a little too quiet to hear over the orchestra, Bell did a great job of making sure everyone onstage could often be heard.

Overall, Dock Mennonite Academy’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat was very entertaining to watch and a must-see production for all.

 

Review submitted by Hannah Oh of Delaware County Christian School

Visit the multicolored world of Dock Mennonite Academy and their performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, a colorful retelling of the biblical story of Joseph (Alex Martin) and his journey through trials, family struggles and ultimately learning what it means to forgive. From a Jamaican calypso to a 60’s-themed groove to a country-western number with choreography to match, the cast took the audience on a journey of stories about Joseph’s life:  his trials with his eleven jealous older brothers and a father (Seth Kolb), who couldn’t help but pick favorites, to his journey ascending from slavery to the right hand of an Elvis-impersonating, Vegas-esque Pharaoh (Levi Longacre). Guided by an ensemble of three narrators created by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, (Carlie Cocco, Alexa Kennel and Hannah Landis), the music-only show was a creative hit filled with bright lights and talent to match.

Alex Martin as Joseph was naturally a standout in the cast, effortlessly carrying songs of large difficulty and caliber such as “Close Every Door” with stage presence, a strong high tenor range and bits and pieces of necessary comedic relief. Well-suited for the role, he interacted seamlessly with the ensemble and his on-stage brothers.

The Narrators tied together the show as a unified group, guiding the storyline with difficult soprano notes and lyrics. While each member of the Narrator group contributed strongly to the tone, pitch and harmonies, Carlie Cocco was a standout member the group. The brothers were a similarly strong ensemble, dancing in synchronization and easily adapting to acting as less than the twelve standard men of the group – as they say, the show must go on. Other standout performances included Pharaoh (Levi Longacre) for his delightful moment of comedic relief with “Song of The King” and Mrs. Potiphar’s (Olivia Messina) brief but memorable dance number, “Potiphar.”

The ensemble wore many hats as they transitioned from a large group number with 1960’s vibes to the rock-and-roll of Pharaoh’s song to a number reminiscent of the 1920s with “Potiphar.”  While there were a few moments where the energy dipped, the ensemble managed to pull together each and every number with a strong finish.

The lighting crew of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat took advantage of the lyrics in “Jacob & Sons / Joseph’s Coat” listing off colors of “scarlet and black and ochre and peach and ruby and olive and violet and fawn” and displayed lights of each color, quickly transitioning from one to the next. Much to the audience’s delight, the hues added another dimension to a show that transported its viewers into the toe-tapping, colorful world of Dock Mennonite Academy’s performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

 

 

 

Inherit the Wind – Episcopal Academy

Episcopal -Inherit the Wind 1Inherit the Wind by the Episcopal Academy in Newtown Square, PA

November 7, 2017

Review submitted by Lizzie Dixon of The Agnes Irwin School

Due to recent events, we have become accustomed to the spread of false information, the strain of politics on relationships, and the struggle between traditionalism and progressivism. These issues and more are tackled in Episcopal Academy’s production of Inherit the Wind by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee.

The play, an adaptation of the 1925 Scopes Trial, follows school teacher, Bertram Cates (the fictitious adaptation of John Scopes). Cates is charged with illegally teaching his students Darwin’s theory of evolution, and therefore contradicting the Christian belief in creation.

Episcopal Academy’s production was artfully executed. From the creative multi-purpose set to the realistic performances of the cast, every detail of the production was considered in an effort to transport the audience back to the suspenseful trial.

Henry Drummond (Jacob Viscusi), the defense attorney, carried himself with the presence of a lawyer and delivered difficult lines with ease. His emotions were readable and clear, both in his lines and in the silences between them, making his performance a highlight of the show. Matthew Harrison Brady (McKee Bond) tackled the difficult character of the religious prosecutor naturally. His performance was memorable, especially in Act Two as he transitioned from organized and personable to a distraught, overwhelmed man. Rachel Brown (Amalie Hipp) brought her sweet, confused character to life, filling her lines with emotion and clear internal struggle. Bertram Cates (Patrick Zhang) complemented Brown’s performance perfectly, playing his character as more reserved. These actors had chemistry and were delightful to watch together.

Notably, Rev. Jeremiah Brown (Cerena Robertson) and E.K. Hornbeck (Adelynn Anderson), both played by women, completely transformed into their roles. Rev. Brown used excellent variation of volume and vocal intonation. Her emphasis of specific words made her performance convincing. E.K. Hornbeck performed her witty lines with consistency and sarcasm. She especially shined in her final scene with Drummond. The ensemble all stood out individually. Each performer had a clear character reflected in their reactions. The performers admirably adopted a Tennessee accent, although some accents in supporting roles were not as consistent. The ensemble was professional and a clear highlight of the show, adding to the realism of the production.

The set was minimal but very effective. The pieces were skillfully made, including the banisters of the jury box and a multi-use table. Using the audience to represent the jury was an innovative use of the limited space, and period music for set changes reminded the audience of the setting. The lighting complemented the performers nicely, shining through in specific moments, such as the flash of a camera.

Overall, Episcopal Academy’s performance was very impressive and professional.

 

Review submitted by Maggie Lind of Westtown School

Chilling, gripping, and unmistakably relevant, Episcopal Academy’s Inherit the Wind left audience members stunned and introspective Saturday afternoon.

Based on the real-life occurrences of the 1925 Scopes-Monkey Trial, Inherit the Wind premiered in 1955, later to go on to inspire film adaptations and numerous revivals. After a local teacher, Bertram Cates teaches evolution in his classroom, American media descends upon Hillsboro, Tennessee, to make the courtroom the battleground of one of the greatest “Religion versus Science” debates in the last century. The play revolves around two lawyers, Matthew Harrison Brady and Henry Drummond, as they debate the role of evolution in American science textbooks, as well as the impact the trial has on the surrounding town. Used to represent the McCarthy trials in its original context, Inherit the Wind is poignant in most political contexts for its ability to make people question their rights and ability to think for themselves.

Episcopal’s production rivaled that of a professional theater through its ability to grasp challenging material and immerse the audience into believing they were witnessing a real judicial trial. The strength of the ensemble elevated the show immensely, as they used space and volume wisely while giving a necessary perspective of the community in the infamous case.

Creationist Matthew Harrison Brady, played by McKee Bond, embodied his role through commanding the stage every moment he was on it. Bond’s commitment to character choices, such as his convincing accent and booming voice, allowed the audience to fully believe that Bond was Brady. Equally moving was Jacob Viscusi’s portrayal of Henry Drummond, the evolution-defending attorney. Viscusi demonstrated his refined acting through lengthy and impassioned monologues which buttressed the entirety of the second act.

One of the most powerful performances of the production was given by Cerena Robertson as Reverend Jeremiah Brown, as she delivered a chilling sermon outside of the courtroom. Robertson’s diction and powerful movements had the audience on the edge of their seats witnessing the impact religion can have on a community. Compelling in a different manner was the relationship between forbidden lovers Rachel Brown, played by Amalie Hipp, and Bertram Cates, played by Patrick Zhang. Both actors evoked remarkable empathy due to their chemistry and emotional portrayals of betrayal and confusion.

Set designers Paloma Zozaya, Alex Peters, and Laura Lewis transformed the black box theater into a courtroom through their seemingly simple yet intricately versatile set pieces. Equally integral to the immersion of the audience was the efficacy and precision of set changes and prompt cues, all coordinated by stage manager Anjali Bose.

Ultimately, it was the focus and commitment of the cast and crew that made Inherit the Wind such a compelling adaptation of a story that needs to be told today.