Shrek the Musical – Academy of the New Church

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Shrek the Musical by The Academy of the New Church in Bryn Athyn, PA

April 24, 2018

Review submitted by Julia Jennings of Upper Moreland High School

In a world where division and conflict can seem far too common at times, it is crucial to remember the importance of accepting others in spite of their differences and celebrating what makes everyone unique. Academy of the New Church reinforced this message of acceptance through their recent performance of Shrek the Musical.

This production follows the adventures of an ogre named Shrek and his friend the donkey as they challenge social norms in the kingdom of Duloc and embark on a journey to rescue Princess Fiona from the menacing tower in which she is imprisoned. Although Shrek first begins this journey with the simple intent to rid his swamp of some pesky fairytale creatures, in the end he finds greater acceptance, friendship, and even love.

Academy of the New Church undertook the difficult task of performing a fantasy production with intricate character costuming and makeup, and yet the production captivated the audience with mesmerizing set pieces, impressive acting, and likeable characters who brought the story to life.

Leading the cast of fantastical misfits was Shrek the ogre, played by Tim Radcliffe. Radcliffe embodied the role, keeping a consistent and impressive Scottish accent for the length of the performance. As his sidekick, Donkey, Bradley Robinson added another element of humor to the show with impressive, well-timed comedic delivery. Camryn Buss brought to life the role of the earnest yet exasperated Princess Fiona with charm, wit, and excellent vocals.

Stepping into the role of Lord Farquaad only days before the performance, Zach Lambertus performed impeccably, with confident mastery of the role. Another stand-out was actor James Gay as Pinocchio, with amazing, genuine delivery and incredible falsetto vocals. As Dragon,  Emily Martin was a powerful singer and a dramatic actress. The dragon’s “wings”, played by Rayna Synnestvedt and Mikalah Klippenstein were also a highlight in the scene, with mysterious, graceful choreography. The fairytale creatures added incredible energy to the performance, as did the two younger Fionas, Serena Boyeson and Madison Zagorski, both also bringing charming vocals to the show.

Perhaps the most impressive element of the production was the dynamic set, creating the incredible illusion of the depths of a forest, the interior of a castle, and the cramped enclosure of an isolated tower. The hair and makeup were equally impressive, and, along with the costumes, helped to bring many fantasy animals to life with intricate detail.

With authentic acting, impressive set design, and an important message, Academy of the New Church’s performance of Shrek helped to remind the audience that it is the differences between us and the unique capabilities possessed by each person that make this such a “big, bright, beautiful world”.

 

Review submitted by Rachael Hesse of Phoenixville Area High School

The best kind of classic fairytales don’t come without dainty princesses, wooden puppets, and clandestine happy endings; but what really is a good story without a slimy green ogre, a talking donkey, and a belching princess? Academy of the New Church’s production of Shrek the Musical enchanted the audience right into a new kind of fairytale.

Based on the 2001 Oscar winner for Best Animated Feature from Dreamworks, and the book by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori: Shrek The Musical tells the tale of an outcast ogre named Shrek who wants nothing more than a life of farts inside his dirty swamp…. very much alone. When he finds his home infested with other outcast fairytale creatures, he leaves for Duloc in hope to have his swamp once again. Shrek ends up making a deal with a short, (not so sweet) Lord Farquaad to gain his land back, but first he needs to save a princess from a dragon-guarded tower.

Shrek played by Tim Radcliffe embodied the theme of the show – to be proud of who you are –  with a great accent, and a dream to go someday be a hero. Radcliffe shared the stage with the energetic Bradley Robinson (Donkey) and the elegant Camryn Buss (Fiona), who showed off her amazing tap-dancing skills in the song “Morning Person” with the Dancing Rats.

Standouts among the supporting cast included Zach Lambertus who stepped into the role of Lord Farquaad only two days before opening night with all lines and lyrics already memorized. James Gay, who played Pinocchio, had perfect comedic timing and truly stole the show whenever he entered the stage in his entertaining falsetto voice.

Another notable performance was that of Dragon.  Emily Martin with her powerful vocals in the song “Forever” made it one of the most enjoyable numbers of the show. In the number “I Know It’s Today”, Young Fiona played by Madison Zagorski, and Serena Boyesen who played Teen Fiona had compelling vocals and beautiful harmonies with Camryn Buss (Fiona) that brought the audience to their feet.

The ANC Makeup Team with Nita Mizhquiri, Emily Martin, and Crew had several very quick  beautiful makeup changes. The sets created and designed by the Stagecraft Class were breathtaking, gave life to the stage, and showed just how important the production team can be.

ANC’s production was filled with a very important message that is extremely relevant to the political climate of today; be yourself and be proud.  Academy of the New Church’s production of Shrek the Musical inspired everyone in the audience and made sure that they remembered that it is a “Big Bright Beautiful World” out there!

The Diary of Anne Frank – Abington Friends School

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The Diary of Anne Frank by Abington Friends School in Jenkintown, PA

April 24, 2018

Review submitted by Allegra Greenawalt of Harriton High School

Through the eyes of a child, a glimmer of light can be found even in the darkest of places. In their riveting production of The Diary of Anne Frank, Abington Friends School explored both the difficulties and unexpected joys found in times of trauma.

Adapted from The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank, this play tells the true story of Frank’s family and their attempted escape from German occupation of Amsterdam during World War II. Living in a secret annex with another Jewish family, the Franks must remain silent in order to avoid discovery by the Nazis.

With its many mature themes and messages, this play poses a challenge that is no easy feat to conquer in a high school. However, Abington Friends School certainly rose to the occasion and did the show immeasurable justice.

Kaiya Case lead the performance with a gripping portrayal of Anne Frank. Her youthful energy and enthusiasm allowed her to easily embody the historic child figure, while showing emotional range embracing the frustration and difficulties of her situation. Her courageous father, Mr. Frank, was laudably portrayed by Jack Sutherland, captivating the audience with his outstanding stage presence and mature demeanor. He shared a great chemistry with Case, as well as both Halle Jacobson (Mrs. Frank) and Emma Cameron (Margot Frank).

Living alongside the Frank family were the trio of Van Daans. As Mr. Van Daan, Michael Carpenter brought a combination of bold acting choices and dry comedy to the stage, adding an eminent depth to his already complex character. Naandi Jamison (Mrs. Van Daan) proved to be a caring mother to her teenage son Peter (Zachary Ford), and wonderfully contrasted her husband with an outgoing sass and sharp tongue. Also notable was Drew Jacobson (Mr. Dussell), whose lovable awkwardness and perfect comedic timing added some more tasteful humor to the production while still keeping true to the story and struggles of the time.

Technically, the show was superb. With authentic food, a plethora of suitcases, and even a real live feline onstage, prop masters Seri Fleming and Kat Odoms designed and obtained a vast array of props that proved them more than capable of handling their large responsibility. Benjamin Goldstone also did a fantastic job with the lighting of the show, using cool blues and vibrant reds to add to the suspense of certain scenes. While occasionally an actor was briefly out of light, it did not distract from the overall quality of the production.

In a world where discrimination and injustice are still prominent issues worldwide, Abington Friends School’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank reminds us that no matter our beliefs, gender, race, shape, or size, we are all human.

 

Review submitted by Julia Jennings of Upper Moreland High School

Perhaps the most heart-wrenching stories in all of human history are those of the oppression and hatred inflicted by any one group of people against another. Abington Friends School’s production of The Diary of Anne Frank brought to life one such story, and yet more importantly it brought into focus the love and joy that acted as a shining light throughout these times of atrocity, warming the hearts of all in attendance.

The Diary of Anne Frank chronicles two pivotal years in the life of a young girl as she and her family must go into hiding in the cramped annex of an office building during the Holocaust. Although the story ends in tragedy, it shows the incredible and invincible joy and strength of the people who struggled against the impossible oppression of the time.

Abington Friends School brought this powerful story to life with incredible authenticity. The extraordinary cast seemed to live the story, remaining constantly onstage, in character, going about their daily lives regardless of whether or not they had dialogue in a scene, and even during the entire length of the intermission. Hebrew songs and prayers were delivered throughout the performance, and pictures of the real Frank family were occasionally displayed on a screen reminding the audience of the real people who were forced to suffer the horrible injustice inflicted upon them.

Leading this amazing cast was Kaiya Case as the remarkable Anne Frank. Case captivated the audience, seeming to perfectly capture the irrepressible spirit and strength of the young girl whose words have been immortalized in the diary. As Otto Frank, her father, Jack Sutherland brought dignity and maturity to the performance. Sutherland’s final monologue had an earnest authenticity that moved the audience to tears. Emma Cameron brought to life Anne’s reserved sister, Margot Frank, with a quiet, gentle manner of grace despite the impossible circumstances.

As Mr. Van Daan, Michael Carpenter showed an amazing depth of painful emotion and anger, which contrasted well with the flamboyant and enthusiastic nature of his wife, portrayed by Naandi Jamison. Drew Jacobson brought the perfect amount of quiet humor to the performance as the somewhat sarcastic dentist, Mr. Dussell. Another surprise highlight of the performance was the live cat who portrayed Mouschi, the Van Daan’s cat.

The sound design of the performance was flawless, creating a perfect balance of voices during dialogue and an air raid so real that it frightened many in the audience. The set was impeccable, perfectly reflecting a simpler time and place with intricate attention to detail, creating three stories of a house. The production included spectacular props such as an old sink, an old-fashioned radio, and several time period lamps and bedspreads. Impressive dramaturgy was put together by Kaitlyn Arms, ensuring that the incredible story came to life with accuracy and true voice.

Abington Friends School’s The Diary of Anne Frank gives the audience a unique and necessary window into one of the worst tragedies in human history. It tells us the story through the eyes of a child who wants to be loved and remembered. Through all of the tragedy and heart-ache, The Diary of Anne Frank reminds us of the joy and light that is within all of us, and the truly invincible nature of the human soul.

The Addams Family – Friends Select School

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The Addams Family by Friends Select School in Philadelphia, PA

April 23, 2018

Review submitted by Harleigh Myerovich of Harriton High School

When you’re an Addams, “normal” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. This weekend, Friends Select School Theater embraced the creepy, the kooky, the mysterious and spooky for an altogether ooky production of The Addams Family! Based on the characters in Charles Addams’s New Yorker cartoons, The Addams Family follows the loving, if unconventional, family of the undead. This musical focuses in on Wednesday Addams, who has fallen in love with average-Joe, Lucas. When this news reaches the rest of the family, their bonds are tested as they negotiate their family values, ultimately proving that love never dies.

In the role of Morticia Addams, Mary Graham delivered a poised performance which captured the aloof nature of the macabre matriarch. Her vocals in songs such as “Secrets” and “Just Around the Corner” carried each quirky musical number. Alongside her, Daniel Nelson portrayed Gomez Addams with heart and humor. In each of his scenes, Nelson commanded the stage and maintained Gomez’s signature Spanish accent with impressive consistency. In the role of the beloved Uncle Fester, Avery Johnson proved a comedic favorite with his energetic antics. As the hapless Lucas, Wednesday Addams’s paramour, Isaac Riley-Wasserman delivered a strong performance throughout. In “Crazier Than You”, Both Riley-Wasserman and Claire McHarg (Wednesday Addams) showcased their endearing chemistry in an animated duet.

In a standout featured role, Matthew Mark-Ockerbloom made the audience roar with his portrayal of the Addams’ zombie-like butler, Lurch. With a sonorous vocal performance, Ockerbloom surprised and delighted the audience with his scene-stealing solo in “Finale: Move Towards the Darkness”. In the role of Grandma, Margo Latty garnered laughs from the audience with her over-the-top physical comedy.

Adding to the gothic look of the production, the costume design by Isabella Iannozzi was polished and effective. Makeup, also headed by Iannozzi along with Kate Young and Rachel Soloff, helped to characterize the undead Addams ancestors with their signature blackened eyes. The sets, designed by Kitty Holder, Rudyard Lynch, Cece Williams and Lucy Doss lent themselves well to the atmosphere of the show, with various painted backdrops, reversible platforms, and an endearing spider web motif. For publicity, an eye-catching silkscreen design by Jamison Lung was featured on the playbill and on posters around the theater. Lung’s 1960’s inspired artwork captured the macabre aesthetics of the production while also serving as a well-rendered nod to the cultural context of the original 1960’s television series.

Overall, Friends Select School Theater brought the Addams characters to life in an offbeat end to their season that was anything but ordinary.

Review submitted by Anna Mondragon of AP Schalick High School

A familiar but unorthodox tale of love and the trials and tribulations it faces graced the stage of Friends Select School in the form of The Addams Family.  With a passionate father devoted to the women in his life, a jealous brother, and a huge engagement secret, nothing could go wrong, right?

The show opened on Broadway in April of 2010 and closed in December of 2011 with a run of over a year.  The Addams Family depicts a tale of a family with an affinity towards the darker things in life and the turbulence they experience when Wednesday Addams, the daughter, reveals only to her father, Gomez, that she is engaged to someone. Gomez needs to keep this from his wife which tears him apart. This secret is revealed by the end of the first act and causes the down spiral of the family and the engagement. It is up to Gomez to fix not only his marriage, but the impending marriage of Wednesday and fiancé Lucas.

The overall talent of the cast and the dramatic use of makeup really made the show stand out. The cast’s ability to embody characters that are not easy to relate to showcased the talent of everyone involved.

Daniel Nelson as Gomez Addams really showed the audience his talent not only with his accent but with his acting. It was easy to forget that Gomez was actually a high school senior and not a goofy and romantic father. Mary Graham as Morticia Addams embodied the confident mother figure with beautiful vocals, fluid movement, and complete understanding of the character. Claire McHarg as Wednesday Addams gave us wonderful vocals and a very nice portrayal of a girl on the cusp of changing her way of life.

Avery Johnson, who played Uncle Fester, was the goofy uncle bent on helping Wednesday keep her love. The expressive portrayal of the character and the amazing comedic timing made this character funny and lovable. Margo Latty as Grandma really put herself into the character and showed us the crazy side of the family. A real show stealer, though, was Matthew Mark-Ockerbloom as Lurch. The ability to keep a straight face throughout the entire goofy show was impressive and his vocals were truly amazing.

 

The make up by Isabella Iannozzi, Kate Young, and Rachel Soloff was something that really stood out. The dark under eyes and the pale ancestors really showed the personality of the family. The costumes done by Isabella Iannozzi were impressive as well displayed the different time periods of the ancestors.

 

“Full Disclosure,” Friends Select School did a wonderful job in their rendition of The Addams Family.

Gypsy – Harriton High School

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Gypsy by Harriton High School in Rosemont, PA

April 18, 2018

Review submitted by Grace Willey of Unionville High School

“Everything’s Coming Up Roses” for Harriton High School’s recent production of Gypsy. With superb vocals, hilarious characters, and professional choreography, the show “entertained” audiences of all ages.

With music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, Gypsy has been a Broadway classic for decades. The production debuted in 1959, and it is loosely based on the story of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous Burlesque dancer. It follows the story of Rose, a mother determined to make her daughters famous. Rose lives vicariously through her two daughters, June and Louise, and tries to experience a life she never had.

Gypsy’s ensemble was relatively small, but they brought tremendous energy to the stage. The dance numbers, choreographed by Vidhi Dwivedi, Blandine Heron, and Adelle Wilkin, were technically sound and well developed. All of the characters, no matter how small their role was, brought something unique to the show.

Leading the cast of characters was Allegra Greenawalt (Rose). With powerhouse vocals and a commitment to her character, Greenawalt was the backbone of the production. Along with her crazy stage mom, Anna Fleming (Gypsy Rose Lee) transitioned flawlessly from an awkward and quiet teenager to a sophisticated woman when she becomes Gypsy Rose Lee. Adding similar talent to the show, Jon Zamsky (Herbie) was perfectly loveable and committed, and he really stood out in “Small World”. Completing the dysfunctional quartet, Analyn Sil (June) was a true triple threat with entertaining dance numbers, strong vocals, and a sweet, innocent character.

Some notable features roles included those of Nina Gold (Tessie Tura), Jacqueline Kelly (Mazeppa) and Harleigh Myerovich (Electra). The three strippers were comical, entertaining, and they made “You Gotta Get a Gimmick” a show stopping number. Other standout performances were had by Jamie Eisner (Baby June) and Maddie Lefkowski (Baby Louise). The two contrasted each other perfectly and were excellent in “May We Entertain You”. Similarly, Benjamin Newman (Tulsa) gave a great performance of “All I Need Is The Girl”, which really lifted up the show at the end of act one.

For all the success of the cast, the crew must also be commended. Led by stage managers Hannah Goldman and Willow Kaminski, the stage crew was professional and accomplished quick set changes with ease. The costumes designed by Miranda Brennan and Lily Strailey were also well done and perfectly appropriate to the show. The few sound mishaps were recovered quickly and were completely forgivable given the difficulty of the show and the size of the cast.

Overall, Gypsy was exactly what it should be: hilarious, tragic, and entertaining to watch. Between the talented cast and the professional crew, the show was a huge success.

 

Review submitted by Kyle Mackey of Upper Moreland High School

Gypsy at Harriton High School was a show that makes you say “Holy cow!” after seeing it, with its strong vocals and impressive student leadership. From colorful costumes to dynamic dancing, the production left a powerful impression.

The musical originated in 1959 and is loosely based on the story of the mother of Gypsy Rose Lee, a famous striptease artist. Rose, a several times divorced mother of two kids, wanted nothing more than to make her children into stars. She travels the country with her two daughters who perform the same child act, despite their aging. The musical follows their upbringing as they grow from toddlers into young women.

Harriton’s production of Gypsy was a wonderful rendition of the classic musical, and the great passion of the students was clear. Basically all of the technical aspects of the show, from costuming to lights, as well as a full student orchestra, were run by students, which truly encapsulates the passion that high school theatre should stoke.

Rose, the bold and driven mother of the two girls, was superbly played by Allegra Greenawalt, who captured the snappy and hard-shelled character well. However, she also displayed great diction and vocal range in songs like “Some People” and “You’ll Never Get Away From Me”. Her counterpart, the intrepid Herbie, was nicely played by Jon Zamsky, skillfully carrying the character’s emotional struggle throughout the entire show.

There were also a number of skilled supporting actors, like Louise played by Anna Fleming. Fleming’s chemistry with her family – Rose, Herbie, and June – on the stage was amazing, gluing the family together. The burlesque ensemble was also a highlight of the show, featuring Tessie Tura, Mazeppa, and Electra played by Nina Gold, Jacqueline Kelly, and Harleigh Myerovich respectively. Additionally, nearly all the characters performed their choreography well, both June and Baby June (Analyn Sil and Jamie Eisner) showed exceptional talent in their dancing.

The students of the Harriton Theater Company took on the challenge of leading all of the technical aspects of the musical, and it had some great results. Particularly amazing were the costumes, headed by Miranda Brennan and Lily Strailey. The costumes of the strippers were especially noteworthy, featuring one that lit up like Christmas and another with silky butterfly wings. Although the sound tech of the show had a couple of bumps along the road, the powerful projection of the vocalists powered through it and their voices were still heard even in the back of the theater. Students even wrote their show’s choreography, a feat rarely matched in high school theater.

Gypsy was truly a show to remember with its fantastic execution by Harriton High School. After seeing that musical, “I Had a Dream” like Rose to see something created with so much passion again.

 

The Little Mermaid – The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts

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The Little Mermaid by The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts in Philadelphia, PA

April 18, 2018

Review submitted by Sarah Eckstein Indik of Jack M Barrack Hebrew Academy

With glowing floating jellyfish, shimmering mermaids, and devilish eels The Philadelphia High School for Creative & Performing Arts’ production of The Little Mermaid brought the audience “Under the Sea”, giving them a FIN-tastic time!

Based on the 1989 Disney film, Doug Wright’s and Alan Menken’s The Little Mermaid details the tale of a young mermaid princess, Ariel, who falls in love with a human prince, Eric. Ariel wishes to be a part of the same world as Eric so that they can be together. However, she finds herself trapped without a voice. With the help of her loving and loyal friends, Flounder, Scuttle, and Sebastian, she gets her happy ending.

Anchored by dramatic makeup that set the scene and beautiful harmonies from the ensemble, the production was performed with aplomb and was full of life.

With grace and poise, Ariel, played by Ariana Droz-Santiago, portrayed her character’s eagerness to be a part of the human world. Her singing voice was clear and bright, showing Ariel’s childlike passion. Her romantic interest, Prince Eric, portrayed by Cameren Sullivan, performed beautifully during his many solos. Accurately characterizing Eric’s personality, his love of the sea was very believable.

As a whole, the ensemble was energetic  in their rendition of “Under the Sea” as they flooded the audience with their brightly colored costumes and individual personas. Flounder (Mazie Wolf) magnificently portrayed her character’s lovable nature, loyalty to Ariel, and adorable awkwardness, winning over the audience. Some other standout performances were that of Ursula (Zami Buggs-King), Sebastian (Anaya Manley), and Grimsby (Saul Threadgill). Each having very different characteristics, they all captured their characters with ease. Ursula, evil and conniving, maneuvered her tentacles naturally and sang out proudly. Sebastian and Grimsby both impressively kept up accents throughout the performance, each causing the audience to burst of into fits of laughter. Although at times actors had difficulty connecting with their character’s truth, the singing was stupendous.  Though there were uncomfortable pauses between dialogue and song, the production engaged the audience.

This musical’s orchestra was made up entirely of students. Although it was an impressive feat with challenging music, they accomplished it with professional quality. Because there were some microphone problems, the sound coming in and out, they could be overpowering at times, but the actors persevered. With large moveable sets, the crew could be slow in changing it at times, but transitions were also fun. One featured a seagull dancing around while clearing feathers, causing eruptions of laughter. Remarkable, the makeup (Ellie Smith, Isabella Stein, Amirror Johnson, LeVar Brown) of this production truly transformed each actor into a creature of the sea.

The Little Mermaid presented by the Philadelphia High School for Creative & Performing Arts indeed mer-made the audience laugh, dance, sing, and smile.

 

Review submitted by Rivkah Wyner of Jack M Barrack Hebrew Academy.

The fathoms below of life under the sea is a mysterious world that The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts immersed the entire audience into during their sensational performance of The Little Mermaid.

Based on the beloved Disney film, The Little Mermaid is a cheerful, light-hearted musical about the mermaid Ariel, daughter of Triton, king of the sea. She longs to live on land and be with her human love, Prince Eric. Antagonizing this plot is the sea-witch Ursula, who schemes to take away Triton’s power by taking advantage of Ariel’s treacherous dreams.

Ariana Droz-Santiago was beyond our “wildest dreams” in her portrayal of Ariel. She had a stunning voice and shone on stage. Cameren Sullivan, who played Prince Eric, was a perfect complement to Santiago. Their chemistry on stage was so authentic, and Sullivan’s vocals blew the audience away. In the role of Ursula, Zami Buggs-King brought a sassy flair to the esteemed role. Every scene of hers was a wonder to the show. Playing Sebastian the crab, Anaya Manley was hilarious; she superbly embodied Sebastian’s Caribbean accent and crab walk.

A tremendous standout in the performance was Mazie Wolf in the role of Flounder, Ariel’s sidekick. Every moment on stage, Wolf made brilliant and comedic character choices while also exceptionally personifying her part as a fish and being underwater. Erisa Pikuli, in the part of the goofy seabird Scuttle, was vivacious on stage. She was bold, funny, and positively delightful in every way.

The ensemble members that made up both the underwater creatures and the humans were very strong and energetic. The large numbers, particularly “Under the Sea”, were vibrant and lively so that the audience really felt immersed in the underwater world. The ensemble members were particularly strong dancers, but also strong vocalists, making it so that these numbers were both fun to watch and wonderful to listen to.

The hair and makeup in this show by Elli Smith, Isabella stein, Amirror Johnson, and LeVar Brown brilliantly transformed the cast into the sea creatures they were portraying.  In this production, the orchestra was completely made up of students who excellently accompanied the performance. The student stage crew was also efficiently run, even though some of the scene changes were slow at times.

Overall, The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts’ production of The Little Mermaid was swimmingly executed. It was an enjoyable and bubbly production with a magnificently talented and strong cast.

James and the Giant Peach – Upper Dublin High School

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James and the Giant Peach by Upper Dublin High School in Maple Glen, PA

April 18, 2018

Review submitted by Laura Dibble of Jenkintown High School

James and the Giant Peach – a large peach, personified insects, a small boy, and some horrendous aunts. Upper Dublin High School expertly performed Roald Dahl’s classic story and brought the whimsical character of James to life.

Premiering in 2010, the show is based on the well-known book by Roald Dahl of the same name. Written by Justin Paul, Benj Pasek, and Timothy Allen McDonald, it follows a young, orphaned British boy who is forced to live with his cruel aunts. He (somewhat accidentally) casts some magic upon a peach tree on their property, and it grows into a giant peach, which the aunts take advantage of for money until the peach rolls away with James and many friendly insects inside.

The rich characterization and powerful vocal performances carried the beautiful show by Upper Dublin. Everyone was committed to their characters and accents, and the songs sold the audience on their characters.

Bailey Rifkin, who played James, had adorable charm and a voice perfectly suited for her role. She made the audience fall in love with her wonder and curious expression. The narrator of the story, Ladahlord (an anagram for Roald Dahl), utilized a fantastic voice and hilarious expressions, notably in “I Got You” and “Right Before Your Eyes”. Finally, the awful aunts were played by amazing actresses. Spiker (Sam Spirt) and Sponge (Zoe Halperin) were incredibly eccentric but ridiculous. Everything from their costumes to their goofy choreography was designed exactly to their characters.

The Insect Family was a crowd favorite, and each actor was completely devoted to their role. Although there were a few issues with diction, their charisma and depictions were all perfectly lovable. Each had different personalities, but one that stuck out was the Earthworm (Kira Ariyamitr) for her constant awkwardness and fear/blindness. They all charmed the audience in songs like “Floatin’ Along” and “Plump and Juicy”.

The orchestra was incredibly vibrant and talented, but occasionally they were too loud for the actor’s voices. The sets were beautifully designed, and each prop was made with careful attention and craftsmanship.

All in all, James and the Giant Peach was an excellent show put on by Upper Dublin – they filled the audience’s  evening with joy and laughter.

 

Review submitted by Caroline Borio of Plymouth Whitemarsh High School

Upper Dublin High School’s production of James and the Giant Peach was a musical full of stellar performances that developed a story of friendship and family “Right Before Your Eyes.” Complete with zany characters and upbeat music, this was not a show to miss.

With music by the iconic duo, Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, James and the Giant Peach is filled with lively music that is sure to have the audience dancing along. Combined with the bizarre Roald Dahl tale penned in 1961, this musical tells the story of an orphaned boy who is sent to live with his cruel aunts. With the help of some magic, James ends up on an adventure involving a giant peach, human-sized insects, and the Atlantic Ocean, discovering the meaning of family along the way.

A larger than life show such as this one requires exceptional amounts of energy from the entire production team. The cast kept up their energy from start to finish and had strong connections and relationships with each other. A surprisingly emotional show, the cast proved they were a family offstage while also providing the audience with the theme of love and family throughout.

The title character of the show, played by Bailey Rifkin, led the quirky group of insects, and her performance was a standout. Through her portrayal of the song “Middle of a Moment,” Rifkin displayed clean vocals that showcased her stunning high belt. She performed effortlessly and illustrated James’ backstory throughout every scene and song. Additionally, Anastasia Weggel, playing the maternal role of Ladybug, had some of the strongest vocals in the show with a sweet vibrato that lent itself perfectly to the role.

James’ obnoxious aunts, Spiker and Sponge, provided both antagonists and comedic relief. Played by Sam Spirt and Zoe Halperin, these characters performed two breathtaking numbers, “Spiker and Sponge,” and “I Got You.” Spirt and Halperin had incredible chemistry and the relationship between the two roles had the audience laughing out loud.

Many unique technical aspects of the show brought the story to life. The one that strikes the audience from the very beginning is the orchestra. With thirty-four student performers in the pit, they executed the score flawlessly. However, one issue was that the pit was often so loud the audience was unable to hear soloists over them, losing a lot of important or funny lines. That being said, props and set were a strong aspect of the show, using posters that showed the location of each scene and utilizing a rotating platform for the giant peach.

Upper Dublin’s James and the Giant Peach was a heartfelt show leaves the audience with important messages and songs that will be stuck in their heads for weeks to come.