Bye Bye Birdie – Marple Newtown High School

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Bye Bye Birdie by Marple Newtown High School in Newtown Square, PA

March 19, 2019

Review submitted by Alexis Rendel of Archmere Academy

Put on a happy face because Marple Newtown High’s production of Bye Bye Birdie brought its audience back to the rock and roll swingin’ time of the 50s.

Bye Bye Birdie is a musical comedy following the teen idol, Conrad Birdie, and his manager, Albert Peterson, as they plan Conrad’s goodbye tour before he leaves for the army. In addition to juggling Conrad and keeping his many fangirls at bay, Albert attempts to keep his audacious secretary and love interest, Rose Alvarez, from leaving him as a result of Birdie’s antics. The story takes place in 1958 during the Cold War and includes some humor that is very specific for the time. With music by Charles Strouse (Annie), lyrics by Lee Adams, and a story by Michael Stewart, this light-hearted musical transports the audience back to the jumpin’ era of classic rock ‘n roll.

Though many scenes were lacking in energy, the overall production certainly captured the time period and fluently articulated the messages of love, family, and fame depicted in the story. Some suggestive scenes were altered in order to maintain a sense of innocence for younger audience members, and though this resulted in a lack of clarity and understanding at times, the attempt was greatly appreciated. The immense challenge of accommodating a cast of over one hundred members was met gracefully as the show ran with very few hiccups.

Vinnie Cavallero (Albert Peterson) brought a strong, lively presence to the stage, especially with the tap number “Put on a Happy Face.” Furthermore, Olivia Knapp conveyed the fiery nature of Rosie with a natural attitude.   The comedic actors of this production shone through its shortcomings. Louie Kontaras as Harry MacAfee had the audience rolling in their seats with laughter during his speech on regaining Mr. MacAfee’s title as “Man of the House.” Even the drunken portrayal of Hugo Peabody (Brandon Raglow) and the awkward, lovestruck teenager Harvey Johnson (Richie Izzo) brought an energy to the stage that audiences certainly appreciated.

The technical aspects of Marple Newtown’s production definitely helped to strengthen the overall effect it had on the audience. Vinnie Cavallero’s costumes clearly expressed the 50s aesthetic and each costume had its own details, a terrific feat for dressing a cast of over one hundred people! The lighting, sets, and props, though simple in design, emulated the 50s with precision. At times, many of the mics seemed low in volume, giving the audience a difficult time understanding certain lines or songs, but period and storyline could still be understood.

Overall, Marple Newtown’s production of Bye Bye Birdie brought audiences back to a period of rock n’ roll and swing dancing, resulting in an entertaining, light-hearted piece.

Review submitted by Morgan Miller of Upper Merion Area High School

Inside the small town of Sweet Apple, Ohio, love blossoms as the town says Bye Bye Birdie in Marple Newtown High School’s amusing take on this classic period piece.

Set in 1958, Bye Bye Birdie follows the story of Conrad Birdie, an Elivis-esque rock star who is drafted into the army. When songwriter Albert Peterson chooses small-town teen Kim MacAfee to be Birdie’s last kiss before he heads off to war, her boyfriend Hugo will do almost anything to prevent her from kissing the teen heartthrob goodbye.  Bye Bye Birdie was originally produced on Broadway in 1960 and features music and lyrics by Charles Strouse and Lee Adams.

Vinnie Cavallero led the production with his earnest and endearing portrayal of Conrad’s manager Albert Peterson. Cavallero showcased his excellent tap dancing skills and bright vocals in “Put on a Happy Face.” Cavallero’s chemistry with scene partner Olivia Knapp (Rose Alvarez) was charming and served to make their relationship appear dynamic and natural.

Allie Rollo certainly was a crowd favorite, as she portrayed a likeable and bubbly Kim MacAfee, whose infectious energy and innocence made her a delightful onstage presence. Alongside Rollo, Owen Clark embraced the role of rock star Conrad Birdie, as his mellow crooning and comical dance moves were a focal point during “Honestly Sincere,” where Clark succeeded in making the entire town weak in the knees with his exaggerated twists.

The Conrad Birdie Fan Club ensemble was a hysterical addition to the show, as their over-the-top swooning reactions and high energy level never failed to engage the audience in their various musical numbers. The Fan Club ensemble displayed impressive synchronicity in their dance moves, especially considering their sizable cast.

Vinnie Cavallero worked alongside the rest of the costume team in order to create an impressive range of unique costume designs. Cavallero crafted each individual costume in order to develop a seamless color scheme that accentuated the 1950s time period, with each individual family unit sporting their own unique color.

With this silly retelling of the renowned 1950s musical Bye Bye Birdie, Marple Newtown High School had their audience “Put on a Happy Face” as they enjoyed an afternoon of music and dancing that they would be hard pressed to forget.

Cinderella – Haverford High School

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Cinderella by Haverford High School in Havertown, PA

March 19, 2019

Review submitted by Katrina Conklin of Baldwin School

In Cinderella’s world, miracles can happen: peasants can become princesses, pumpkins can become carriages, but most importantly, corrupt systems of government can be mended. In Haverford High School’s production of the classic tale, these miracles came to life before the audience’s eyes.

With music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Cinderella the musical expands upon the famous story, giving it a modern twist. There are bigger problems than just Cinderella not having a dress: the government is ruthlessly stripping the poor of their land, and Prince Topher remains oblivious. “Ella” must use her magic not solely for her own benefit, but for the benefit of the whole country, putting her famous kindness to the test.

Cinderella was delightful in every regard. The kingdom-sized cast maintained high spirits and riveting authenticity throughout the entire production, transforming the timeless fairytale into a reality

Abby Kesselman’s depiction of Ella was vocally mesmerizing; her faultless high notes and angelic melodies could not have been more fit for a princess. Equal in musicality was Jack O’Leary as Prince Topher, whose valiant portrayal gave a refreshing depth to the typically one-dimensional “prince charming” archetype. The two leads displayed convincing chemistry onstage, giving the term “power couple” a new meaning.

Another major standout was Sam Isle as revolutionary Jean Michel whose affability and charisma was infectious, even if he needed to improvise when faced with a technical difficulty. By far the most humorous performance came from Tommy Barnes’s Sebastian, who utilized the perfect amount of exaggeration and ridiculousness to portray the greedy chancellor. And of course, Cinderella’s story wouldn’t be complete without her fairy godmother, performed beautifully by Pammie Cobaugh. She captured her character’s elegance and warmth, as well as the eccentric charm of Marie’s disguised persona.

Technical highlights included the intricate and abundant props by Amanda Carano and Shannon Kaercher which ranged from large royal scrolls to a plump plush pumpkin. The costume team tackled the challenge of dressing the cast in ballgowns and formalwear, amplifying the performance’s enchanting atmosphere. The execution of Cinderella’s magical transformations, reliant on skillfully designed two-part costumes, was impressively seamless. The predominantly student orchestra carried the performance through, shining in standout numbers “A Lovely Night,” and “Ten Minutes Ago.”

It takes great skill and effort to revitalize such an age-old narrative, and Haverford High School did so to create what was much more than just a “lovely” night.

Review submitted by Aurelle Odhner of Academy of the New Church

Hear ye, hear ye! Haverford High School is giving a performance of Cinderella!  All are invited to come witness the magic and romance of this spectacular show. With soaring songs, dazzling dances, captivating costumes, and much more, an evening spent watching this musical is sure to be “A Lovely Night.”

Rodgers and Hammerstein, the famous musical-theatre-writing duo, wrote their own version of the timeless story of Cinderella which was brought to life on the stage of Haverford High School. Drawing from the French tale penned by Charles Perrault, these musicians combined the classic elements of a pumpkin carriage, a cruel stepmother, and pure glass slippers with their own delightful music. They tell the story of how kind, gentle Ella goes from a miserable maid to the belle of the ball, dancing the night away with the Prince. Her journey of transformation and self-discovery is as universal as the tale of Cinderella itself.

Haverford High School brought enchanting vocals to the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein, along with spirited dancing. The large ensemble responded well to each other and always seemed to be having a ball, while the leads and soloists provided astonishing talent. Perhaps the most magical moments however, came from the student-designed costumes. On three separate occasions, tattered garments were transformed onstage into shimmering gowns.

Abby Kesselman shone in the title role, with a voice as movingly sweet as her personality. Her charming prince, Jack O’Leary, was an equally powerful singer, and their heart-wrenching harmonies filled the room in numbers such as “Loneliness of Evening.” Krystyna Barr demonstrated great depth of character as Gabrielle, while her sister Charlotte, played by Noel Guidetti, added continual comic relief with her amusing physicality and expression. Tommy Barnes also stood out for his dramatic portrayal of Sebastian.

The chorus was a source of focused energy for most of the show. Their excitement was contagious in “The Prince Is Giving A Ball.” Two dancers in particular, Jack Drennen and Alex Lambert, gave consistently astonishing performances as the Fox Footman and Raccoon Coachman. Their nimble footwork and impressive gymnastics drew audible gasps from the audience.

The production benefited from a strong, primarily student orchestra, led by senior Dylan Hincka. Their professional sound and lively playing created the perfect support for those onstage. The marketing and publicity team, headed by Annajean Gionta and Chloe Calamaro, also showed a high level of professionality with elegant posters, quality videos, and extensive media networking, all while respecting the confines of their theatre contract.

“It’s Possible” that Haverford High School had the help of a fairy godmother in creating this stunning performance of Cinderella, but in this case the magic and catchy tunes linger with the audience long after midnight.

A… My Name is Alice – Jenkintown High School

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A… My Name is Alice by Jenkintown High School in Jenkintown, PA

March 19, 2019

Review submitted by Julia Jennings of Upper Moreland High School

Creating a poignant and compelling portrait of women’s experience across all settings and stages of life, Jenkintown High School charmed the audience with an “all girl band” of powerful performers in their production of A…My Name is Alice.

This musical revue incorporates twenty-one different songs and scenes united solely in their narrative of women and the world. Originally produced by The Women’s Project at the Village Gate Off Broadway, the show examines the diverse joys, sorrows, and complex relationships that women face, driving at the heart of what it is like to be a woman in modern society.

Jenkintown High School took on this difficult production with incredible feeling and strength, many actresses having to carry entire scenes on their own. This talented and passionate cast of almost entirely women was perfectly highlighted by a dynamic lighting design and versatile set to create an emotional feminist tour de force that swept the audience off its feet.

The ensemble of “Alices” worked together extremely effectively, creating complex and ever-changing chemistries as each actress filled several roles across different scenes. The cast displayed a compelling emotional connection with each other that appeared as a powerful force in the show. Individual performances also stood out as actresses were impressively able to create a memorable character through their short vignettes. As Ms. Mae, Aniya Cager was an audience favorite with her incredible mastery of a complex and lengthy monologue. Emily Munson similarly created a comedic character as the poet, never failing to make the audience laugh through her overblown, though metaphoric portrayal. Actresses such as Marielle Zakrzwski and Yusra Ali also very effectively created more serious stories in scenes including “Emily the M.B.A.” and “Pay Them No Mind”.

The ensemble vocals in numbers such as “All Girl Band”, “Bluer Than You”, and “Lifelines” were incredibly powerful. Solo pieces like “The Portrait” and “The French Monologue and Song” also stood out with brilliant performances from vocalists Madison Gardner and Maria Cotsis.

The set was simple, yet very versatile and dynamic, creating authenticity for settings such as a kindergarten classroom, and the bedroom of a teenage girl. The lighting was another highlight of the performance, changing color and focus to reflect the changing mood of each scene. Despite occasional difficulties with the sound, the amplification of the large cast was balanced very effectively. The stage crew was a surprise highlight of the performance, appearing between scenes with pep and enthusiasm.

Jenkintown High School’s production of A…My Name is Alice powerfully gave voice to women across all aspects of society, encompassing them together through the idea of “Alice” to create a memorable, inspiring piece that left the audience with absolutely no doubt that “Alice is doing alright!”

Review submitted by Patrick McCann of Harriton High School

How do you define feminism? Coming up with a definition that encompasses every woman’s experience is difficult, if not impossible. Jenkintown High School’s production of A… My Name is Alice made no effort to define such a daunting term, but in not doing so may have managed to accomplish something even more impressive: capturing the raw essence of womanhood.

Conceived by Joan Silver and Julianne Boyd, A… My Name is Alice is a musical revue, a patchwork of disconnected songs and monologues. It presents a kaleidoscope of modern women: friends, rivals, mothers, daughters, poets, businesswomen, and even an all-women’s basketball team. But unlike some feminist plays, A… My Name is Alice makes no preachy pretenses. Instead of focusing on cheesy messages and feel-good songs, it pays tribute to a variety of female lifestyles, celebrating their common thread of womanhood.

The highlight of Jenkintown’s production was the clear community the cast and crew had built. From the opening number, a jazzy ode to female solidarity titled “All Girl Band,” the actresses’ chemistry was undeniable.

Maria Cotsis stole the show with her magnetic stage presence, drawing all eyes towards her whether she was singing, speaking, or simply posing on stage. She effortlessly ducked in and out of different accents and inflections, and flawlessly delivered four minutes of hilariously nonsensical French in “The French Monologue and Song.” As the First Alice in “Friends,” Cotsis masterfully embodied several different ages while pulling at the audience’s heartstrings with her stunning vocals.

As the show’s only running gag, Emily Munson had to maintain a difficult level of continuity across her three scenes as a beat-style poet without becoming boring and repetitive. She did so hilariously, leaving the audience in stitches whether she was mimicking a wilting plant or a dying swan. Aniya Cager was another comedic powerhouse, holding a conversation with herself for almost eight minutes. Madison Gardner left some members of the audience in tears with her heart-wrenching rendition of “The Portrait,” and Yusra Ali sang gorgeously in both “Pay Them No Mind” and “Friends.” The cast’s chemistry was intimately beautiful to watch, with several actresses crying, cheering each other on, and exchanging firm looks of solidarity throughout the performance.

The simple but effective lighting managed to be both simplistic and engrossing, making each scene unique without becoming distracting. The stage crew was equally impressive, incorporating the cast into the short and slick scene changes in a way that made the interludes between the scenes almost as visually interesting as the scenes themselves.

With a charming cast, slick lighting, and performances raw with emotion, Jenkintown High School’s production of A… My Name is Alice embodied the un-embodiable, capturing all the messiness and complexity of womanhood in its purest form.

Pippin – Sun Valley High School

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Pippin by Sun Valley High School in Aston, PA

March 19, 2019

Review submitted by Stephen D’Antonio of Archmere Academy

Astonishing Acrobatics. Cunning Costumes. Enormous Energy. Glamorous Games. Lavish Lighting. Tremendous Talent. Does this sound like a circus? Not quite, but close–it sounds like  Sun Valley High School’s “extraordinary” production of the musical Pippin!

The suspense-filled musical Pippin features an acting group looking for new, fine actors to recruit. Following a “play within a play” format, their “show” is directed by the “Lead Player,” and the troupe recruits a young man Pippin to go on a quest. Pippin endlessly tries to find fulfillment through war, advice from his grandma, education, and even love; however, he never feels fulfilled. Not until the acting troupe tries forcing him into performing one, perfect act does Pippin find his happiness.

It takes some extraordinary talent to put this challenging show on stage, but with ease, Sun Valley delivered. The entire cast worked together to bring a heavy-hearted (and complicated) show to life. The mysterious nature of all the Players, coupled with an intense choreography track, greatly supported the carnivalesque essence of the show.

As the leading role, Zack Volturo (Pippin) faced a challenging vocal score, an intense character development, and a copious amount of stage time. Volturo overcame these obstacles with ease, and repeatedly shined due to his strong stage presence and superb chemistry with castmates. Alongside Volturo, Hanna Buerklin’s enticing performance as Leading Player added to the mysterious aspect of the show. Together, Buerklin and Volturo’s opposing personalities and strong vocals blended excellently to create a perfect duo as the show’s leads, especially seen in the fun number “The Right Track.”

In the supporting cast, the relationship between Lewis (Tommy Christaldi) and his mother Fastrada (Alexa Rode) interestingly added to the show. Finally, Catherine’s (Chiara Robinson’s) lively characterization and compelling vocals shined immensely throughout the second act. She beautifully conveyed her deep character development in songs such as “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man.”

Despite sound difficulty, the technical end of the show flowed almost flawlessly. The intense lighting design by Tommy Christaldi incredibly upheld the circus and mysterious atmosphere of the show. The simple set allowed for many of the set-changes to be done by cast members, but the excellent communication between cast and crew allowed to smooth changes.

Overall, Sun Valley High School truly “had magic to do” in their performance of Pippin! Congratulations on “spreading a little sunshine” in an excellent show!

Review submitted by Anna Bobok of Upper Merion Area High School

Sun Valley High School “spread a little sunshine” of their own this weekend with their spell-binding production of Pippin!

Loosely based on Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne and his son, Pippin follows the titular hero’s journey to find his place in the world. Confronted with bloody battles, lustful liaisons, political power, and a desirable demise, Pippin must determine which path will give him the complete fulfillment he yearns for, or if that one perfect path even exists. Filled with dulcet melodies from the brilliant Stephen Schwartz, Pippin continues to enchant audiences nearly fifty years after its release.

The curtains opened as Sun Valley’s ensemble of players slinked across the stage in an eerie yet enticing performance of “Magic To Do,” showcasing an infectious energy and dancing prowess that carried throughout the entire performance. Molly Thorpe, Caitlin Riley, and Alexa Rode demonstrated bewitching grace in their featured dances, especially the number “With You.” Harmonies from the cast were strikingly spine-tingling in the show’s “Finale,” where they performed a chilling a cappella rendition of the anthem “Corner of the Sky.”

Zack Volturo was utterly charming as the conflicted Prince Pippin. Volturo fostered sincere and tender relationships with each of his fellow actors, especially Hanna Beurklin’s brazen Leading Player. Buerklin oozed confidence as she swaggered across the stage to orchestrate Pippin’s entire life story, riffing her way through numerous complex songs and dances.

Whether he was portraying the brainless brick Lewis, strutting across the stage as a rambunctious chicken, or delivering a skillful accordion performance, the audience could always spot Tommy Christaldi on the Sun Valley stage. Christaldi was outstandingly hilarious, alongside Alexa Rode (Fastrada) in their peppy number “Spread a Little Sunshine,” where the two established an overly loving mother-son relationship that was hysterical to watch.

The Sun Valley Stage Crew was comprised of the real magicians of the show, performing disappearing and reappearing acts throughout the performance expertly. Tommy Christaldi’s bright and flashy lighting design perfectly captured the show’s chaotic nature. Hair and Makeup for the ensemble was dark and distinct, making some characters look almost like circus clowns or mimes. The Sun Valley Marketing Team reflected the show’s circus-esque aesthetic as well with a carnival at the entrance to the theater, complete with games, streamers, and a handmade photo-taking station.

Sun Valley’s Pippin proved to audiences that magic can be found just about anywhere, even on a high school stage!

City of Angels – PA Leadership Charter School

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City of Angels by the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School in West Chester, PA

March 19, 2019

Review submitted by Allegra Greenawalt of Harriton High School

There’s nothing quite like the golden era of 1940s Hollywood, with all of its glitz, glamour, and glorious prestige. Complete with overworked screenwriters, arrogant directors, and dramatic ingénues, PALCS’ Center for Performing and Fine Arts brought audiences back into the famed world of film noir with their dazzling production of City of Angels.

First produced on Broadway in 1989, City of Angels takes place in the 1940s and tells the story of Stine, a skilled but frantic writer, as he works to adapt his novel into a Hollywood blockbuster. Throughout the musical, the lives of Stine’s characters intertwine with his own as he struggles to balance his relationship with his wife Gabby along with his work and continuous demands from his producer boss, Buddy.

Cy Coleman and David Zippel’s jazz-infused score immediately presents itself as no small feat for any theater company looking to produce this show, let alone high school students. However, PALCS proved themselves more than capable of overcoming this major challenge, with each of the actors effortlessly delivering their respective musical numbers with the utmost precision and professionalism.

As Stine himself, Xander Dake helped to drive the performance with his strong vocals and natural acting ability. Alongside him was Neil Devlin as the movie character Stone, whose stage presence and incredible vocals radiated throughout the theater. Together, Devlin and Dake created a dynamic duo and stole the show with the Act One finale, “You’re Nothing Without Me.”

Among the supporting cast, Becky Advena (Donna/Oolie), Hannah Cohen (Gabby/Bobbi), and Emma Apple (Carla/Alaura) stood out for their detailed portrayals and entrancing vocals. Perhaps the most memorable performance of the evening belonged to Shane Troxell (Buddy/Irwin) whose dominating presence and incredible comedic timing had the audience in stitches whenever he graced the stage. The Angel City Four quartet (Zoe Bennett, Elizabeth Mercier, Rachel Wilkin, Ever Krikorian) were also memorable, their razor-sharp harmonies never faltering.

Technically, the performance was stunning. Kennedy Gabb’s lighting design was elegant and very appropriate for the film noir theme, casting just the right amount of shadow to make the audience feel as if they were watching a golden age movie rather than a musical.

The saying goes: “You buy a rose, and you’re stuck with the thorn.” PALCS’ production of City of Angels was certainly a rose, but with all of the talent they displayed both onstage and off, there wasn’t a thorn in sight!

Review submitted by Bailey Collington of Interboro High School

“Three million people in LA… easily half of them up to something they don’t want the other half to know,” remarks a brooding and charming private detective, setting the grim and sultry scene for PA Leadership Charter School’s production of City of Angels.

City of Angels, with a book by Larry Gelbart and lyrics by Cy Coleman, is a cult classic in theater communities with its Tony Award win for best musical and homage to film noir style. The plot depicts ‘real’ vs ‘reel,’ as a struggling writer attempts to write a screen adaptation of his work and soon becomes caught up in the struggles of Tinsel-Town, all while the fictional events of his screenplay play out beside him.

PALCS’s production team took on quite the challenge with Gelbart’s City of Angels, and they certainly rose to it –  tackling the score with inspired, competent vocals, capturing the gray aesthetic of the film noir genre with compelling lighting, and demonstrating a wealth of maturity and wit with their delivery of every line.

At the forefront of the production was Xander Dake as Stine. Dake embodied the troubled writer within his first few moments in front of the audience and expertly displayed his character growth until his last moments on stage. Operating right beside him as his quick-witted muse was Stone played by Neil Devlin.  Stine’s internal tensions boiled over into an intense duet with Stone, “You’re Nothing Without Me,” in which both actors gave a vocally stunning performance that surpassed the expectations of the challenging score. Both Stine and Stone shared a Girl Friday, Donna/Oolie, played by Becky Advena. Advena attentively and humorously captured the self-deprecating number “You Can Always Count on Me,” showing off the character’s wit and depth.

Backing Stine and Stone was a collection of dedicated and talented actors who were committed to the maturity, intellect, and authenticity of the show and worked to maintain the 40s “film noir” aesthetic. Providing a foil to the character of Stine was Buddy/Irwin, played by Shane Troxell. Troxell played the role of the self-assured and gleefully devilish Hollywood hotshot with just the right level of camp.

In the technical department, the students operated just as efficiently as the stage crew and the lighting team worked in tandem to keep the show running smoothly. Kennedy Gabb captivated audiences with her fitting and stylistic lighting design.

PA Leadership Charter School’s production worked fluidly and masterfully with a dedicated cast and crew who navigated the challenge of the show with diligence. With fun, campy numbers to solemn duets, the production charmed audiences, made them laugh, and most importantly made them think.

Little Shop of Horrors – The Shipley School

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Little Shop of Horrors by The Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, PA

March 12, 2019

Review submitted by Caroline Prendergast of Baldwin School

The Shipley School’s production of Little Shop of Horrors incorporated carnivorous botanical beasts, cowardly men, and a catchy musical score into an amusing matinee.

Originally written by Charles Griffith, the story of Little Shop of Horrors is set in Skid Row, New York in the 1960’s, and revolves around a timorous man by the name of Seymour Krelborn. Seymour comes across a strange-looking plant during a total eclipse of the sun, and takes it with him, naming it Audrey II, after his crush. He soon finds out that the plant has an active conscious, and that it needs one thing to live— human blood. As the musical progresses, Seymour goes from a nobody to a horticultural genius, but at the cost of people’s lives and his sanity.

The Shipley School put on a humorous, entertaining adaptation, while also managing to balance the dark, macabre aspects of the musical.

Gavin Rasmussen portrayed Seymour Krelborn with a comical nervousness that added to his original meekness, but simultaneously broke that stereotype with strong vocals. Rasmussen also let Seymour’s inner struggle of not knowing his life’s purpose shine through. Chloe Sobel as Audrey portrayed the blonde as a lovable, but vapid character that supported Seymour through and through. It was unexpected to see a puppet, and not an actor, on stage when it came to the murderous, bloodthirsty Audrey II, which was sonorously voiced by Jonathan Kimmel and skillfully brought to life by puppeteer Casey Goss.

Roger Irwin, as Mr. Mushnik, was bossy and overbearing over Seymour’s small mistakes, but concerned when it came to Audrey’s abusive situation, and was incredibly convincing. In addition, with unsettling moments of maniacal laughter and sadistic tendencies, Daniel Stein’s acting hit the nail on the head as Orin Scrivello, the boyfriend of Audrey.

The costumes done by Riley Dewey fit in well with the time period stylistically, and the hair and makeup designed by Dewey and Gavin Rasmussen added the final touches that each character needed, making the show really blossom. On the other hand, some of the technical difficulties with body mics camouflaged the vocal talent of the cast.

This weekend’s production of Little Shop of Horrors put on by The Shipley School was an enjoyable, spine-chilling experience that flowered into a memorable afternoon.

Review submitted by Aiden Kaliner of Harriton High School

Blooming with dark humor and rooted in greed, The Shipley School’s production of Little Shop of Horrors took the audience on a journey of emotions “Down on Skid Row.”

Based on a movie of the same name, Little Shop of Horrors tells the story of an awkward and clumsy assistant, Seymour Krelborn, who works at a run-down flower shop in Skid Row. He comes across a strange plant, later named Audrey II, which he discovered during a total eclipse.  As Seymour swoons over his co-worker, Audrey, the plant takes control of his common sense and madness ensues. With 1960’s inspired music by Alan Menken and a book by Howard Ashman, Little Shop of Horrors has been a musical theatre staple since 1982.

At the heart of the show, the group of six Urchins, portrayed as narrators, provided powerful vocals and visually interesting movement. Each clearly created their own and unique character, which worked well in distinguishing one from another.  Similarly, the dancing Vines added an exceptional layer to the show in the second act.

Being the star of the show is no easy feat, and Gavin Rasmussen as Seymour enraptured the audience with his talent. His awkward, naive, and captivating energy and acting applied many layers to the multi-dimensional character.  Rasmussen’s vocals dominated the stage and left the audience extremely impressed.  The dynamic between him and Chloe Sobel (Audrey) was spot on, and the two were enjoyable to watch together, especially in “Suddenly, Seymour.”

With great energy and comedic timing, Daniel Stein as Dr. Orin Scrivello contributed a performance full of laughs and entertainment to the show. As the emotionally unstable dentist, Stein stole the audience’s attention with his fearful interpretation of the character.  Roger Irwin (Mr. Mushnik) also provided a delightful and humorous portrayal of the flower shop owner. His vocals and dancing during “Mushnik and Son” were engaging as well.

Most impressive was Caroline Milgram’s choreography.  She choreographed the entire show, which added beautiful moments to the performance.  The simplicity in some moments and complexity in others contrasted numbers effectively.  Also, the hair and makeup designed by Gavin Rasmussen and Riley Dewey complimented all the actors on stage while sticking to the time period. Most notably, the Urchins’ hair and makeup style stood out among the rest.

Little Shop of Horrors at The Shipley School budded with dedication and gracefully depicted “Somewhere That’s Green.”

Hairspray – Upper Darby High School

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Hairspray by Upper Darby High School in Drexel Hill, PA

March 12, 2019

Review submitted by Phoebe Barr of Episcopal Academy

The story of people who are shunned for being different and yet fight for their rights to life and happiness is just as relevant today as it was when the musical Hairspray was first written. The story of racism in America, and the need for young people to stand up against the bigotry of a society that fears change, is one that resonates with today’s high school population. Upper Darby High School’s production of Hairspray brings that message out in depth while also providing unbeatable dancing, humor, and optimistic fun that truly makes the show stand out.

When plus-sized Tracy Turnblad (Audrey Shaw) gets a spot on her favorite dancing show, she is heading for fame and fortune as the face of a changing world. But she does not want to forget her African-American friends who helped her get there, and she does not think it is right that they only get one day a month to dance on television. As she works to broaden the minds of those around her, she learns valuable lessons about life, love, and the importance of embracing what makes us different. Audrey Shaw brings brightness and pep to the leading role with her sunny smile and non-stop hopefulness. Bryant Carter as Seaweed, meanwhile, steals the stage with his spectacular dancing and singing. The high-energy performances of the leading cast were constantly engaging, backed up by the bold music of the orchestra.

The supporting cast brought plenty of energy as well. From the bigoted Velma Von Tussle (Emma Caughlan) to the ever-charismatic Corny Collins (Tom Geiger), actors threw themselves into their roles. The dance ensembles delighted with their lively routines, mastering difficult choreography while also imbuing it with personality. Ensembles moved in the background during solo songs, adding extra dimensions to the protagonists’ performances; in Tracy’s “I Can Hear the Bells,” dancers acted out the fantasies in Tracy’s mind while ringing bells of their own.

The show’s technical aspects were of a professional quality; the costumes sparkled, the set popped, and the lighting made scenes more vivid than they already were. The sound was excellently managed; despite the large space, everyone onstage could be heard, and the group numbers were booming. Upper Darby High School’s Hairspray was a show clearly made with dedication from all involved; the tech crew, the ensemble, and the leads. The hard work that went into this production paid off masterfully for its audience.

Review submitted by Katrina Conklin of Baldwin School

How do we teach stories of intolerance and oppression to young audiences? One way is by thoughtfully injecting important social lessons into entertaining stories. Upper Darby’s performance of Hairspray did precisely that.

Based on the 1988 musical comedy of the same name, Hairspray, set in the 1960s, follows Tracy Turnblad, a plus-sized teenager with enough energy to power the city of Baltimore. Tracy has big dreams to dance on the wildly popular Corny Collins Show – but for the show’s prejudiced producer, Velma Von Tussle, bigger isn’t always better. Upon seeing Von Tussle’s bigotry towards black dancers, Tracy realizes she is not the only victim of discrimination, and dedicates herself to fighting for inclusiveness.

The cast’s energy can only be described as explosive. The complicated choreography was no difficulty for the ensemble, who transformed the stage into a whirlwind of color and enthusiasm.

Stealing the show was Audrey Shaw as Tracy Turnblad, whose impressive voice pierced the enormous theater and made her performance nothing short of captivating. Perhaps the most animated performance, however, came from Bryant Carter’s Seaweed, a standout vocalist with unforgettable dance moves.

Rain Diaz tackled the challenging role of Edna, Tracy’s melodramatic mother with ease; his priceless facial expressions and effortless comedic timing left the audience in stitches. Another highlight of the performance was Emma Caughlan’s masterful portrayal of Velma: a taxing role not only vocally, but also in that she had to capture her character’s ruthless hatred and greed, both of which Caughlan did powerfully. And of course, who could forget Aniyah Crews’ depiction of Motormouth Mable, her vocal prowess in her solo, “I Know Where I’ve Been,” elicited a standing ovation from the audience.

If the talented cast wasn’t enough, the production’s technical elements truly brought Tracy’s Baltimore to life. Samantha Baric’s props, from real hairspray cans to hand bells to TV sets, added another layer of detail to the already intricate performance. The student orchestra consistently gave their all, from the opening number to the show-stopping finale. The set, which included numerous large stage pieces, were wielded quickly and efficiently by Upper Darby’s stage crew, who showed no intimidation by the production’s complexities.

Though Hairspray is undoubtedly a fun show, it is critical to remember Tracy and Seaweed’s fight was extremely real, and we are still fighting that same fight for racial equality today. Upper Darby’s performance was a significant win for that fight.

Rumors – Germantown Academy

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Rumors by Germantown Academy in Fort Washington, PA

March 12, 2019

Review submitted by Patrick McCann of Harriton High School

Rumor has it that the Belfry Club of Germantown Academy is putting on a farcical comedy, and that it is every bit as frantic, chaotic, and hilariously messy as any farce enthusiast could hope for!

Rumors, a farcical comedy by Neil Simon, premiered in 1988 at the Old Globe Theatre. While the basic premise, a 10-year anniversary party for state deputy Charlie Brock and his wife Myra, is rather ordinary, the whole thing is turned on its head when the firsts two guests (Chris and Ken Gorman) arrive only to find Charlie drugged up on Valium and with a gunshot wound in his earlobe. Hilarious chaos ensues as they struggle to hide Charlie’s state from the other arriving guests, making for a riotous night of misfortunes and mishaps as the four invited couples experience a severe attack of farce.

The cast’s commitment to the physicality farce requires is what truly made the performance great. Whether they were embodying cats, mimicking children, or dancing furiously to “La Bamba”, they always managed to elicit big laughs from the audience without ever letting the show’s ridiculous comedy veer into the area of unbelievability.

Vinit Joshi, who played the sarcastic and unfortunately whiplashed Lenny, was one of the show’s many highlights. His line delivery and comedic timing were masterful, and all while holding his head at a 45-degree angle! In the second act, he held the audience’s attention for an entire seven-minute monologue, effortlessly ducking in and out of different accents and inflections. Naomi Friedman, playing the elegant, if a bit high strung, Chris, was a delight to watch. Her mannerisms, from sniffing cigarettes to scratching the hives in her armpits, were both consistent and hilarious.

Danny Ritz left the audience in stitches as the endearing attorney Ken. Whether he was rubbing his body against a wall or embodying animals, his acting choices always left the audience roaring with laughter. Alex Kafrissen was another highlight of the show as the saucy gossip-monger Claire, perfectly delivering all of her dry one-liners. Michael Wood convincingly played Ernie, transitioning from likable dopiness to hilarious rage. Finally, J. Fassler helped ground the show’s ending in reality, providing a great counterpoint to the rest of the cast’s ridiculousness with their straight-talking portrayal of Officer Welch.

The show’s simple but effective light and sound cues were a nice touch, informing the audience of car arrivals when the actors didn’t explicitly say so and surprising them with a gunshot in the first act.

Just as rumors tend to grow over time, the hysterical chaos of Germantown Academy’s production snowballed throughout the performance, delivering brilliant physical and verbal comedy that wanted nothing but to make the audience laugh.

Review submitted by Anji Cooper of Academy of the New Church

A simple word spoken in passing can spread like wildfire, gaining momentum as it travels from one listening ear to the next, transforming into something larger, something more treacherous. Gossip can be dangerous, disastrous even, but Germantown Academy turned it into a chaotically hilarious debacle in their production of Rumors.

Neil Simon’s farce opened on Broadway in 1988. The story follows four couples: the Gormans, Ganzes, Cusacks and Coopers as they arrive at the tenth anniversary party for Charlie Brock, Deputy Mayor of New York, and his wife, Myra. Yet, the party does not go as expected. Charlie has shot himself in the earlobe, Myra is missing, and all the household staff is gone. With Charlie’s prestigious position, the Gormans try to cover up the apparent suicide attempt to avoid the malicious rumors and legal ramifications of his actions. More guests arrive, and more lies are added to the tangled web as the couples pricelessly attempt to hide the truth from each other and eventually even the police.

Germantown Academy’s rendition of Rumors was uproarious and energetic, fueled by enthusiastic and committed actors diving into their escapades. Combining physical comedy with ridiculous antics and well-placed expletives, the show never ceased to keep its audience in stitches.

The entire cast was engaging and full of spirit, completely falling into their roles, speaking naturally, and making their characters feel genuine and real. The actors impressively projected their voices without microphones. Duo Chris (Naomi Friedman) and Ken Gorman (Danny Ritz) possessed engrossing stage presence and worked off of each other’s energy. Ritz’s exaggerated movements added humor, especially when portraying temporary deafness, while his sensitive side after being yelled at had the crowd aww-ing in sympathy. Lenny Ganz (Vinit Joshi) proved his talent and commitment through magnified expressions and reactions to the absurd lies, punctuated by occasional acrobatics. His vigorous, frenzied and long-winded description of “what really happened” drew heaps of laughter from the audience. Alex Kafrissen played the high-class gossip queen, Claire Ganz, to perfection. With her haughty air and petty, demanding attitude, the crowd couldn’t help but root for her. Though some lines were lost in the audience’s laughter, overall the cast exhibited precise comedic timing.

The set, designed and built by the Technical and Advanced Technical Theater Classes, painted the picture of a chic, classy and expensive apartment building, hinting at the show’s ambiance before it began. Dylan Robertson’s lighting heightened the production with small details such as car headlights appearing through a window.

Germantown Academy’s production of Rumors was hilarious and vibrant, brought to life by an animated cast and reminding the audience that the power of gossip, with its arising misunderstandings, is not to be underestimated.

Hello, Dolly – Delaware County Christian School

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Hello, Dolly by Delaware County Christian School in Newtown Square, PA

March 12, 2019

Review submitted by Julia Jennings of Upper Moreland High School

The grandly elegant parasols, glimmering feathers, and the radiant, shining message of Delaware County Christian School’s      inspires the audience to get out and fully live “before the parade passes by”.

Premiering on Broadway in 1964, this wildly popular musical by Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman has seen four Broadway revivals, the most recent one opening in 2017 starring Bette Midler. The musical opens with flamboyant matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi being assigned to find a wife for the cantankerous half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder, while having her mind made up that she will win Vandergelder for herself. When Dolly’s bold plans for manipulation bring together Horace Vandergelder, his runaway shop clerks, Cornelius and Barnaby, and his wailing niece Ermengarde in the refined Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, chaos ensues and only love will be able to solve the mayhem.

Delaware County Christian School took on this well-beloved show with great enthusiasm and creativity. The beautiful and breathtaking sets served as a perfect backdrop for the beautiful harmonies and splendid choreography of the talented cast.

Leading the cast as the brazen and charming Dolly Gallagher Levi, Jordan Thompson enchanted the audience with her witty portrayal and powerful vocals. Her perfect comedic timing and radiant voice were a driving force for the performance. As the crotchety but ultimately endearing aristocrat Horace Vandergelder, Ryan Schaafsma added a perfect comedic element to the production, contrasting with Thompson to create a humorous and dynamic chemistry.

As chief clerk Cornelius Hackl, Benjamin Doctor added remarkably sweet vocals and great comedic character to the performance. Jacob Halladay, as Barnaby Tucker, fantastically portrayed his earnest and enthusiastic sidekick with great energy. Johanna FitzGerald and Emily Chung similarly created a memorable pair as Irene Molloy and Minnie Fay, respectively. As the miserable Ermengarde, Emma Carrington did a remarkable job of constantly crying on stage, creating a memorable comedic character. Daphne Neal as Ernestina Money likewise added a charming comedic element to the performance. The ensemble showed confident mastery of complex harmonies and beautiful choreography.

The incredible set was breathtaking, rotating around to transform from the elegant Harmonia Gardens to the multi-faceted interior of Vandergelder’s Hay and Feed store. The lighting design carefully accented different elements of the performance, and the brilliant costumes and hair perfectly set the production in the charm of the late 1800s.

With radiance and great comedic force, Delaware County Christian School’s Hello, Dolly! encouraged the audience to “put on their Sunday clothes” and experience all of the “elegance” the world has to offer.

 

Review submitted by Kaci Walter of Upper Merion Area High School

“Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and come down to see Delaware County Christian School’s spectacular performance of Hello, Dolly!

Based on the work of the critically acclaimed playwright, Thornton Wilder, the Broadway classic, Hello, Dolly! was written by Michael Stewart and Jerry Herman, and hit the stage in 1965. The musical accounts the story of the captivating matchmaker, Dolly Levi, who is tasked with finding half-millionaire Horace Vandergelder a second wife. But little does he know that she might just be planning to make him her second husband instead. Adventures in the big city, extravagant music, and dancing through the streets lead to the classic golden age show tunes that have delighted audiences for more than half a century.

Delaware County Christian School’s rendition of this musical gem was brought to life by an energized ensemble, exceptional vocalists, and comedic standouts. Challenged with creating a multitude of complex settings, the production team outdid themselves with their elegant, show-stealing set pieces that took audiences from the slick town of Yonkers to the streets of the Big Apple.

Jordan Thompson starred as the marvelously meddlesome matchmaker, Dolly Levi. Thompson won the audience’s hearts with her brassy vocal prowess that perfectly encapsulated the title character’s charm and musical royalty. Her breathtaking tonality was especially showcased in show stopping anthems, “Before the Parade Passes by” as well as “Hello, Dolly.” Opposite of Dolly, Ryan Schaafsma played the ideal ill-tempered burgher, Horace Vandergelder, through his dedication to his raspy character voice and pleasant timbre, displayed in his solo number, “It Takes a Woman”.

Benjamin Doctor’s melodic voice and first-rate comedic timing excellently modeled the chief clerk, Cornelius Hackl. At his side, the stock boy, Barnaby Tucker, was played by Jacob Halladay, with high spirits and hilarity. The two especially exhibited their superb physical comedy as they dove under tables and hid in closets throughout Mrs. Molloy’s hat shop. Other standout performances included the love interests of the young clerks, Irene Molloy and Minnie Fay, delightfully portrayed by Johanna FitzGerald and Emily Chung, respectively.

What cannot go unmentioned were the first-rate movable set pieces, designed and constructed by Adelia Elliott and the DC Tech Crew. From the two-story Vandergelder Hay and Feed store to the cascading staircase of the Harmonia Gardens, the sets had an impressive professional feel that heightened the quality of the performance. Additionally, the DC stage crew, under management of Caleb Goneau, Cayley Serfass, and Eowyn Oh accomplished smooth scene changes that effectively kept the story moving gracefully.

Delaware County Christian School’s performance of Hello, Dolly! certainly brought the audience “the sweet things in life”.

Chicago: High School Edition – Bordentown Regional High School

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Chicago: High School Edition – Bordentown Regional High School in Bordentown, NJ

March 6, 2019

Review submitted by Anna Bobok of Upper Merion Area High School

Bordentown Regional High School killed it this weekend with their glitzy production of Chicago: High School Edition!

Set in the decadent and dangerous era of the 1920s, Chicago tells the story of Roxie Hart, a woman who hopes to use the publicity of her crime to work her way into the vaudeville scene. But other women at the Cook County Jail have similar ideas, including notorious murderess Velma Kelly. Through mutual struggles to regain the media’s attention, the two women realize they might just have to put aside their differences to stay in the public’s eye.

Abigayle Harnum opened the show with a haunting rendition of “All That Jazz,” showcasing her fluid dancing, intoxicating vocals, and unparalleled acting. Harnum’s Velma Kelly was a perfect balance of brash and distraught, which was evident in both her acting and her singing. Coupled with Annissa Richard’s mellifluous voice as Roxie Hart, the two female leads brought down the house with the act one closer “My Own Best Friend.”

Gabriel Planas-Borgstrom played slick lawyer Billy Flynn with charm and polish, entertaining the audience thoroughly with his numbers “We Both Reached for the Gun” and “All I Care About.” Another standout performance came from Gabby Takacs as Matron “Mama” Morton, who commanded the stage with her powerful belt in “When You’re Good to Mama”.

The ensemble was full of exemplary dancers, several of which showcased incredible skills in “Razzle Dazzle,” where they mimicked circus performers through ribbon twirling, splits, and feats of flexibility. Several ensemble members who had minor roles also displayed their acting prowess, specifically Lauren Redwood, Isabella Mayo, and Kayla Downing as Master of Ceremonies, Mary Sunshine, and Kitty/Mona, respectively.

The BRHS Chicago Pit were as near as professional in their execution of the demanding score, leaping effortlessly between quick ragtime to sultry jazz throughout the performances. Kyle Meier and Makayla Coleman worked well with the pit to keep the performers audible over the roaring instruments, and they must be commended for their lack of sound mistakes despite a substantial amount of microphones. Riddi Gupta, Lydia Braasch, and Mia Procacinno created a minimalist yet effective jail setting on the stage, as it set a chilling atmosphere but didn’t distract from the performances and allowed set pieces to transition smoothly.

Chicago was full of “Razzle Dazzle” and made certain the name on everybody’s lips would be ‘Bordentown!’

 

Review submitted by Patrick McCann of Harriton High School

In Jazz Age Chicago, criminals are celebrities, the justice system is all show-business, and murder is an art. This weekend, Bordentown Regional High School’s production of Chicago: High School Edition, transported the audience back to the 1920s as its cast of sleazy lawyers and merry murderesses fought tooth and nail for their chance in the spotlight.

Based on the 1926 play of the same name, Chicago tells the story of murderesses Roxie Hart and Velma Kelly, two fame-hungry aspiring vaudevillians. Each enlists the help of the suave but manipulative lawyer Billy Flynn, who transforms his clients into celebrities in order to abuse the power of public opinion. Unfortunately, the fame he creates is fleeting, and Roxie and Velma do everything from teaming up or faking a pregnancy in order to ensure that the media’s spotlight stays shining squarely on them.

The highlight of Bordentown’s production was its performers’ stunning vocals and effortless physicality, both of which were dripping with vaudevillian sensuality.

Abigayle Harnum, who played the tough and sarcastic Velma, was the heart of the show. She masterfully transitioned from a low-volume jazzy drawl to a full-on belt in songs like “All That Jazz,” and wowed the audience with her dancing prowess in “I Can’t Do it Alone.” Gabriel Planas-Borgstrom’s more energetic performance as Billy Flynn served as the perfect counterpart to Harnum’s jaded smoothness, and he delivered skilled vocals in songs like “We Both Reached for the Gun” without stumbling over the fast-paced lyrics. Finally, Annissa Richard’s more controlled and reserved performance as Roxie helped contrast her with the other leads, although her character’s shyness always dropped away in time for her show-stopping vocals in songs like “Funny Honey.”

Lauren Redwood, who played the charismatic Master of Ceremonies, fully embodied the physicality of the Jazz Age, oozing the energy of the 1920s. Mitchell Reames was another audience favorite, winning them over with his endearing yet tragic performance as Amos. Other standouts among the supporting cast were Gabrielle Takacs, who drew in the audience with her magnetic rendition of “When You’re Good to Mama,” and Kayla Downing, whose hilarious portrayals of Mona and Kitty left the audience roaring with laughter. The ensemble as a whole was a delight to watch, keeping simple Fosse-inspired choreography from becoming visually boring by executing it in perfect unison.

The technical star of the show was the BRHS Pit Band, which masterfully played the show’s brassy and difficult songs while maintaining an impressive level of control, not once overpowering the actors’ vocals.

All in all, Bordentown Regional High School’s production of Chicago delivered a magnetic performance with vocals and physicality so “splendiferous,” row after row of the audience was growing vociferous.