Chicago: High School Edition – Archmere Academy

Archmere - Chicago 2

Chicago: High School Edition by Archmere Academy in Claymont, DE

February 25, 2020

Review submitted by Grazia LaRosa of Haverford High School.

Archmere Academy did not shy away from a challenge when taking on the raunchy and fierce Chicago: High School Edition.

Centered around the misdeeds of Chicago’s most demure murderesses of the 1930s, Chicago follows the rivalry of Roxie Hart, the aspiring vaudeville dancer who killed her paramour, and Velma Kelly, distinguished dancer and murderer of her husband and sister. In their time at the Cook County Jail, a cheap game of push and pull ensues as they duke it out for the help of the jail’s manipulative matron Mama Morton and rapacious lawyer Billy Flynn to become stars amidst their fifteen seconds of infamy.

Given the difficulty of maintaining the intrinsic raunchiness of Chicago while using a script adapted for high school consumption, Archmere valiantly strove to capture the sleaze of the story. While at times it seemed there were issues with comedic timing and dead air, the cast succeeded in projecting the show’s sordid liveliness with student Alexis Rendel’s razzle-dazzling choreography.

Serena Martin (Roxie Hart) and Alyssa Noval (Velma Kelly) were a wonderfully wicked pair whose devious energy and hate-twinged chemistry captivated the audience with ease. The nurturing yet wily Julia Parisi (Matron Mama Morton) had no trouble portraying the matriarch’s domineering finesse, adding to the show’s female power. A sweet contrast to all the show’s darkness, Rob Smith (Amos Hart) melted the audience’s hearts, nailing the naivete of Roxie’s gullible husband. And finally, Riley McAvinue (Billie Flynn) wowed with an impressive vocal range, scintillated with quick comedic timing, and emitted the gaudy artfulness that the role demanded.

Chock full of fierce feminine spirit, other notable performers include the six merry murderesses of the Cook County Jail. Each actress honed in on unique physicalities to retell their criminal stories in the number “Cell Block Tango” using the reimagined choreography by Alexis Rendel, bringing new, exciting life to a standard.

When the second half of the show began, a brief period of microphone issues emerged, interrupting the show’s overall great streak of clarity and good levels; however, the technical crew quickly solved this issue, showing clear skill and readiness.

Archmere Academy’s Chicago: High School Edition was a luring production, sure to make any audience member shiver.


Review submitted by Theresa Haas of Cardinal O’Hara High School

Where can you find murder, mystery, and all that jazz? Look no further than Archmere Academy’s production of Chicago: High School Edition!

Fighting for fame, Velma Kelly (Alyssa Noval) and Roxie Hart (Serena Martin) will stop at nothing to be praised by all. Both women, on death row for murder, turn to Billy Flynn, played by Riley McAvinue, to clear them of their sentences. Now turned against each other, Velma and Roxie compete to become the most famed murderer of Chicago.

Archmere’s cast lit up the stage with their killer performance. The dancers slayed the choreography as they boogied their way through the show.

Velma Kelly, played by Alyssa Noval, helped start the show with great energy in “All That Jazz.” Roxie Hart (Serena Martin) followed Velma with her comedic solo performance of “Funny Honey,” hitting every note with great conviction. They were a great complex duo since they both had such big egos. Riley McAvinue played his role as the slick manipulating lawyer, Billy Flynn, with ease and extraordinary attitude.

Amos Hart, played by Rob Smith, pulled at the strings of the audience. His performance in “Mr. Cellophane” made him one of the most lovable characters. Another bright spot was Julia Parisi, who played mysterious Matron Mama Morton. Her vocals in “When You’re Good to Mama” were so amazing it was almost a crime itself.

The use of the manual spotlights made the production special. There was so much going on during scenes, it helped focus on what was important. There was little color change in the lighting, but with what there was it was helpful for setting the scenes. Although there were some mic problems, the cast easily recovered and continued performing with little issue.

Were they found guilty? You’ll find out with the help of Archmere Academy’s criminally talented cast.

Love’s Labor’s Lost – Friends’ Central School

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Love’s Labor’s Lost by Friends’ Central School in Wynnewood, PA

February 25, 2020

Review submitted by Aurelle Odhner of Academy of the New Church

“I’m pickin’ up good vibrations…” coming from Friends’ Central School, where Shakespeare met the Beach Boys in a vibrant reimagining of the classic comedy Love’s Labour’s Lost.

Shakespeare’s witty, wordy drama was given new life in this creative revival. Friends’ Central School maintained the familiar storyline, which follows the King of Navarre and his three companions, who make a pact to seclude themselves in study and stay away from women for three years. They face challenges, however, when the princess of France and her three ladies pay them a visit. The absurdity that ensues includes hilarity, heartbreak, and a healthy, Shakespearean dose of haphazard plans gone awry. This production’s unique sixties setting and modern musical interludes added layers of youthfulness, relevance, and new meaning to the Bard’s timeless work.

Friend’s Central School took on a challenging script with an unexpected twist and made it their own. The costumes, lighting, special effects, music, and especially the cast’s energy all worked together to immerse the audience in a sandy, carefree world. The performers demonstrated immense versatility by shifting freely between displaying their acting, voices, and instrumental skills. The cast also showed a thorough understanding of their iambic dialogue, and delivered lines with exceptional confidence and natural ease.

The highly capable cast was led by a number of standout actors. Ian Duane seemed born to play Berowne, perfectly marrying his confident, relaxed movements and sixties swagger with sixteenth century turn of phrase. Alexa Connors played the princess with immaculate poise. Her sharp wit and haughty glance gave her a stage presence like no other. Emma Gordon’s sweet smile and coquettish confidence drew the attention of the audience and suitors alike in her role as Rosaline.

The cast’s energy and camaraderie lent Shakespeare’s eloquent script all the joyful spontaneity of a beach party. The trio of Lostettes filled the auditorium with their lilting voices and spot-on harmonies. Actors like Benny Flora set the mood with his surfer-dude delivery of Elizabethean prose, sending the audience into peals of laughter over his performance of Costard. Julia Dani was also a highlight with her fearless attitude and dramatic reactions.

The confusion of so many star-crossed lovers was made clear by Sophia Haggray’s costumes. Her meticulous color coordination, bright bikinis, and sheer volume of garments kept the cast well-dressed at all times and contributed significantly to the storytelling. The orchestra, too, did its share of expression, thanks largely to the efforts of Evan Sweitzer who arranged and coordinated the student performed music that kept the audience dancing in their seats the whole show.

The students at Friends’ Central School deftly brought Shakespeare’s comedy into the light of the summer sun, showing us how literature’s timeless messages hold relevance for us in any era.


Review submitted by Clara Steege of Conestoga High School

Friends’ Central School’s creative take on Shakespeare’s Love’s Labor’s Lost truly transported the audience… to a 1960’s beach! Though the show maintained the traditional Shakespearean script, the change of setting and addition of Beach Boys songs added fresh character.

Love’s Labor’s Lost follows the King of Navarre and his lords as they swear to forsake the company of women in favor of academic study. However, the arrival of the Princess of France jeopardizes the men’s plan when they find themselves enamored with the Princess’s ladies. Through the course of mix-ups and deceit, the lords must find a way to deal with their love.

The performance excelled at maintaining the core of Shakespeare’s work with many inventive embellishments. While costumes and props embodied the 60’s, the acting made the characters accessible to any era.

All of the performers excelled at connecting with the audience, which allowed them to communicate the story even when the Shakespearean language was difficult to understand. As Berowne, Ian Duane’s facial expressions and comedic timing made the audience roar with laughter. He interacted well with Thad Bashaw, Will Bozman, and Casper Hoffmann, the other men of Navarre, whose joking comradery provided much of the humor. The Princess of France and her ladies embodied a similar dynamic; their clever trickery was a highlight of the show. In particular, Alexa Connors carried herself and spoke in a manner that conveyed the poise and wit of her character, the Princess.

Julia Dani, playing the ladies’ chaperone Boyet, also communicated the personality of her role. Through sarcastic tones and snarky facial expressions, she demonstrated an entertaining attitude. Benny Flora gave a hilarious performance as a muddled surfer dude, Costard. He maintained his character through every scene, even ad-libbing as he exited through the aisles.

The technical elements played a crucial role in establishing the setting. The set and lighting instantly transformed the stage into a beach. From palm trees to sandcastles, the attention to detail provided a rich backdrop and colorful lights created a playful mood. An array of lively costumes and props, including bathing suits for beach scenes, embodied 60’s vitality. Still, the addition of Beach Boys music, directed by Evan Sweitzer and performed by the Beach Band, took the show to another level. The songs corresponded well to the events in the script and added an element of fun.

Friends’ Central School’s imaginative retelling of Shakespeare’s classic work was a big success. The actors and crew collaborated to put on a vivacious, energized performance.

Sense and Sensibility – Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy

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Sense and Sensibility by Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy in Bryn Mawr, PA

February 4, 2020

Review submitted by Hope Odhner of Academy of the New Church

Witty and charming, Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility was brought to life by the dedicated cast and crew at Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy.

Austen’s beloved story was adapted into a play by Emma Whipday and Brian McMahon, and first premiered in September 2017 at the American Shakespeare Center in Stauton, VA. The plot centers around two sisters, Elinor and Marianne, whose opposite natures are confronted with very similar romantic troubles. Practically turned out of their home by their own brother after the death of their father, the girls and their mother find themselves settled in a quaint cottage where they run into more than one charming young man with unclear intentions. Austen’s clever dialogue and lovable characters tell the rest.

The vision for the play was the work of high school senior Rivkah Wyner who directed and produced this student-run show. Her passion and attention to detail were evident and contagious as she oversaw the dramatic aspects as well as the technical elements. The cast showed dedication and spirit as they grappled with complex lines and character development.

Niva Cohen and Maya Patent, as Elinor and Marianne, captured the contradictory relationship of sisters who often disagree, yet remain the closest of friends. The cycle of disputes and forgiveness flowed smoothly, and the girls took naturally to Austen’s lavish language and cutting remarks. Cohen’s honesty and earnest sincerity provided a solid opposition to Patent’s spirited opinions and high emotion.

The sisters’ mother, Mrs. Dashwood, played by Daniella Barow, maintained a gentle balance between sense and sensibility. Her light voice and kind manners lent themselves well to her role as the mother of two decidedly different daughters. The various love interests all proved to be charming, each in their own way, most notably Eli Beaubian as John Willoughby. His charismatic grace and confident, easy humor made him almost too good to be true, while the lovable awkwardness of Edward Ferrars, played by Jacob Spivack, eventually blossomed into sweet amiability.

Besides Rivkah Wyner and her dedicated efforts in directing, producing, props, and publicity, there was a host of other students who contributed to the show’s success. Sophia Decherney served as stage manager, working with Wyner on the simple, yet effective lighting design which was executed by Charlie Mansheim.

A classic story of polar opposites and unexpected romance, Jane Austen’s work continues to resonate with audiences today. Thanks to the hardworking students at Jack M. Barrack Academy, the characters of Sense and Sensibility have been lifted from the page and put onstage to speak to us once more.


Review submitted by Nola Dowd of PA Leadership Charter School: Center for Performing and Fine Arts

Romance, family, and the confinements of social class is abundant in Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy’s production of Sense and Sensibility.

Jane Austen’s iconic story deals with themes of love and dependency. The plot surrounds the Dashwoods, a family that has recently been thrust into poverty after the death of their father. The eldest sister Elinor, who represents common sense, falls for sweet Mr. Edward Ferrars but struggles throughout the play to voice her feelings. Her younger sister Marianne, who represents emotionality, quickly falls for the handsome Mr. Willoughby who turns out to be less than perfect. Through the play, the sisters deal with betrayal, heartbreak, new love, and most of all their bond with each other.

The cast of Sense and Sensibility took on a courageous project. Dealing with the complicated literary work of Jane Austen is no easy feat. Though the team should be congratulated on many aspects, the language throughout was most noticeable. The challenging and chunky dialect was spoken eloquently by all, the cast seemed well-versed in the meanings and implications of the language. The clear understanding translated to the audience and provided illumination in an area where many productions lack.

Elinor, played by Niva Cohen, and Marianne, played by Maya Patent, carried themselves with grace and poise. Their demeanors were very much reflective of the regency period.  The connection between the two sisters was evident especially through the second act, where both girls were able to be vulnerable with each other. This was showcased in Marianne’s heartbreaking discovery of Willoughby’s intentions to marry another.

The cast, although small, showcased the wide range of characters. Quite notably within the male cast, Eli Beaubian, who played Willoughby, participated in a striking scene towards the end of Act Two. The depth of his character shone through, his charisma and nasty behavior in a constant battle for the audience’s attention.

With a limited amount of space, furnishings were utilized to create different spaces. The lighting and sound gave general illusions of the interior and exterior locations with warmer tones inside and cooler for scenes taking place outside. The hair and make-up complemented each character. Though simple, it was quite effective and a lovely note to the period given. Smart and creative choices were made by director Rivkah Wyner, using character moments such as letter reading, to approach a deeper philosophical meaning.

Classic and elegant, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy’s production of Sense and Sensibility conjures a world of love, wit, and sophistication.