Rhinoceros – Phoenixville Area High School

Rhinoceros by Phoenixville Area High School in Phoenixville, PA

December 14, 2021


Review submitted by Aiden Kaliner of Harriton High School

Phoenixville Area High School displayed a world where rhinoceroses roam the streets of … Paris, France? The PAHS Theatre Guild’s outlandish production of Rhinoceros serves as a warning of fascist ideals in modern-day times.

Eugene Ionesco’s Rhinoceros, written in 1959, is categorized as “Theatre of the Absurd,” exhibiting that nothing in the playwright’s world makes any sense. In Rhinoceros, one by one, characters begin to metamorphosize into rhinoceroses, allegorically representing the uprise of fascism, Nazism, and communism, in France during and after World War II. As the play progresses, less and less characters resist the transformation until there is one left — the last-standing human.

The production was brought to life by the roaring ensemble. From hilarity to tragedy, each actor imbued meaning and characterization to minute, featured roles. Notably, the firemen ensemble added a snarky, memorable moment to the play when the office workers escaped a stair-less office building (the stairs being destroyed by a rhinoceros). During the scene changes, though a bit lengthy, the ensemble of rhinoceroses meandered through aisles and interacted with audience members, making the play an immersive and enjoyable experience.

Braydn Strzelecki as Berenger exceptionally carried the weight of absurdity on his shoulders. Given the demanding nature of the role, Strzelecki’s stamina and thorough preparation was evident. Although some delivery was repetitive, his improvisational moments were hilarious. His heightened emotions effectively contrasted the rather mellow rhinoceros ensemble, allowing the audience to grasp the message of the play. Alongside Strzelecki, Claire Meachen (Daisy) skillfully added a genuine air to her role. Her physicality and dedication, even while not the main focus of the scene, drew in the audience. Most importantly, Meachen’s strong character development, as Daisy capitulates to the rhinos, commanded the last scene.

Among the supporting cast, John Cox as Jean had stand-out moments. As the first to transform into a rhinoceros in front of the audience, Cox realistically portrayed the descent into madness and established the night-marish atmosphere of the second act. Additionally, Piper Cannon (Botard) commanded the stage with their portrayal of Berenger’s cynical co-worker. Their calm demeanor and enunciation were consequential to understanding the absurd, fast-paced plot.

Notably, the lighting design by Zachary Rosenfeld, thoughtfully added to the absurdity. Through the use of red and green lights, the mood effectively shifted from normalcy to lunacy. Considering the complicated scene changes, the PAHS Stage Crew effectively transformed the enormous set each time.

Phoenixville Area High School’s Rhinoceros literally tackled humanity’s willingness and eagerness to conform to the antithesis of moral ideals, ignorance, and the audience’s perceptions of the truth through Ionesco’s chilling yet insightful allegory.

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Review submitted by Pauline Hartman of Archmere Academy

When a society begins to mindlessly conform to radical ideologies, what happens? The people turn into rhinoceros of course!

When one individual refuses to submit to these ideologies, thinking with his own mind and expressing his own beliefs, what happens? The rhinoceroses consider him an enemy and look like “they want to lower their head and charge” as playwright Ionesco once wrote. Rhinoceros, the difficult and mature play performed brilliantly by Phoenixville Area High School, will have you wondering if the mindless conformity to the ideologies of the 1940s is still present today.

Written in 1959 by absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco, Rhinoceros is rooted in Ionesco’s personal experience, as he watched the world he knew be taken over by fascism, communism, and socialism. An ever-present theme in Rhinoceros, the Theatre of the Absurd movement is less concerned with the plot of a show but rather highlights the issues of the human condition. Put simply, the play follows the privileged man Berenger, and, as each of his companions turn into rhinoceroses, he is faced with the true challenge of choosing self-expression versus the mindless conformity.

With such a difficult play at hand, the leads handled the demanding acting well. Braydn Strzelecki as Berenger handled the most difficult role with ease. His comedic timing was excellent, his emotional transitions were seamless, and his improvisation skills in act two were spectacular. His love interest, Daisy, played by Claire Meachen, showcased similar skills. Meachen brought to life the complex relationship the two had with her commanding presence and her excellent emotional range.

The ensemble members were fantastic storytellers and committed to their individual roles. Specifically, John Cox as Jean and Matthew Wosczyna as Dudard had commanding stage presence in their individual scenes with Berenger. Similarly, Piper Cannon as Botard took on the role with power, bringing out the powerful thoughts the character represented to the audience. Body language was extremely important with the actors wearing masks, however, conversation still ran fluently and small microphone issues were resolved by act two.

The set paintings were alluring, a compliment to student Matt Nice, as they encapsulated the beautiful French society before being destroyed by conformity.  Scene changes were difficult, as the scenes were completely different locations and the sets were so complicated. While a little timely in length, Assistant Stage Manager Mikayla DePompeo carried out the changes well.

Not only does Rhinoceros bring thought-evoking ideas to the table, but also the impressive acting and comedic skills the actors of Phoenixville Area High School brought to life, the play generates the willpower to think for oneself and think more carefully about what you consider truth.

Newsies! – Cardinal O’Hara High School

picture by David Kelly

Newsies! by Cardinal O’Hara High School in Springfield, PA

December 8, 2021

Review submitted by Jack McCullough of Harriton High School

Stop the presses! With larger-than-life performances and a timeless plot, Cardinal O’Hara High school’s Newsies! was a surefire headline grabber!

Originally a movie made by Disney in 1992, Newsies! tells the story of the real-life newsboy strike of 1899, with a group of young “newsies” going on strike after an increase of newspaper prices threatens to destroy their livelihood. At first, Newsies! opened to a pathetic reception, and was quickly abandoned by the studio. However, in the years following its release, Newsies! gained a significant cult following on home video, mostly due to its dazzling choreography by Kenny Ortega, and infectious soundtrack written by Alan Menken. This newfound popularity culminated in it being adapted into a musical with the same plot, which ran on Broadway from 2012 to 2014.

Through the expert use of a dedicated cast, Cardinal O’Hara put on a show with a fantastic sense of scale. The production’s set, while simple, provided the canvas for a wealth of lively and colorful locations, characters, and situations. Singlehandedly, the biggest contributor to the magnitude of the show was the ensemble. Every single member, prominent or not, was engaged and came across as a real person inhabiting the musical’s world, which resulted in dazzling large group scenes and musical numbers.

Leading the cast was Jacob Babcock, whose charm and rugged personality perfectly encapsulated the character of Jack Kelly, the street-smart leader of the newsies’ strike. His performance didn’t come off as too suave or confident either, and this made his moments of genuine uncertainty or emotion all the more touching. Keira Bauer (Katherine Plumber) was unique and distinctive, her dry wit and sarcastic overtones blending perfectly with her excitement and relatability. Through her snappy delivery, she expertly sold her chemistry with costar Babcock.

Further adding to the lively backdrop of characters was Andrew McCarthy in the role of Crutchie. His characterization was magnificently heartfelt, providing an emotional core to the show, while also delivering some of the biggest laughs. Ryan Garvey as Davey brought a sharpness and power to his part, spicing up every scene, song, and exchange he was a part of. His mannerisms were deliberate and well-coordinated, forming his stage presence into a force to behold.

The technological aspects of the show were first-rate, accentuating moods and personalities through dynamic sound and lighting while remaining mostly unintrusive in their presentation. The props department of Cardinal O’Hara delivered in a big way, using creative and clever means to immerse the audience in a time period unlike our own. Paint jobs were clean, and craftsmanship was superb, shaping the stage to fit whatever the scene required.

In summation, Newsies!  at Cardinal O’Hara was a fast paced, feel-good experience that surely left everyone who saw it with a smile on their face. And that’s all the news that’s fit to print.

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Review submitted by Allison Courtenay of Upper Dublin High School

Breaking news! “Get yer pape” here at Cardinal O’Hara’s production of Disney’s Newsies!

Based on the newsboy strike of 1899, this motivational musical follows Jack Kelly and friends as they stand their ground and fight back against the tyrannical Joseph Pulitzer, owner of The World newspaper conglomerate. Originally on Broadway from 2012 to 2014 and then released to film in 2017, this energy-packed dance-heavy show leaves the audience inspired to “seize the day”!

Jacob Babcock was multi-dimensional in both voice and leadership in his role of Jack Kelly. Babcock’s broken-hearted warble in the song “Santa Fe” had the audience longing for the place where “dreams come true” right alongside Jack. Babcock’s command of the stage when leading the Newsies to take a stand in songs like “The World Will Know” was a beautiful contrast to the softness he exhibits in his friendship and brotherhood with Crutchie (Andrew McCarthy). Complementing his stage time, Keira Bauer was phenomenal in her embodiment of up-and-coming reporter Katherine Plumber. Bauer tackled the highly difficult song “Watch What Happens” with power and control in her breath and pitch.

Crutchie (Andrew McCarthy), Davey (Ryan Garvey), and Les (Brian Manning) acted as Jack’s best comrades and accomplices in organizing the strike. McCarthy kept up the pantomime limp throughout the whole show, never slipping up. Garvey had great energy in dance numbers and amazing vocals in harmonies and solos. Manning–far younger than his counterparts–rose to the occasion, always staying in the moment and selling a few hilarious lines. Kaia Grant as Medda Larkin stole the show every time she came on stage with her larger-than-life personality and her even bigger heart towards the Newsies.

The rest of the Newsies brought energy and anger to fuel this fire of change. Ensemble members successfully tackled challenging choreography and hid any imperfections or inconsistencies through character work. Although crowded, large dance numbers were eye-catching and exciting. A standout group number being “King of New York” where more than a few ensemble members seemed very proficient in tap dancing. New York accents for all cast members were done properly and transported the audience on the city streets with the newsboys. The camaraderie between the Newsies and the seamless blend of their chorale voices helped solidify the tight-knit relationship between such a large group.

The lighting, although distracting or out of the time period at times, was well focused in the sappy moment of “Something to Believe In”. The set–an elevated “rooftop”–was well detailed (with a nice touch of a clothesline) and functional with its moveable ladders. A standout piece was the rolling flat that depicted Jack’s painting of Sante Fe on one side and a political cartoon of Pulitzer’s harmful business practices on the other. A great and frequently-used prop was the newsstand with a workable bell and an abundance of precariously stacked newspapers.

“The world will know” about Cardinal O’Hara’s overall amazing production of Newsies!