Oklahoma! – Sun Valley High School

Oklahoma! by Sun Valley High School in Aston, PA

March 23, 2022

Review submitted by Aiden Kaliner of Harriton High School

Hidden underneath the beautiful mornin’ sunshine are bubbling tensions, conflict, and secrecy. Sun Valley High School’s production of Oklahoma! encapsulated the western prairie life quite phenomenally.

Written by the Golden Age duo, Rodgers and Hammerstein, in 1943, Oklahoma! is widely regarded as one of the most significant musical theatre pieces for revolutionizing the art form itself. Set in the early twentieth century, before the Oklahoma territory became a state, the musical revolves around the story of the complicated romance between Laurey, a farm girl, and Curly, a cowboy. The plot thickens with conflict, courtship, and even perilous murder.

The cast of Sun Valley’s production transported audiences straight to the farmland. With consistent and accurate southern accents, the leading and supporting actors were a joy to watch. Furthermore, the ensemble of dancers, most notably in the “Dream Ballet,” was astonishing and utilized their strong skills to accelerate the story. The ensemble, as a whole, sang through the classic score brilliantly. Their beautiful harmonies throughout the musical were pleasant.

Seamus McGroary was utterly captivating as Curly, leading the show with poise and talent. His performance, anchored in strong vocals and brilliant acting choices, enchanted audiences, specifically with his entrance of “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’.” McGroary’s charming demeanor played beautifully off of Ella Peterson’s stubborn Laurey. McGroary and Peterson’s growing chemistry was lovable, heartwarming, and genuine.

Kerra Johnson’s incredible portrayal of Ado Annie must be commended. Her show-stopping number, “I Cain’t Say No,” set the tone perfectly for the rest of her performance. Johnson’s stage presence brought lively energy and comedic relief to the production. Alec Cianci (Jud Fry) masterfully portrayed Curly’s foil. His terrifying and jaded acting choices, enhanced by his spot-on accent, added to the building suspense. Kayden Mariorine (Will Parker) entertained audiences with his dashing charm and humorous deliveries. The hilarious duo of Maiorine and Johnson was a stand-out aspect of the production.

The Sun Valley Stage Crew efficiently moved the set after each scene. The changes were quick and barely noticeable. Additionally, the Sun Valley Lobby Team, in charge of decorating the lobby to reflect 1900s Oklahoma, set the mood perfectly before walking into the theater. Although the lighting, designed by Gavin Closs, Emily Nguyen, and Dior Sy, left some actors in the dark when using the spotlight during the first act, the designers seemed to have improved during the second act.

Sun Valley High School’s Oklahoma! had audiences humming classic tunes while displaying the timeliness of yearning for love.

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Review submitted by Anna Fattizzo of Upper Darby School District

Most people are somewhat familiar with the foot-tapping fun of Oklahoma! Sun Valley High School’s production of Oklahoma! captured both the joy of the musical itself and the joy of seeing remarkable high school theatre!

Based on the 1931 play by Lynn Riggs titled Green Grown the Lilacs, Oklahoma! was the first work of legendary musical theatre duo Rodgers and Hammerstein. The Broadway production premiered in 1943 and the musical has since seen many successful rivals. Set in 1906 before Oklahoma became a state, the plot centers around the courtship of farm girl, Laurey Williams. Laurey finds herself conflicted between the cowboy protagonist Curley McLain and the foreboding farmhand Jud Fry.

Oklahoma! is considered a classic and the students of Sun Valley High School did it justice. The cast captured the spirit of the show all while delivering strong vocals and crisp choreography. The students were equally adept at capturing both the lighthearted moments of the show in high-energy numbers such as “Oklahoma”, as well as portraying the more serious themes in contemplative numbers like “Out of my Dreams” The absolute standout from the production was the “Dream Ballet”. The dance ensemble delivered a layered performance that was both poetic and engaging to watch.

Curly is characterized as charming and devoted to Laurey, and Seamus McGroary’s take on Curly was spot on. McGroary’s voice was impressive as he skillfully crooned famous numbers like “The Surrey with the Fringe on the Top”. Additionally, McGroary was a fabulous scene partner to Ella Peterson’s Laurey. McGroary and Peterson worked very well together balancing the comical banter between the couple and the more tender and intimate moments.

The supporting cast also delivered memorable performances. Kerra Johnson’s Ado Annie delivered a show-stopping rendition of “I Cain’t Say No”.  Johnson’s voice was clear and powerful and the physicality she used during her performance made it all the more enjoyable. Ado Annie’s love interest, Will Parker, portrayed by Kayden Maiorine also delivered a highly energetic and comical performance.

Although few, the student done technical elements of the production were well executed. Microphone cues and levels were mainly on point except for a few errors in the second act. The lighting though polished, at times, could have been better used to illuminate the entire cast’s faces more clearly. The crew did remarkably well with smooth transitions of large set pieces.

Sun Valley’s take on the great Rogers and Hammerstein classic was impressive. Both lead actors and the ensemble delivered a show full of energy, dancing, and ultimately fun. Sun Valley’s truly dynamic production of Oklahoma! once again reminded me of how great it is to see live theatre!

Hamlet – Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School

Hamlet by the Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School in West Chester, PA

March 23, 2022

Review submitted by Clara Steege of Conestoga High School

To be or not to be? Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School (PALCS) sought to answer this age-old question through an inventive reimagining of Hamlet, turning out an undeniably successful result in the process. 

Out of Shakespeare’s many notable works, Hamlet may be the most well-known. Part of the reason for its success is the universality of its main character; Hamlet’s self-doubt and inner turmoil are not only significant drivers of the plot, but also allow the audience to empathize with him intimately. As all the characters navigate the challenges of Danish royal life – including death, betrayal, and madness – they also explore the nature of the human condition. 

PALCS added sophistication to the play as they interpreted how Hamlet would have played out in modern times, complete even with social media. Though certainly a lofty goal, they rose to the challenge with great skill. 

Perhaps the show’s greatest stand-out was its phenomenal acting. Nola Dowd led the cast as Hamlet, elevating every scene with her emotiveness. This ability was especially apparent when she interacted with other characters, highlighted by her snark with Polonius, harshness with Ophelia, and defiance with Claudius. These actors then played off her energy to further develop their own performances. 

In the role of Hamlet’s nefarious uncle, Trinitee Hoffman inhabited Claudius’s condescending nature with confident body language, dismissive facial expressions, and thoughtful vocal intonation. Natalie Petro, as Ophelia, was also strong throughout, but especially shone when she got to convey her character’s madness. She took her sung parts beyond a demonstration of her lovely voice by incorporating a captivating eeriness that enthralled the audience. William Bergbauer was remarkable as well, exhibiting both a depth of emotion and outstanding fencing skills as Laertes. 

Further enhancing the production were various tech elements, the most prominent of which was an impressive video wall as part of the set. This was fully utilized to display social media posts, prerecorded security camera feed, and live video from onstage. Along with perfectly synchronized lighting cues, the video wall helped set the mood in every scene. Rounding out the set, screen doors were used with lighting to show eavesdropping silhouettes, and simple bench pieces were constantly reconfigured to create a wide range of settings. Also notable was the makeup, with sophisticated details like a ghost look that included prosthetics. 

Especially considering that their show featured death so heavily, Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School imbued their performance of Hamlet with an impressive display of vitality. The creative interpretation of setting, evocative displays of emotion by the cast members, and excellent tech came together to produce a truly outstanding production. 

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Review submitted by Willa Hollinger of Abington Friends School.

When performing Shakespeare for modern-day audiences, there is often a disconnect between the language of the play and its reception by viewers. Specifically, how can the complex world of Shakespeare be made relatable to high school students? In PA Leadership Charter School’s recent production of Hamlet, the tragedy was directed with a distinct spin to attract younger viewers: Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, was a social media celebrity. Integrating familiar formats like TikTok videos, this modern take aimed to engage young viewers in Hamlet’s story as he becomes increasingly determined to avenge his father and kill his uncle.

The set of the actual play was spare, minimalistic, and effective at creating different spaces without much effort. To add to the slightly futuristic feel, a wall of monitors were mounted on the back wall, which notably portrayed the ghostly apparitions of the late King Hamlet in an almost holographic way. The screens were also used to perform several of Hamlet’s soliloquies, wherein videos of ensemble members popped up one by one on a monitor to recite a few lines each. Though creative, the decision to split up these soliloquies often took away from Hamlet’s personal, confiding thoughts.

Indeed, some of the brightest moments in the show were when leading or supporting roles got to shine on their own. Hamlet (Nola Dowd) excelled at this daunting role, seldom shying away from her character’s dark, comic, and complex spiral into madness. Hamlet’s uncle Claudius (Trinitee Hoffman) played a consistently articulate and three-dimensional rival, providing a strong contrast to Hamlet. Another bright spot was Ophelia (Natalie Petro), who profoundly captured the grief caused by Hamlet’s rash actions in an ethereal combination of singing, costuming and expressive makeup. Impressively, the final climactic fencing scene between Hamlet and Laertes (William Bergbauer) showcased student choreography by Bergbauer himself.

Though Shakespeare often requires big expressions to be fully conveyed, the full ensemble remained solidly engaged throughout the story, clearly eager to bring the tragedy to life. Aiding them in their acting during emotionally dark moments of the play, dramatic lighting and sound effects were often added to build the atmosphere. These cues were especially important for including the audience in the story, perhaps even more than the use of social media, because they encouraged the actors to break loose and emote more recklessly. In such a raw piece of tragedy as Hamlet, this willingness to be vulnerable on stage is ultimately one of the best ways for the actors to connect with their audience.

Matilda the Musical – Marple-Newtown High School

Matilda the Musical by Marple-Newtown High School in Newtown Square, PA

March 16, 2022

Review submitted by Aiden Kaliner of Harriton High School

Welcome to Matilda’s 5th Birthday Party, where Marple Newtown High School brought childhood magic and delight to the stage with Matilda the Musical!

Since its debut in 2010, Matilda the Musical, based on the well-known novel by Roald Dahl, has become a smashing success on the stage. Following the story of an immensely intelligent young girl, Matilda Wormwood, the musical charts her experience overcoming adversity at home, due to her irresponsible parents, and at school, due to her cruel headmistress. Sprinkled with a bit of magic and telekinesis, Matilda’s wit, strength, and courage propel her and her fellow students to do what’s right and be a bit rebellious.

With many of the teenage actors portraying children and the technical challenge of telekinesis, producing Matilda the Musical is no easy feat for any high school theatre company. Nonetheless, the Marple Newtown School District tackled the beloved childhood classic with ease and efficiency. With a majority of student-led technical departments, all students involved clearly invested many hours of dedication into the production.

Lucy DeFrancesco as Matilda delivered a heartwarming and touching performance. Her smooth and enchanting vocals were integral to the character’s development, and meanwhile, her genuine acting techniques made her portrayal feel childlike and adventurous. DeFrancesco’s rebellious performance provided the perfect foil to Peter Pilko’s Trunchbull. Together, the two led the enormous cast admirably.

Arianna Berryman and JJ Trainor, notable standouts among the supporting characters, as Mrs. Wormwood and Bruce, respectively, added lively energy to the production. Berryman’s astonishing stage presence as well as her strong dancing abilities shone during her performance of “Loud.” Overcoming technical difficulties with microphones, Berryman stayed consistent and dedicated to the extravagant persona. Trainor, captivating the audience throughout the course of the musical, impressed audiences with a soaring voice during “Revolting Children.” While the energy of the ensemble dipped at times, Trainor always delivered a show-stopping performance.

The sets–designed by Carly Grimm, Emma Geddes, Nyck Kuranaruk, and Michael McClean–were thoughtfully executed. Sticking with the theme of childhood and literature, the design team put careful attention into small details throughout the various platforms and bookshelves. Mia Nye, the stage manager, deserves recognition for keeping copious notes and ensuring all 92 cast members were accounted for. Additionally, Lucy DeFrancesco deserves tremendous applause for, in addition to leading the cast, her costume design.

Matilda the Musical was not only a miraculous return to live musical theatre for Marple Newtown High School but also a heartwarming and magical return to childhood fantasy.

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Review submitted by Kaitlyn Kaulback of Archmere Academy

M – a – t – i – l – d – a.  What does that spell? You guessed it! It’s Matilda the Musical, presented by Marple Newtown School District.

Inspired by a late 80’s children’s novel and premiering on the West End in 2011, Matilda the Musical follows child prodigy Matilda Wormwood as she enrolls in school when soft-natured teacher Miss Honey takes notice to her extraordinary academic abilities. Along the way, she endures her ignorant parents, strict disciplinarian Ms. Trunchbull, and her newfound power of telekinesis.

Lucy DeFrancesco’s portrayal of Matilda perfectly embodied the prodigy’s youthful, yet articulate disposition. With an extensive vocal range, DeFrancesco utilized both her lighter head voice and resonant belt in a multitude of songs such as “Naughty” and “Quiet”. As an excellent storyteller, she kept the audience engaged throughout her monologues by adding layers of emotion, building up the tension. Moreover, Arianna Berryman breathed life into the extravagant Mrs. Wormwood with excellent comic timing and physicality. Berryman’s bright, melodious vocals and vibrant energy in “Loud” showcased her incredible breath support and dance technique.

While the other characters possessed limited stage time, many supporting/featured actors took advantage of their little moments to make a lasting impact. From JJ Trainor’s (Bruce) stellar vocals in “Revolting Children” to Annastasia Cavanaugh’s (Lavender) commitment to physicality, this versatile supporting cast did not disappoint. Matilda’s Classmates, a subset to the whole ensemble, served as a dynamic and vital component that tied the whole production together. While the energy of the entire student ensemble remained somewhat dull in the first act, the cast bounced back with higher, more engaging energy for the second act.

Although Matilda’s telekinesis provides quite the technical challenge, Marple Newtown overcame these difficulties with impressive special effects, such as the coffee mug and chalk that seamlessly moved by themselves. Furthermore, the lighting, led by Tim Fitzpatrick, amplified the mood of each scene with many complicated cues spread throughout the production. Unfortunately, some sound issues arose during act one. Numerous mics frequently popped and cut out unexpectedly, missing key lines. Nevertheless, the microphone balance greatly improved in act two.

Additionally, stage manager Mia Nye demonstrated organization and diligence with detailed, color-coded script notes marking light, prop, and blocking cues. Thanks to Nye’s leadership, the stage crew ensured that all of the scene changes proceeded quickly and smoothly, displaying the team’s attentiveness.

Not only did the production showcase remarkable talent both on and off the stage, Marple Newtown’s Matilda the Musical reminds us that being a little naughty can bring out the miracle in all of us.

Beauty and the Beast – Delaware County Christian School

Beauty and the Beast by the Delaware County Christian School in Newtown Square, PA

March 16, 2022

Review submitted by Gabriel Planas-Borgstrom of Bordentown Regional High School

Stunning sets, captivating costumes, and an absolutely “enchanting” cast made Delaware County Christian School’s production of Beauty and the Beast one to watch until the last petal fell!

With a book by Linda Woolverton and music by Alan Menken, Beauty and the Beast is the stage adaptation of a classic Disney tale. It tells the story of an arrogant, cold prince who has a curse laid upon him and the servants within his castle, making him a hideous beast until he can learn to love and be loved by someone in return. As luck would have it, a headstrong village girl named Belle wanders into his castle after he imprisons her father. The two slowly form a bond, and the questions of finding true love and saving the castle’s inhabitants are answered within this heartwarming tale.

Delaware County’s show was brought to life by a strong core of leading and supporting actors, who created a backbone within the cast that elevated everyone to give their best performances. They were complemented excellently by the simple yet impressive sets, as well as the costuming which made the lively cast of household objects believable.

The commanding stage presence and smooth vocals of Emma Carrington made her the perfect fit for Belle. She charmed the audience whenever she took the stage and kept the production both moving and engaging. Alongside her was Noah Dutton as the Beast whose acting wonderfully highlighted the sensitive, human side of the larger-than-life monster.

Every great story needs an even greater villain, and as Gaston, Jeremy Mitchell delivered. His barbaric and arrogant character was only outdone by his impeccable singing, seemingly unable to miss a note all evening. Another high point within the cast was Emily Chung as Cogsworth, whose comedic timing and bold mannerisms created a refreshing, hilarious spin on the classically wound-up character.

It’s no easy feat to make a whole village or castle appear on any stage, but the ingenious multi-level set design created the perfect atmosphere for the performance. Although the balance between the orchestra and the ensemble microphones was occasionally amiss, the cast persevered and kept the overall effect alive.

A timeless animated classic such as Beauty and the Beast can be very difficult to transfer to the real world, but the extraordinary performance of Delaware County Christian School took this challenge head on and delivered a very memorable experience.

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Review submitted by Evelyn Walker of Conestoga High School

Delaware County Christian School’s cast of Beauty and the Beast made the audience their “guests” and brought them into the enchanting story with energy and creativity. The students exhibited impressive dance skills, character work, and humor that earned them a standing ovation. 

Alan Menken, Howard Ashman, and Tim Rice’s classic Broadway musical re-introduced audiences to the magic of Disney onstage following a long period of sadder shows. The show tells the story of a young French girl who “wants much more than [her] provincial life”. When young Belle finds herself the prisoner of a prince under a spell, she becomes determined to make the best of her situation and eventually finds love in the place she would least expect it. Avoiding the advances of the town heartthrob Gaston and dancing with enchanted cookware, Belle embarks on an adventure of romance, family, and magic, meeting unlikely friends along the way. 

The orchestra opened the show with Beauty and the Beast’s well-known refrain, immediately immersing the audience in its magic. From the sets to the costumes the design was impressive, and the students showed enthusiasm and hard work in every scene. 

Emma Carrington was spunky and adventurous as Belle, depicting a young girl’s struggle to fit in and eventually find a home with bright vocals and deep emotion. She worked particularly well with Noah Dutton’s Beast in “Home–Reprise”, the song in which Belle professes her love for the Beast. Her interpretation of “A Change in Me” was beautiful and filled with hope. Dutton’s take on the Beast was unique and refreshing and he collaborated comedically with the enchanted ensemble.

While Carrington and Dutton told their love story, many supporting cast members helped them on their journey, including Jeremy Mitchell as Gaston, Jazmine Scotton as Mrs. Potts, and Emily Chung as Cogsworth. Mitchell’s impressive vocals, swagger, and stage presence brought Gaston’s larger-than-life character to a new level. Scotton’s interpretation of the classic song “Beauty and the Beast” was stunning and received raucous applause. She easily riffed on the number and sang with deep emotion. Chung’s sarcastic energy as Cogsworth was unique and kept the audience on their toes. She was consistently funny and brought a special energy to the Beast’s castle. Along with these performances, the featured dancers added excitement to the show with their tightly choreographed numbers, including the Wolf Chases and the Napkins’ “Be Our Guest” dance break.

Delaware County Christian School’s stage crew created impressive sets, lighting, and costuming to fully immerse the audience in the show. The crew was efficient with scene changes and quickly responded to lighting cues. 

Delaware County Christian School’s performance of the “tale as old as time” brought fresh energy and excitement to a classic story. 

Love, Dot – The Hill School

photo by Lilian Rizek

Love, Dot by The Hill School in Pottstown, PA

March 9, 2022

Review submitted by Leah C. Garofalo of Phoenixville Area High School

A yellow brick road, wicked witches, and ruby red… Chuck Taylor’s? The Hill School’s production of the new musical Love, Dot is filled with vibrance, spirit, and a strong message: finding where you belong.

Love, Dot is a modern retelling of the classic book, film, and musical The Wizard of Oz. The show, written by Sydnee Johnson, cleverly reinvents the characters into relatable teens. The score, arranged by Christopher Robinson, features many pop songs, truly making this a story of the current generation. The Hill School’s Ellis Theatre Guild is the first to put on the production.

Overall, the show was driven by the evident energy and passion of everyone present on stage. There was not a moment when the actors seemed uninterested or as if they were not truly invested in the story. This made the story engaging and easy to follow.

The leading actress, Isabella Moranheras, fully embodied the role of Dot. Her consistently strong vocals and emotional performance sold the character. Dot is a teenager running away from home in hopes of finding a sense of belonging, a description that Moranheras made easy to read.

The supporting and ensemble cast gave the show a sense of liveliness. Meena Ali (Sandy), Meredith Marks (Tina), and Tiffany Lee (Leona) had a clear bond with each other and the leading actor. This bond was proven by their ability to work off of each other on stage and their capability to mesh their vocals together for impressive harmonies, such as the trio “Power/Fight Song.” Each actor was individually strong, but their power when together was impressive. Geordie Ravara (The Wizard) was able to fulfill her exuberant role. Her vocals, comedic timing, and stamina were exceptional. Timmy Woodward (Glen) was able to take his initially bubbly role and develop the character throughout the performance. Additionally, each ensemble (notably the Munchkins and the Monkeys) was invested and engaged with the arc of the show.

The behind-the-scenes work was vital to the show’s success. Because the show has never been done before, the stage management (Kelly Grable and Nimala Sivakumar) was excellent. Additionally, the choreography, while simple, was effective and well-done. While some vocals were difficult to hear due to loud backing tracks, overall, the sound didn’t have many errors. Furthermore, the props (Nimala Sivakumar and Kelly Grable) enhanced the show due to their detail.

Overall, The Hill School’s production of Love, Dot was a heartwarming experience. The show itself dives into currently relevant topics such as LGBTQIA+ rights, making the show relatable to many and teaching us all that there’s no place like home (where the heart is).

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Review submitted by Nel Blinman of Harriton High School

Lions and tigers and… a secret plan to gentrify the east side of Oz? Oh my! The Hill School’s premiering production of Love, Dot was a thrilling and lively new spectacle.

A modern retelling of the age-old classic, The Wizard of Oz, Love, Dot was created especially for The Hill School. It follows Dorothy (or Dot, as she prefers), a Kansas native who longs for a bigger life. As she struggles with rejection, she discovers her mother’s legacy in a faraway land called Oz. She journeys there, and forms friendships with Sandy (the scarecrow), Tina (the tin man), and Leona (the lion). Together, underscored by a jukebox selection of popular songs, they embark on a journey of sisterhood, of origin, and of justice.

The highlight of The Hill School’s Love, Dot was the versatility; they transformed their high school auditorium into a small country town, a magical and strange city, and a concert, brimming with energy and life. There was never a dull moment – how could there be, when the audience was literally dancing in the aisles?

Isabella Moranheras (Dot) was the heart of this production. She was quick-witted, nuanced, and impactful. Coupled with her silky modern vocals, Moranheras quickly earned the love of the audience. Her character’s struggles with sexuality, family, and relationships made for a true acting challenge, but she rose to meet it, and left a wake of awe and inspiration.

Daniel Schlegel (the Wicked Witch of the West) was striking, loveable, and hilarious – his performance of “Every Step You Take” was positively breathtaking. His band of flying monkeys were spectacular as well, with outstanding physicality. Geordie Ravara (the Wizard) was dazzling in her grandiose musical numbers, and Meena Ali (Sandy) stole the audience’s hearts and split their sides with her charming and relatable character.

Although this show was something of a goliath, the stage management (led by Kelly Grable and Nimala Sivakumar) and stage crew teams ran an effective and tight ship, ensuring that scene changes were seamless every time.  

Love, Dot was a miraculous, magical, and thoroughly modern journey to the land of Oz. Though there is no place like home, it was an honor to be in the Hill School theater for this fresh new piece.

Once Upon a Mattress – Archmere Academy

Once Upon a Mattress by Archmere Academy in Claymont, DE

March 9, 2022

Review submitted by Arielle Oslon of Upper Merion Area High School

There is no need to be “Shy”, praise for Archmere Academy’s production of Once Upon a Mattress should be shouted from the tent-tops!

Once Upon a Mattress, premiering off-broadway “Many Moons Ago” in 1959, transformed the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Princess and the Pea” into a hilarious musical comedy. The show follows Winnifred the Woebegone, an idiosyncratic swamp princess, and her new prince beau Dauntless the Drab. Trepidations plague the happy couple as they await a test from Dauntless’s daunting mother to determine if the unusual “Fred” is worthy of his hand in marriage. Desperate to keep her son trapped under her wing, Queen Aggravain creates an impossible challenge to nearly ensure failure: feeling a tiny pea from under twenty down mattresses.

Whether in heartfelt emotional scenes or in hilarious comedy numbers, each member of the cast brought an infectious energy to the stage no matter the circumstances. Majestic sets and sparkly costumes coupled with the talented performers brought the zany fairy tale to life.

Leading the show to greatness was the extravagant Winnifred, portrayed by Serena Martin. Her beautiful vocals in “Shy” and stellar dancing and commitment to character in “Spanish Panic” and “Song of Love” were highlights of the production. Playing Fred’s adorkable interest, Dauntless, was the charming and jovial Rob Smith. His portrayal of the head-over-heels prince was the perfect foil to the robust Winnifred.

Not only were the leads brilliant, but the star-studded supporting cast was just as masterful. Star-crossed lovers, angelic Lady Larken (Amanda Treston) and brave Sir Harry (Jake Nowaczyk) had wonderful chemistry on stage. Strong vocals and beautiful harmonies in songs like “In a Little While” were extremely heartfelt and emotional. The comic trio of The Jester (Kaitlyn Kaulback), King Sextimus (Jack Maister), and The Minstrel (Ray Bellace) did a wonderful job moving the story along, while preserving the show’s charm.

Though the tech elements of the show were few, their demand was pea-lentiful. The towering stack of twenty mattresses, beautifully crafted by the Archmere Stage Crew, was not only mighty, but also easily transportable. The story would not have been complete without the beautiful costumes. Each and every one of the handsome dresses glistened in the stage lights, and were carefully chosen to fit each character.

No amount of Queen Aggravain’s tactics could have caused the audience to sleep through Archmere Academy’s splendid production of Once Upon a Mattress.

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Review submitted by Elena Milliken of Friends Select School

A test: twenty mattresses, one desperate prince, twelve princesses down, and only one remains. Once Upon a Mattress at Archmere Academy turned the classic Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Princess and the Pea into a comedic party of a performance.

Originally opening on Broadway in 1959, the musical follows the meek Dauntless the Drab in his search for love under the controlling eye of his mother, Queen Aggravain, and his mute and lewd father, King Sextimus. Since “no one may wed, ’til Dauntless shares his wedding bed,” the desperate Sir Harry, in the shadow of a looming pregnancy, sets out on a quest to find a princess and returns with Winnifred the Woebegone. This vivacious and endearing newcomer causes quite the stir in the court.

Through palpable enthusiasm from a dedicated cast, Archmere Academy expertly captured the scale and drama of this lively show. From energized and dazzling numbers like “Shy” and “Song of Love” all the way through to the final bow, every single performer, leading or not, fully embodied their characters with energy and heart.

The standout performance of the night came from the effervescent and absolutely hysterical Serena Martin as Winnifred the Woebegone. From her show-stopping vocals to her superb comedic timing, Martin’s technical execution blended perfectly with her wit and charm to provide an emotional core to the show. Rob Smith encapsulated all of the quirky awkwardness and lovable innocence of Dauntless, not to mention his stellar singing, to create an adorable pair with Martin.

Further adding to the outstanding cast, Jack Maister, as King Sexitimus, amusingly communicated with the audience without needing his voice at all. His rambunctious and persistent physicality worked with his partners in crime on stage, the marvelous and musical Minstrel (Ray Bellace) and the remarkably funny Jester (Kaitlyn Kaulback), to add sneaky subplots that strengthened the show. The ensemble brought energy and life that served as a wonderful backdrop to the plot.

The set, expertly designed by Archmere’s Preparé Set Crew, was modular by design and moved to accommodate the plethora of locations necessary for the show. This included an impressive technical feat where tents were flown in and expanded right on stage, far beyond the standard scope of a high school production. The costumes were masterfully customized for the performance with specific details that furthered the plot, highlighting Ray Bellace’s (the Minstrel) prowess as a designer. In another multi-talented cast member playing double duty, Kaitlyn Kaulback’s marketing technique included many unique and helpful elements like customized stress balls and a painted rock advertising the show!

Archmere Academy’s Once Upon a Mattress was a lively, witty, hoot of a show that left the audience with smiles on their faces. Certainly not a sleepy soul in sight!

The Lightning Thief – Bordentown Regional High School

The Lightning Thief by Bordentown Regional High School in Bordentown, NJ

March 2, 2022

Review submitted by Aiden Kaliner of Harriton High School

Bring on the monsters because Bordentown Regional High School’s adventurous production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical and its electrifying cast delighted audiences all the way to the Underworld.

Based on the book by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief follows Percy Jackson after getting expelled from school and encountering a terrifying Fury disguised as a substitute teacher, Mrs. Dobbs. He is then sent to Camp Half-Blood, discovering he is a demigod–half-mortal and half-god–and that the Greek gods are, in fact, real. With growing animosity between the gods over Zeus’ missing lightning bolt, Percy, along with Grover and Annabeth, go on a quest to retrieve it. With a book by Joe Tracz and music and lyrics by Rob Rokicki, this mythological adaptation stays relatively true to Riordan’s novel, making it a joy to watch a childhood story come to life on stage.

Given The Lightning Thief’s ensemble-based nature, Bordentown’s cast had commendable collaborative energy throughout the scenes and musical numbers. The Oracle, portrayed by many cast members speaking and singing in unison, was a stand-out moment for the ensemble. As a whole, the cast’s enjoyable energy created a buzzing atmosphere from Camp Half-Blood to the Underworld.

Leading the cast, Gabriel Planas-Borgstrom (Percy Jackson) grounded the heroic, charming teen in realistic acting choices and skilled vocal technique. His notable stamina, given the demands of the character, impressed audience members throughout the performance. Additionally, Planas-Borgstrom’s comedic timing shone during scenes with Mitchell Reames (Grover) and Naomi Pirani (Annabeth).

Portraying two distinct characters is no easy feat, yet Jake Sfraga, playing both Luke and Ares, did so with ease. His ability to distinguish between the characters was organic and skilled. Mitchell Reames’s humorous portrayal of Grover was heartwarming, and during songs such as “The Tree on the Hill,” Reames displayed the depth of the character masterfully. Olivia McGlone as Hades brought incredible energy and originality to her featured role. Her sassy yet cunning interpretation of the God of the Underworld, exhibited through her stellar physicality, was the highlight of the production.

Technically, The Lightning Thief Pit was extremely successful at playing the pop-rock score. Although the pit overpowered some vocals at times, Makayla Coleman, in charge of sound, quickly readjusted the levels. Given a show with many technical aspects, Rachel Schiariti, the Stage Manager, thrived. Each of Schiariti’s cues was timely and efficient. The customized t-shirts denoting the cabin numbers of the campers, a creative touch by costumers Victoria Danao and Adi Omolade, added nuance to the production.

Overall, Bordentown Regional High School’s The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical was a heartwarming experience for the audience members and demigods alike!

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Review submitted by Malak Ibrahim of Upper Merion Area High School

Bordentown’s mythically marvelous performance of The Lightning Thief was well worth the “Drive”!

Based on Rick Riordan’s book of the same title, The Lightning Thief follows teenager Perseus “Percy” Jackson on a quest pulled straight from Greek mythology. With his best friend Grover and new friend Annabeth, the dynamic trio embark on a mission to find and return Zeus’ lightning bolt. The fate of the universe rests on Percy’s shoulders as a godly war starts to brew.

Between the skilled technicians, the pit’s well-balanced playing, detailed costuming, and, of course, the actors’ show-stopping performances, Bordentown brought a beloved book to life!

Gabriel Planas-Borgstrom (Percy) balanced his comedic scenes and songs while still portraying emotionally moving songs such as “Good Kid”. On stage for almost the entirety of the performance, Planas-Borgstrom’s voice did not falter, and his commitment to character paid off. Even when not the focal point of the scene, Planas-Borgstrom remained engaged in the show, elevating the performance.

Although not a lead, Mitchell Reames’s rendition of the beloved satyr Grover provided many memorable highlights. His voice and demeanor encapsulated the groovy, environmentalist feel of the 70s. While he and Planas-Borgstrom were comical together, Reames held his own throughout, notably in the somber song “The Tree on the Hill”. Likewise, Annabeth (Naomi Pirani) was able to show off her impressively high vocal range with consistency. Mr. D (Caroline Hubbard) and Gabe (Candace Farrell) added much-needed comic relief to the show, rousing laughter across the auditorium. Charon (Anna Madden) brought the house down with her energetic performance of  “D.O.A.”. Last but certainly not least, Olivia McGlone shone as Hades, reimagining a traditionally male character.

With a minimalist set, a heavy focus was placed on the other technical elements of the show. The sound team, led by Makayla Coleman, did a stellar job at managing a number of body mics and being on cue with every sound effect. Costumers Victoria Danao and Adi Omolade managed to personify every character down to the smallest detail, with their work on the Camp Half-Blood t-shirts customized to each cabin. Of course, the show would not have been possible without the beautiful accompaniment of the pit orchestra.

All in all, Bordentown managed to put on a stellar and “Strong” performance of The Lightning Thief!