The Little Mermaid – The Academy of the New Church

The Little Mermaid by the Academy of the New Church in Bryn Athyn, PA

April 27, 2022

Review submitted by Audrey McCollum of Upper Merion Area High School

I can say with “Positoovity” that the Academy of the New Church’s production of The Little Mermaid was truly “Beyond My Wildest Dreams!”

The show follows Ariel, a mermaid princess who rebels against her father’s hateful view of humans and dreams to leave the ocean. When she eventually saves the man of her dreams from drowning, she decides she must make her way to land, even if that means making a deal with the abhorred sea witch, Ursula. Unfortunately, the deal takes away her beautiful voice, and she falls head-over-fins into trouble. But, even in the direst of times, her devotion to her prince carries her on in this tale of forbidden love.

Captivating the audience with her angelic voice during “Part of Your World” was Anya Durand as Ariel. Perfecting Ariel’s childlike infatuation with the human world, Durand’s portrayal of the yearning, ambitious mermaid had the entire audience just as entranced by her as Prince Eric was. Alongside Ariel was Evan Buss, who portrayed Prince Eric. With Buss’s gentle demeanor and a strong performance during “Her Voice,” it was easy for the audience to understand why Ariel gave up her voice for the man.

The Little Mermaid wouldn’t have been complete with Ariel’s anxious and neurotic companion Sebastian, played by Christopher Fox. Fox’s accented and unique voice shined in “Kiss the Girl,” and he was consistently hilarious in his attempts to not become the next meal prepared by the eccentric Chef Louis (Ainsley Odhner). Terrifying not only Ariel but everyone watching was Maggie Stine as Ursula, who ensured that her every word, whether it was lamenting her life story or performing “Poor Unfortunate Souls,” was dripping with malice. Ursula wouldn’t have been complete without her companions, Flotsam (Ainsley Odhner) and Jetsam (Meg Matsukawa), who were entrancing during numbers such as “Sweet Child.”

The ensemble was always ready to jump into action, dancing along to an oceanic rhythm in “Under the Sea” and following quick comedic timing in “Les Poissons (Reprise).”

Constructing the “Fathoms Below” was the talented ANC Stagecraft, who made the production beautiful to watch. However, the pretty sets wouldn’t have been complete without ANC Costuming Class’s stunning costumes. Ursula’s tentacles and Flounder’s shimmering fins ensured that the show was impossible to look away from.

“If Only” I could see Academy of the New Church’s Little Mermaid again and again!

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Review submitted by Evelyn Walker of Conestoga High School

Academy of the New Church made a splash with their first musical since 2018, The Little Mermaid. Impressive technical elements, character voices, and fast-moving dialogue brought new life to the classic show.

The Little Mermaid premiered on Broadway in 2008 and is closely based on Disney’s 1989 film of the same name. It tells the story of a young mermaid, Ariel, who is fascinated by the human world. When she trades her voice to a sea witch for legs in the hopes of wooing a human prince, Ariel discovers not only a new world but the power of home and family. 

The students displayed proficiency in character building along with set and costume production. Many scenes involved a flying system through which cast members were suspended above the stage. This system added to the performance and allowed the students to display their acrobatic abilities. Overall, the show was impressive in both technology and performance. 

Anya Durand shone as Ariel, having perfected the character’s voice and giving the audience a sense of nostalgia. Her vocal control was impressive, especially during the classic song “Part of Your World”, during which she swam above the stage on the flying system while belting, a feat which requires both core strength and incredible breath control. Durand was also a strong physical actor, especially when her character was trying to walk on human legs for the first time. Durand worked across from Evan Buss, who received the phone call that he would be playing Prince Eric just days before the show opened after the original actor could no longer go on. Not only did Buss have his lines and blocking fully memorized, but he also performed with emotion and a strong voice. 

Tara Pitcairn, who played Scuttle the seagull, flew onstage at the beginning of the show and had impressive physical acting throughout. She displayed strong dancing ability during the upbeat tap number “Positoovity” and kept the audience laughing. Christopher Fox’s Sebastian was consistently high-energy and fun to watch. Fox had a beautiful voice, which especially shone during “Kiss the Girl”. Working alongside Ainsley Odhner’s Chef Louis, Fox performed a hysterical chase scene following the raucous number “Les Poissons”. 

The technical elements were especially difficult for this show, with the flying system, a motorized boat, and even an explosion onstage. The crew handled all these elements well and carried out difficult scene changes with ease.

The cast of The Little Mermaid at the Academy of the New Church made audiences “part of their world” and brought them on an exciting adventure both on land and under the sea. 

Lost Girl – Abington Friends School

Lost Girl by Abington Friends School in Jenkintown, PA

April 27, 2022

Review submitted by Claire Meachen of Phoenixville Area High School

What happens after Neverland? When pixie dust and Peter Pan are no more?

Abington Friends School’s production of Lost Girl tells the story of Wendy years after her return from Neverland. She struggles with growing up and moving on as she consults people in her life who try to discover what happened to her, what is going on with her now, and how she is supposed to move forward. Suddenly, the classic tale of Peter Pan becomes a tale of young adulthood and finding one’s way.

The production overall was extremely well-timed. The entire cast and crew shared clear communication amongst them all as they seamlessly worked from scene to scene, exhibiting both Wendy’s own thoughts and characters of their own.

Nora Monahan (Wendy) carried the weight of the show, never stepping offstage for a moment. Her completely realistic moments of tragedy or impartiality further explored every nuance of the show. Monahan’s easy swinging between child-like and grown-up behavior also made the transition of her character increasingly relatable to the show’s target audience.

Isaiah Kirkland (Slightly) proved to be a force to be reckoned with on stage. His effortless and natural delivery of his lines conveyed intimacy and hidden feelings, feelings that the audience would not know Slightly had without Kirkland’s small quips, fidgets, or glances. Morgan Wilkins (Therapist) was also able to embody a complete understanding of her character. She exhibited emotional maturity not usually seen in high school theatre, but most definitely welcomed.

From the plethora of toys lining the stage, to the letters falling from the ceiling, Julia Rubin (Stage Manager), Olivia Blumenthal (Assistant Stage Manager), and Lucy Yingliang Duan (Props Manager) added a layer of complexity to the show that certainly did not go unnoticed. The amount of detail put into each prop was very clear and enhanced the show to a high degree.

Abington Friends School’s Lost Girl takes the audience on a journey of growing up with superb intimacy and consequential captivation.

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Review submitted by Kyra Keenan of Upper Merion Area High School

Have you heard about the girl? Some say Wendy Darling has gone mad, but in actuality, she’s lost something back in Neverland. Abington Friends School’s production of Lost Girl takes a beloved story and digs into the contemporary heartbreak it caused.

Wendy gives herself eight minutes to think about Peter Pan each day. Some memories she keeps, some she discards, and others she can’t seem to part with. She leaves the window open in the hopemof Peter’s return, leaving her with an unshakable sore throat and a persistent sadness. Wendy realizes that Peter has something of hers: a kiss. For Wendy to finally move out of the nursery and grow up, she knows she needs her kiss back. Wendy embarks on a harrowing emotional journey in Kimberly Belflower’s Lost Girl.

Abington Friends School’s magical performance highlights both the magic and the destitute aspects of Neverland. The entire cast displayed entrancing, indicative body language and engaged dialogue. Student-composed music by Katie Brady-Gold and Clay Lewis enhanced every scene with specific musical motifs for each character.

Wendy Darling, the lost girl herself, was excellently portrayed by Nora Monahan. Remaining onstage throughout the entirety of the show, Monahan admirably portrayed the grief that comes with growing up. She had excellent chemistry with the Lost Boys, fulfilling her motherly promises to care for them. Monahan’s emotional evolution was realistic and deep.

The Lost Boys (Oliver Peterson, Isaiah Kirkland, Nelson Cordon, and Sadie Mills) depicted the fun-loving and upbeat energy of young children. The ensemble played around with each other like true brothers. Specifically, Isaiah Kirkland (Slightly) was both comedic and emotional in his interactions with Wendy, making for a believable budding romance. Also notable was the therapist (Morgan Wilkins) whose optimistic energy was heart-winning.

The AFS Tech Crew added to the magic of the show, as it was well-equipped with special effects. Through sparkling falling snow or mysterious falling letters, the entire atmosphere filled with Abington’s performance. Stage Manager Julia Rubin kept the show running smoothly, perfectly orchestrating scene changes and managing a nursery’s worth of props.

Between grief and personal growth, Abington Friends School’s production of Lost Girl leaves the audience anything but lost. 

The Lightning Thief – Upper Darby High School

photo by Ryan Stone

The Lightning Thief by Upper Darby High School in Drexel Hill, PA

April 12, 2022

Review submitted by Anya Durand of Academy of the New Church

In a world in which fiction becomes reality and imminent death and failure are approaching, a young boy is thrown into a world in which he is ignorant and afraid. Upper Darby High School’s performance of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical sheds a unique light on the childhood favorite.

The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, based on the book by Rick Riordan, originated its run off-Broadway for limited performances. It has since been most notably touring nationally in the United States and is set to return for another return post the quarantine of the COVID-19 virus that ended its last showing.

The story follows young Percy Jackson, played by Phoenyx Hawkins in Upper Darby’s production, the half-blood son of Poseidon who is thrown into the world of gods and monsters after being attacked on a school field trip. He is then forced into a quest in which he must prove his innocence in the debate over Zeus’s missing thunderbolt to stop a war between the gods. Hawkins was challenged with an unforgiving script and a complete lack of blackouts throughout the show, yet managed to carry almost the entire show’s energy. They were on stage nearly the entire show and not once broke character or faltered in keeping the audience interested. Their tone and breath support during both their mix and falsetto were clean, well thought out, and nothing short of masterful.

Notable among Percy’s leading performances was that of Kenneth Bruce as Luke and Alana Gangadeen as Annabeth. Bruce’s technical execution of his stunningly rich vocals and well-thought-out mannerisms were a thrill to watch, and Gangadeen’s clear and supported mix had both smoothness and fierceness necessary to pull off the character. In addition, Clarisse’s (Sara McGrenra) poignant and powerful mix and belt and Mr. D’s (Jeremiah Ortiz) hilarious portrayal of a sour middle-aged man who desperately needs a drink were shining gems within a chorus that lacked energy and enthusiasm for most of the show.

The orchestration backed up a chorus with standout performances from featured dancers and ensembles, such as Emma Gonsalves or the D.O.A. ensemble.

The technical aspects of the show included a creative and well-executed series of lighting cues as well as an efficient stage crew whose only faltering was through moving loud sets that challenged the actors on stage.

Upper Darby High School’s performance of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical was a unique and memorable performance of a childhood favorite, and served as a humorous work of childhood nostalgia.

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Review submitted by Aiden Kaliner of Harriton High School

Translating a childhood fantasy to the stage is no easy feat, yet, Upper Darby High School’s production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical did the unthinkable: they brought the Greek gods to real life!

Based on the best-selling novel by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical tells the tale of an outcast, fatherless, teenager, Percy Jackson, who wants nothing more than to be understood. When his substitute teacher turns into a raging Fury, a demon from the Underworld, Percy’s life turns upside down as he learns about his true identity–he is a half-blood. After arriving at Camp Half-Blood, Percy and his newfound friends, Annabeth and Grover, set off on a quest to retrieve Zeus’ missing lightning bolt while coming into his own.

Upper Darby High School’s production of The Lightning Thief was impressive because of the talented leading and supporting characters. Although the ensemble dipped in energy at times, the leading actors consistently delivered enthusiasm and captivating performances.

Phoenyx Hawkins, who played the iconic Percy Jackson, stole the show with their melodic vocals and childhood charm. Their portrayal of Percy was genuine and nuanced, filled with humor and snark when needed. Their comedic timing and dedication to the role was evident and admirable.

The rest of the supporting cast was as entertaining and talented as well. Kenneth Bruce (Luke) quickly became a crowd favorite with his jaded persona, refined tapping skills, and soaring vocals. Bruce’s stage presence was undeniable as he captivated the audience’s attention throughout the production. Meanwhile, Alana Gangadeen (Annabeth) was a stand-out vocalist. Her incredible vocal technique and thoughtful performance in “My Grand Plan” was a memorable and show-stopping moment in Act II. Other performers, including Josh Atkinson (Mr. Brunner/Chiron), Sara McGrenra (Clarisse), and Jeremiah Ortiz (Mr. D/Dionysus) displayed phenomenal talent in dance, vocals, and comedy, respectively. 

The technical aspects of the show, supported by the prepared stage management duo, Briona Kelly and Evelynn Deus, was nothing short of amazing. Most notably, the lighting design, by John Troy, helped to dramatize moments and convey the varying atmospheres and places the story takes place in. Whether it be the disco-land of the Underworld or the fauna of the woods, Troy’s thoughtful designs were effective and visually appealing.

Upper Darby High School’s production of The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical showcased many talented and electrifying performances and made audiences want to scream “Bring on the Monsters!”

Big Fish – Upper Merion Area High School

Photo by Cecilia Lee

Big Fish by Upper Merion Area High School in King of Prussia, PA

April 6, 2022

Review submitted by Gabriela Puntel of Abington Friends School

As the lights dimmed and the curtains were lifted, Upper Merion Area High School transported everyone into the world of Big Fish with emotion, skill, and dedication all around.

Published in 2013, this musical interpretation of the novel Big Fish tells the story of rediscovering faith in fatherhood, as Edward’s son, Will, challenges himself and the audience around him to distinguish fantasy from reality in his father’s tall tales.

Despite this being such a difficult production to pull off, The Underground Players of Upper Merion did an outstanding job navigating this show with infectious energy and immense dedication. Actors embraced their roles and beautifully delivered touching songs in ways that truly tugged at the heartstrings of the audience, and left them craving more. Elaborate flashback scenes were executed with ease, as they rivetingly revealed more and more about the characters and their life stories.

Edward Bloom (Daniel Isajiw) is a complex character with buckets of stories to tell. The only problem is not being able to know the truth from fiction. Isajiw masterfully embodied his character and impressively portrayed Edward in three different stages in his life with skillful acting and a burning passion. Older Sandra (Colette Egan) is the wife of Edward, and Egan did a fantastic job capturing the essence of her character and bringing everyone to tears with her beautiful rendition of “I Don’t Need a Roof”.

With countless stories to tell, a wide variety of memorable characters were needed to make this show complete. The cast did an outstanding job of exploring their roles, keeping the energy high throughout the production, and even providing comedic relief in the midst of intense storylines. An honorable mention includes Karl (Anthony Boyle), a tall giant and best friend of Edward. Boyle perfected his delivery of hilarious comments which caused the audience to explode in a roar of laughter every time. While at times the ensemble had inconsistency in facial expressions, their impressive range of well-executed harmonies made up for this observation.

A simple yet multi-purposeful set allowed for a myriad of unique scenes, and this set was strongly enhanced by its use of props. This was especially apparent during the song “Daffodils” where a total of 3,191 daffodil props were created to illustrate the beauty and magic of the moment between Edward and Sandra. Lighting was effectively utilized to show a clear contrast in flashbacks as well as help bring focus to characters and moments in scenes. This was particularly seen in “Time Stops” where the lighting was channeled to capture the beauty of the moment.

With enthusiasm, emotion, and talented acting, Upper Merion Area High School exceeded expectations with their production of Big Fish.

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Review submitted by Sarah Gorenstein of Friends Select School

Emotion rippled through the sea of audience members at Upper Merion Area High School’s production of Big Fish.  The company phenomenally captured both the fantasy of the musical and the passion of the touching story.

Written by John August with music by Andrew Lippa, the musical is based on the novel by Daniel Wallace. Set in Alabama, the story shifts between two timelines. One in the present-day real world, where father, Edward Bloom, is faced with mortality while his son, Will Bloom, prepares to become a father himself. In the storybook past, the audience follows Edward’s life as he encounters various fantastical beings, including his wife, Sandra. As time ticks by, Will tries to decipher the truth behind all his father’s eccentric stories.

The cast of Upper Merion’s production transported the audience straight into the storybook. The ensemble played a critical role in bringing this whimsical world to life. Fortunately, the performers were ready to give it their all, elevating large group numbers to lively heights, with energy and emotion until the final bow. The whole cast was comprised of strong vocalists  whose mixes filled the stage with vitality. Upper Merion excellently captured the drama of the compelling show with numbers like “Stranger” and “Daffodils”.

Daniel Isajiw flawlessly embodied Edward Bloom as he led the show with considerable talent. His performance, anchored in brilliant acting and strong vocals, captivated the audience. He effortlessly switched between Edward’s timelines and displayed the skill that went into bringing his character to life. Isajiw had remarkable chemistry with Michael Harding as Will Bloom. Their father-son relationship was lovable and genuine. From his heartfelt vocals to his technical execution, Harding provided an emotional core to the show. In addition to the Blooms, Colette Egan’s excellent vocals as older Sandra shone through in the song “I Don’t Need a Roof”. The audience was engrossed in the Bloom family’s heartwarming chemistry.

Further adding to the exceptional cast were beloved storybook characters like the Witch (Aileen Lutz). Her enchanting number “I Know What You Want” was brought to life with her dazzling vocals. As well as, the amiable giant, Karl (Anthony Boyle), captured lots of laughs from the audience through his humorous delivery. His heartfelt friendship with Edward was a notable aspect of the production.

The Upper Merion Stage Crew admirably executed the transitions between scenes, not a cue was missed. Most salient were the colorful lighting choices that animated the festive group numbers. The set for Big Fish was magical and intriguing, luring the audience into their wondrous world.

The cast members of Upper Merion’s Big Fish were truly the heroes of their story.