Meridian High School
A heavy fog fills empty, graffitied streets, enveloping the stained walls of deep violets, greens, and blues with a feeling of impending doom.
The music starts, and in enters a purple-haired girl in leather and her evil crew.
"Welcome to my wicked world," they harmonize.
In Robinson Secondary's production of Disney's Descendants: The Musical, with the help of costumes, elaborate sets, and stellar acting that brings the spirit of the original Disney musical alive, a theater is transformed into both the vile streets of the Isle of the Lost and the juxtaposing wonderland of Auradon.
Brought to life is the story of the teenage children of villains trying to find themselves, fighting against the evil morals of their parents, and struggling to find acceptance in a sparkling society away from everything they've ever known. Based on the iconic Disney fantasy film series from 2015 directed by Kenny Ortega, the stage adaptation features a book and additional lyrics by Nick Blaemire, with music adapted by Madeline Smith and orchestrated by Matthew Tishler.
The themes of the clash between good and evil, love, and self-acceptance make the musical a heartwarming tale. The wonderful cast of Robinson Secondary perfectly embodied these themes in their performances. A highlight was Abby Camp's portrayal of Mal, the main character and daughter of Maleficent. Her punk-rock edginess and fiery personality was expressed flawlessly, and the strength of her vocals captivated the audience. In songs like "Evil Like Me," her characterization shone. Her chemistry when paired with her love interest, Judah Widzer as Prince Ben, was especially memorable. In songs like "If Only," they harmonized perfectly and portrayed their budding, uncertain relationship. Widzer's expression of naive and good-natured Ben as well as his ability to act enamored and enchanted was a highlight in the song "Did I Mention," which displayed his pristine high notes and also impressive ballet-inspired dance moves. Another actor that performed well was Chip Dinh as Carlos; his hilarious comedic timing and innocence provided comic relief and charm to the musical.
Beyond acting performances, the set and special effects crew (Chloé Cooper, Kenna Duncan, Kayley Flora, Lucy Hutchens, Ashley Jones, Jack Larmoyeux, Dot Ritter, Arthur Taylor, Aidan Moran, and Zachary Casselman) were also major contributors to the sincerity of the show. Their designs echoed the soul of the original, bringing fantasy to life. From constructing bunk beds for Auradon Prep dorms to creating on-stage arches that were engineered to spin, the set did it all. Makeup and costumes (done by Mia Amaya, Chloe Kang, Mattie Moore, Maddie Ngo, Fishchl Nguyen, Alison Pham, Theresa Robinson, Fernanda Romero, Jasmine Skralew, and Ruby Goldman) were also helpful in portraying the Disney musical and its characters with authenticity. From Maleficent's frightening make-up to the use of soft blush on Auradon Prep kids to emphasize their wholesomeness, their vision and execution were phenomenal.
The heart of Descendants was genuinely performed with immense talent and appreciation by the cast and crew of Robinson Secondary. As the musical ended, the characters sang together in unity, and the cast took their bows, the powerful message of friendship and acceptance was shared; it is likely to stay with an enthralled audience for a while.
Herndon High School
Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the baddest villain you can recall? From Captain Hook to Cruella, Mother Gothel to Maleficent, there's no shortage of wicked deeds, dastardly plots, and poisoned apples. But those are the stories of yesterday. The new generation of villains is rising- welcome to Robinson Secondary School's spellbinding production of "Disney's Descendants: The Musical."
Originally premiering in 2015 as a Disney Channel movie, Descendants transformed easily into a stage hit, with a book by Nick Blaemire and additional songs by Blaemire and Madeline Smith. It tells of the not-so-happily ever after of Disney's canon of villains, who've been exiled to the Isle of the Lost. Their teenage children, however, are given a chance to change. Invited to attend Auradon Prep, a school for the children of princes and princesses, can these villains learn to be good? More importantly, do they even want to? With plenty of charm, chuckles, and cheerleaders, Robinson showed its audience that it's never too late to rewrite your story.
The bold energy of the show pulled everything together, whether the characters were in the grit and grime of the Isle or the peppy pastel of Auradon. Every member of the ensemble had a unique personality and boundless enthusiasm. But, of course, a fairy tale is only as good as its villain- in this case, Mal (Abby Camp), daughter of Maleficent.
With a hand on her hip and spite in her heart, Camp's Mal commanded the stage as any true anti-hero should. Her sarcasm towards the kids of Auradon contrasted with her close connection to her friends, especially the charming, calculating Evie (Kate Wamboldt). And Camp's soaring voice elevated the whole production, especially in the song "If Only," where she expressed her inner distress through a rich display of vocal skill. Complementing her was the poised, well-meaning Prince Ben (Judah Widzer). Widzer's Ben transitioned easily from debonair to dopey as Mal placed him under a love spell, and he had impressively graceful dance moves in every song.
Another Auradonian who often stood out was the energetic Chad, played by Ian Toppall. Every time Toppall was in a scene, even in the background, he reacted with aplomb. His movements were over-exaggerated and his mouth often wide open, and when he got the chance to dance, he lept, snap-kicked, and somersaulted his heart out. He wasn't alone either as the whole ensemble performed impressive stunts, vaulting over heads, and dropping into the splits while holding cheerleader pom-poms.
Illuminating all of this was the lighting team (Katie Eagan, Haley Novotny, Zaya Economides). Their vivid color choices washed the stage in patterns of amethyst and ruby, and they never missed a beat as each scene and song transitioned. And adding to the details of the show was the set team (Ryan Birnbaum, Dani Donathan, Eli Weaver), with both a gilded palace for Auradon and a grungy alley for the Isle. The former was bedazzled with stained-glass windows, while the latter had bewitchingly detailed graffiti, including 'Jay was here' and 'Beware of dog.'
But as always, the clock will strike midnight and it'll be time to leave the ball. Robinson's production evoked all the magic of classic fairy tales, albeit from a different perspective- one that shows its audience that we're all the hero of our own story. And everyone, even villains, deserves a chance at happily ever after.