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The Cappies is a writing and awards program that trains high school theatre and journalism students to be expert writers, critical thinkers, and leaders. Student critics vie to be published in local media outlets by attending productions at other schools and writing critical reviews.


Theatre and journalism students are trained as critics and attend each others shows. Cappies students discuss and learn about theatre production. Throughout the year, newspapers publish the reviews with the students' bylines. At the end of the year, Cappies student critics decide who among their peer performers and technicians should be recognized for awards at the end of the season with glamour and excitement.


Each participating school selects a show to be attended, and also forms a team of 3 to 9 student critics and 2 adult volunteers in the fall. Shows may have between 20 and 90 critics in attendance. Critic teams and mentors gather in a private discussion room to perform pre, mid, and post show discussions. The technical and performance aspects of the show are discussed with provided documentation from the host school.

After each show, with adult oversight, the mentors and program director select the best written reviews to be sent to local press outlets. All the reviews are also sent back to the performing school.

At the end of the season, a Tonys-like celebration occurs, where all nominated shows perform a cutting or the critics' choice song, and the final Cappies awards are presented with a trophy by regional critics and peers.


Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Tuscarora High School, Leesburg, Virginia, May 4, 2018

Max Jackson

James Madison High School


Perhaps the ultimate goal of a performer is to pull the audience in, to make them feel part of their world. Tuscarora High School manages this feat, with their lovely staging of The Little Mermaid.


Based on the Hans Christian Andersen story, the Little Mermaid was adapted into a Disney musical in 1989. It proved massively successful, sparking what many call the Disney Renaissance of the 90s. Following that success, it was adapted into a stage musical in 2007 by Doug Wright and Alan Menken. The show ran for over 600 performances from 2008-2009 and garnered several Tony nominations.


Tuscarora's production proves to be a solid, entertaining show. Impressive vocal performances are supported by clever choreography and incredibly vibrant costumes and set, and a magnificent ensemble elevates an incredible leading cast.


As the Little Mermaid herself, Carrie Zurliene deserves all the attention Ariel is due. Delivering classic songs with an amazing, emotionally ranged voice, her acting draws you into the whirlpool of this character. Zurliene effortlessly recreates many aspects of Jodi Benson's original movie performance, from the animated expressions to the little moments. Even just the way she says "feet" in "Part of Your World" brings forth wonderful childhood memories. Even more impressively, in the songs new to the stage musical that don't appear in the movie, Zurliene shines and gives Ariel whole new dimensions. To top it off, James Sheppard backs her up with a melodically light Prince Eric.


The many supporting characters add such fun to the show. JJ Hensley stands out as Sebastian, delivering wonderful comic assistance and Jamaican accent with unyielding exuberance and confidence. Hensley unfortunately has to be in a wheelchair for the performances, but he takes it in stride and uses this to positive effect. Natalie Ah Nee brings out a delightfully evil Ursula, followed by her devious Eel Minions Flotsam and Jetsam, respectively played by Krystena Pennix and Faith Jordan. Kelly De Angioletti and Teryn Cuozzo as Flounder and Scuttle embody their ridiculously comedic roles with charisma and charm. De Angioletti elevates Flounder's lines with detailed emotion, making even the smallest phrase tug at heartstrings, and Cuozzo flaps and guffaws around the stage with joyous braggadocio. And don't forget Luke Barbour as Chef Louis, absolutely stealing his scene and bringing his all to his animated, zany role.


The rest of the ensemble is on the same level. Every voice was smooth and ranged, and the dancing was spot on with the show's atmosphere. Ariel's sisters stand out with incredible vocal performances, easily making "She's in Love" one of the most memorable numbers in the show. Similarly, the ensemble glitters with suaveness and dedication in songs like "Kiss the Girl", blending Disney glamour with tender nuance.


The technical elements are as dynamic as the cast. Soft fabrics drape over the few set pieces to give them an aesthetically pleasing ocean-worn look. The costumes are all vibrant, brilliantly incorporating Heelys to emulate the smooth movement of swimming, a feature that gets utilized in the dances as well. The makeup is incredibly detailed, down to the scales on the Merpeople's faces, and changed and reapplied with unnoticeable ease. Perhaps most excitingly, the show pulls off several flying scenes, with Ariel ascending into the air as she swims around her kingdom under the sea.


Tuscarora's production of the Little Mermaid is fun, charming, dazzling, and at times even heartbreakingly emotional. With its solid cast and killer tech, any poor, unfortunate souls who haven't seen it are missing out on a treat.

Alex Budzynski

Bishop Ireton High School


Loveable characters, eye-popping colors, and over-the-top effects- Tuscarora High School's dazzling performance of Disney's The Little Mermaid reeled in the audience, inspiring one to become a ‘part of their world,' deep down and "Under the Sea."


The Little Mermaid first appeared as a fairy tale crafted by Hans Christian Andersen in 1837 and has been subsequently passed along by generations. Since the release of the classic 1989 animated movie produced by Walt Disney, the story has become a universally recognized title. Most recently, the musical adaptation, with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman, appeared on Broadway for a single season.


Ariel (Carrie Zurliene) commanded the stage with her mature and captivating voice, and her facial expressions and gestures articulately conveyed meaning, particularly while Ariel was unable to speak. Flounder (Kelly De Angioletti) proved to be a brilliant and fresh counterpart to Ariel, as she effectively transformed from awkward to confident while remaining hilarious. Another standout was the discomfited yet energetic Scuttle (Teryn Cuozzo) whose fancy footwork was particularly memorable in the tap dancing sequence of "Positoovity." Ariel's trusty posse would of course not be complete without Sebastian (JJ Hensley) whose superior vocals and presence on stage was consistently entertaining and astonishing. Despite being in a wheelchair, (which was brilliantly incorporated into his costume) Hensley captivated the audience as he controlled the stage in numbers such as "Under the Sea" and "Kiss the Girl."


However, none of these numbers would be complete if it wasn't for the twirling, flipping, and flashy sea creatures who remained entirely engaged and energetic while in the background. Furthermore, the Mersisters ensemble proved themselves the coolest clique on the ocean floor with every sassy movement and tight harmony, as displayed in the song "She's in Love." Finally was the incredible duo of Flotsam (Krystena Pennix) and Jetsam (Faith Jordan), for with every coordinated, snake-like movement they sent chills to the audience. In addition, their chemistry paired perfectly both vocally and physically with the luscious, deep voice and ghoulish spirit of Ursula (Natalie Ah Nee), as portrayed in "Poor Unfortunate Souls."


One cannot forget the many technical elements which submerged the audience into the deep, blue ocean. One of the most inventive methods by which this was accomplished was through the wheeled shoes, which were elegantly utilized by the cast to seemingly swim on and off stage. Also, the special fly system rigged for this show impressively allowed Ariel to be hoisted into the air and appear to be swimming in water. Finally, the elaborate but fun costumes and makeup of every color were creatively designed and used by the cast, especially the various sea creatures.


The essential theme of water versus land was evidently achieved through the lighting of this show by Taylor Vigil. Every light plot was well-thought out, planned, and set a proper tone in the appropriate scene, such as the green used for the eels. Additionally, the minimalist set pieces were very effective in establishing a location of each scene, but not distracting from the actions on stage as well as leaving plenty of space for the numerous dance routines. Equally notable was the brilliant flow of the show, largely due to the seamless scene changes which happened in mere seconds. Finally, the blend of sound obtained by Julia Spewak was extremely professional, with only some microphones becoming too loud at points.


From the land to the sea, Tuscarora High School certainly crafted a fun-filled show that left no nook of the ocean unexplored.


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