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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.


Peter and the Starcatcher, Robert E. Lee High School, Springfield, Virginia, November 23, 2019

Lily Perez

Woodrow Wilson High School


For some, holding onto childhood is as elusive as catching a star. For the eponymous orphan of Robert E. Lee's magical production of "Peter and the Starcatcher," life's adventures present a chance at luxuriating in the freedom of those ephemeral years forever. An origin story for the well-known tale of Peter Pan, "Peter and the Starcatcher" premiered on Broadway in 2012, and was based on the novel of the same name. From the opening line - "When I was a boy, I wished I could fly" - to the final tableau of the dynamic ensemble raising Peter above their heads, the committed cast and crew embraced the thrill of adventure, especially when it leads you home.


"Peter and the Starcatcher" explains the unusual world which Peter Pan inhabits through the presence of starstuff, the magical material of fallen stars. At the zenith of the British colonial empire, starcatchers are tasked with keeping the powerful substance out of the wrong hands. As Molly Aster, a determined Starcatcher apprentice, Jena Canamaso exuded maturity, her strong stage presence making her appeals to be the leader of the gang of orphans she encountered in the hull of her ship all the more compelling. Among those orphans were the insatiable Ted (Wendell Rice), the persistent Prentiss (Courtney Lee), and one who would be dubbed Peter (Zach Mendenhall). Mendenhall and Canamaso had a charming dynamic throughout, and together the four kids became a family in their adventures through the cavernous hull of a ship to the dense tapestry of the jungle.


In this production, Captain Hook, Peter Pan's fierce ideological foe throughout many adaptations, is treated with a meta-theatrical twist. The pirate was presented as Black Stache (Leah Block), an epithet precursing the unfortunate incident leaving her single-handed. While Stache and her nasty gang of pirates were certainly in search of treasure, she also sought a "hero," as strong in his convictions as she was in hers, against which to fight for all eternity. Block brought clarity and confidence to every aspect of her stage time. Consistently, whether as the scheming antagonist, a narrator, or a part of the scenery, Block maintained impeccable comedic timing, a distinct swagger fit for swashbuckling, and a unique dialect seemingly formed upon the seven seas. In scenes with Maysam Al-Khakani as Stache's first mate Smee, the duo's charisma made the lifestyle of rambunctious pirates seem like a lively adventure.


The committed cast fulfilled many roles throughout the production, accentuating Marie Trammell and Amelie Mohn's creative prop design. Some costumed (by Brenna Richard, Hana Tariku, and Negest Fisseha) in orphan rags, and some in the accoutrements of British sailors, the ensemble visually constructed the surrealist settings of the show. In the first act, the actors' cohesion was evident in scenes smoothly synchronized with the orchestra, such as the series of doors being opened as Molly explored the ship. Rope windows offered glimpses into a first class cabin, where Amelie Mohn had memorable moments as Mrs. Bumbrake, Molly's flirtatious nanny. Mohn was later draped in a glittering tail while portraying Teacher, a common fish metamorphosed by starstuff into a prophetic mermaid. In another memorable turn, Ethan Gomes played one of many comedic roles as Sanchez, a pirate mistreated by Stache.


Peter finds a home for himself not with a mother or father, but in the people and landscape of the island he dubs Neverland - "all" parts of it, as his name, Pan, suggests. Likewise, the cast and crew of Robert E. Lee's production Peter and the Starcatcher committed themselves to all aspects of their performance, engaging the audience along with them.

Mia Bridges

West Springfield High School


Take the second star to the right, then fly straight on ‘till you reach Robert E. Lee High School. There you'll find R. E. Lee Drama's magical production of Peter and the Starcatcher!


Peter and the Starcatcher is a fun, whimsical play adapted from the 2004 fantasy novel, Peter and the Starcatchers, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. With a book adapted by Rick Elice, the play follows Molly Aster, a young girl whose first mission as a mystical Starcatcher is to deliver a chest full of magical fallen stars (known as starstuff) to her father. Along the way, Molly befriends three orphan boys – Ted, Prentiss, and a young, powerless Peter Pan – but is intercepted by the evil pirate Black Stache and his crew, all who want nothing more than to steal the valuable starstuff and gain its power. The play showcases the origin story of Peter Pan while also providing a valuable message of friendship, youth, and determination.


The play is led by a quartet of children – Peter (Zach Mendenhall), Molly (Jena Canamaso), Prentiss (Courtney Le), and Ted (Wendell Rice). Together, these four actors used their unique dynamics and diverse acting choices to emphasize the youth of their characters and provide a lot of fun moments for the audience. Canamaso's Molly had a mature energy, showing how much, she wanted to please her father and be a good Starcatcher. This contrasted very nicely with Mendenhall's young innocence as Peter, creating a very cute and interesting dynamic between the two. Additionally, Le's and Rice's consistent characterization gained many laughs from the audience, creating a highly enjoyable atmosphere whenever they were onstage.


Other standout performances came from Black Stache (Leah Block) and his second in command, Smee (Maysam Al-Khakani). The two actors had an incredibly lively relationship that only increased in quality as the show went on. Block's stellar physicality, combined with her on-point delivery, made her one of the funniest characters in the show – she created a hilarious villain that the audience couldn't help but love. Block also had fantastically high energy during the entire course of the show, consistently drawing the audience's eye. Al-Khakani's Smee supported Block remarkably well, playing off her to build her own silly, whimsically entertaining character. Al-Khakani created an abundance of memorable comedic moments in the play by interacting with her castmates, making her a very interesting character to watch.


The props in Lee's Peter and the Starcatcher all added to the story in extraordinarily creative ways. The expert craftsmanship of each prop helped set the scenes – a ship's rope shaped the deck of a huge boat, for instance. Actors would hold the rope in different formations and patterns to create railings, ship's cabins, and even a boxing ring. Additionally, a wooden plank was cleverly used at one point to make Molly appear to be floating, and sheets of shiny blue fabric created both the thundering waves of the ocean and the gentle ripples of a magic grotto. By working together with the actors and sound elements, the props in the show helped the audience to imagine incredible settings and backgrounds with the minimal set.


Robert E. Lee High School's performance of Peter and the Starcatcher was heartwarming and high-spirited as it brought the audience back to the wonderful story of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. The magical cast of Lee's production must be filled with starstuff!


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