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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.


Best written reviews for “Once on This Island ” performed by Dominion High School in Sterling, Virginia. Reviewed on April 1, 2022.

Amanda Jacobson

Oakton High School


A constant drum beats within like a beating heart, rain pours down, four Gods cast down relentless influence from the heavens, and in the center of it all sits a small girl holding all the burden of death yet carrying the beaming potential of love. Here sat the suspenseful opening to Dominion High School's sublime production of Once on this Island.


Originally premiering on Broadway in 1990, Once on this Island is a coming-of-age love story that explores the differences between the rich and poor on an acutely divided island. A young poor girl, Ti Moune, fueled by the need to save the boy she loves, ventures high and low across her island to get to him. Along the way, Ti Moune is faced with challenges put in her way by the Gods whose influence molds the story as it unfolds. The core behind Ti Moune's voyage is the ongoing battle between Erzulie and Papa Ge who use Ti Moune to prove which force is stronger: love or death.  


Watching over the production were the magnificent team of Gods. Papa Ge (Lareina Allred), Agwe (Naomi Gorbach), Erzulie (Madhya Clinch), and Asaka (Lilly Hurtado) who hovered above each scene, watching over the story and helping the characters along their journeys. Each performer brought constant and unique characterization, even when they were just observers to the plot. The flowing arms of the ocean, the swiveling hips of the Earth, the warm, beating heart of love, and the searing stare of death all excellently blended together creating a beautifully palpable troupe of Gods.


Holding the heart of the show was Madhya Clinch, as Erzulie: the Goddess of Love. Always adorned with a kind and tender smile, Clinch brought a special spark to the performance. She not only expressed her beaming love upon Ti Moune and the villagers, but also the audience and all to see. Clinch's vocals blended harmoniously with the rest of the cast and every note she sang was as clear as Agwe's water.


The ever-changing and evolving story was skillfully assisted by the versatile set designed by Maguire Crowe, Lariena Allred, Ella Greer, and Lilly Hurtado. The crew of designers expertly crafted a simple set of platforms and trees which allowed the performers to transform each space as they needed. Each of the Gods were raised above the rest to portray their heavenly status and their platform height directly correlated to their importance to the plot. The set always suited the scenes as if it were its own character.


Aiding the scenic design in setting each scene was the zealous ensemble of dancing storytellers who filled the village. The storytellers transformed with every new setting, not only changing their costumes but also their unique and individualistic acting and dancing styles.


The intricate choreography by Gabby Hoover and Kalindi Vyas was filled to the brim with passionate Caribbean influence bringing a sense of realism to the detailed narrative. Both Hoover and Vyas radiated electricity as they elegantly pranced and danced around each scene they touched.


In a story about finding oneself in the darkness, Dominion High School's cast and crew were always able to shine a light ahead of themselves. Together, the cast and crew created a touching reminder to "why we tell the story."

Amelia Preble

Robinson Secondary School


As the house lights dim, four ethereal figures appear within the audience and make their way onstage, assuming their positions in the colorfully lit island scene. The opening notes begin, and two whirlwind hours of passion, tragedy, and love ensue. Dominion High School's "Once on This Island" swept audiences to a faraway island in an impactful and memorable journey.


"Once on This Island", written by Lynn Ahrens and Steven Flaherty, is a retelling of "The Little Mermaid" set on an island in the French Antilles. The story follows a young peasant girl, Ti Moune, who falls in love with a far wealthier "grand homme" boy and makes a dangerous deal with the gods. The compelling musical is full of beautiful songs and tells a timeless story of love and betrayal.


Throughout the show, the four gods remained constantly engaged and involved, observing and manipulating the story as powerful, omnipotent beings. Each individual brought a unique value to their character, committing to distinct character choices that aligned with their role in Ti Moune's journey. Lareina Allred played the sinister Papa Ge with terrifying confidence and precision. As the god of death's opposite, Madhya Clinch, playing Erzulie, maintained a soft and kind demeanor, approaching every scene with grace and a stunning maturity. Naomi Gorbach (Agwe) had a constant powerful presence, leading the compelling song "Rain" with rich low vocals. As Asaka, Lilly Hurtado channeled the warmth and comfort of the earth to balance out the stern nature of the other gods.


The full cast, although small, brought the spirit and unity of the tight-knit community they portrayed. As an ensemble, they consistently delivered commanding vocals and professionally executed harmonies, particularly in the key emotional song "Pray". Beyond the skill or accuracy of their performances, they each brought the life and energy needed to perform this show, telling a clear story of growth and love in their every move.


Complementing the talented and colorful cast were countless impressive technical aspects. Technicians went above and beyond with special effects to shape the raw power of the cast into true magic onstage. Multiple times, a system designed and constructed by Lareina Allred, Maguire Crowe, Ella Greer, and Lilly Hurtado made it physically rain onstage-- a captivating effect far beyond the expectations for high school theater. Based on extensive research, Maguire Crowe also designed charming and fully functional animal puppets, bringing personality and life to the island environment. A more subtle success was achieved by the sound designer Maggie Kraehenbuehl, who managed to perfectly balance the actors and the orchestra without a single mistake, a rare feat and a sign of true skill. 


Dominion High School's "Once on This Island" was unified by the devotion and affection of a close-knit group. Every actor and technician worked together to build a beautiful celebration of community, proving once and for all "why we tell the story."


Best written reviews for “Something Rotten!” performed by West Springfield High School in Springfield, Virginia. Reviewed on May 5, 2023.

Best written reviews for “Something Rotten!” performed by West Springfield High School in Springfield, Virginia. Reviewed on May 5, 2023.

West Springfield High School in Springfield, Virginia, presented “Something Rotten!“ to the Cappie...

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Best written reviews for “Sister Act” performed by Alexandria City High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Reviewed on April 28, 2023.

Best written reviews for “Sister Act” performed by Alexandria City High School in Alexandria, Virginia. Reviewed on April 28, 2023.

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Best written reviews for “Bright Star” performed by South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia. Reviewed on May 6, 2023.

Best written reviews for “Bright Star” performed by South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia. Reviewed on May 6, 2023.

South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia, presented “Bright Star” to the Cappies Critics on May...

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Best written reviews for “Dracula” performed by Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. Reviewed on April 29, 2023.

Best written reviews for “Dracula” performed by Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. Reviewed on April 29, 2023.

Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia, presented “Dracula” to the Cappies Critics on A...

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