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Best written reviews for “Claudio Quest” performed by McLean High School in McLean, Virginia. Reviewed on February 11, 2023.

Hannah Frieden

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


Classic arcades, once beloved for their excitement and simplicity, are becoming a thing of the past. At least until a new spin on a nostalgic game comes to save the day. Save your tokens and jump into the pixelated, over-animated world of McLean High School's Production of "Claudio Quest."


Claudio Quest puts a musical spin on the classic 1985 Super Mario Bros arcade game, following Claudio as he adventures to save the kidnapped Princess Poinsettia, accompanied by "Player Number 2" Luis and the quirky Princess Fish. Along the way, their motley crew morphs into a multiplayer machine, as the characters quickly learn there is more than one way to beat the game.  After its award-winning premiere at the New York Musical Theater Festival in 2015, the show remained largely unproduced, until McLean's groundbreaking production gave "Claudio Quest" a brilliant high school debut.


The cast and crew of McLean's production gave no shortage of energy and commitment to the wild, whimsical environment of Claudio Quest's pixelated video game world. Ensemble members acted as puppeteers for a variety of 8-bit obstacles the main cast faced, with everything from a rippling river to a spikey-helmeted mushroom embodied with focused and enthusiastic detail.


As Luis, Nathan Bass took a quite literally two-dimensional character and created an engaging, nuanced performance.  Bass's emotional vulnerability and dynamic vocals were well-matched by Miranda Simpson's bubbly Princess Fish. Simpson's bouncy movements and animated personality as she cartwheeled onstage or kicked her way through the game contrasted beautifully with Bass's thoughtful groundedness as the taller actor bent to speak directly to Fish in more dramatic scenes. But as they faced the final levels of the game ahead, the two found moments of emotional authenticity that drew complex emotional parallels between their characters.


Actor Audrey Link's operatic singing and softer voice perfectly represented the more "proper" Princess Poinsettia and blended well with Simpson's bolder tone. In their duet, "There's More Than One Way to Be a Princess," they used both mannerisms and vocals in a juxtaposition that highlighted their complicated sister relationship. Not to be outdone was Idil Erdoğan as Bruiser, the fire-breathing, show-stealing purple platypus. Erdogan embodied Bruiser with aggressive, exaggerated movements and a powerful voice, but switched to a lighter persona as the character spoke of a crush on Poinsettia, giving Bruiser a more dynamic emotional journey than the "antagonist" was often afforded. During the number "Platypus Heart," Erdogan's clear belting combined with a softer gruffness and fluid movements into a delightful number that showcased the actor's impressive voice as well as Bruiser's tongue-in-cheek style.


McLean's hair and makeup team, led by Emery Graninger, Addie Harris, Maia Le, and Valentina Sedan, created a unique look for each individual character, utilizing the intimate setting to showcase their impressive attention to detail. From the Eggplant Ensemble's subtle purple cheeks to Princess Fish's bubble braids and painted eyeliner, each character's hair and makeup reflected their individual personalities and complemented the bright colors of their costumes. Costume designers Izzy Boon, Anushka Parashar, Jane Shanks, and Kyra Taube, dressed the two princesses in custom-made ballroom dresses that coordinated with their color schemes. Together, the two departments managed to encapsulate the show's colorful energy in every performer.


With its over-animated performers, colorful technical elements, and deep sense of collaboration, McLean's production of Claudio Quest brought audiences into the fantasy world of childhood, showing everyone that it's ok to fulfill your quest in your own way.

Mayuka Valluri

Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology


A frantic therapist to an unstable platypus. A legion of about-to-be-cooked eggplants. Three sets of siblings that can't decide if they love or hate each other. McLean High School invites you to a wild ride full of adventure.


Featuring characters inspired by the beloved video game "Super Mario", Drew Fornarola and Marshall Pailet's "Claudio Quest" recounts the story of brothers Claudio and Luis as they rescue Princess Poinsettia from the evil platypus, Bruiser. Joined by Princess Fish, the three undertake a dangerous adventure. When Claudio crumbles under the pressure of being "Player #1," Fish and Luis must step up to the plate to complete the mission. The show's 2015 debut at the New York Musical Theatre Festival garnered 6 awards, and McLean's performance is the show's first amateur production.


Miranda Simpson's performance as Fish was as confident as her sun-kissed, yellow jumpsuit. Through grand, frenzied movements, Simpson portrayed Fish as a bundle of energy. When convincing Claudio and Luis to let her join the quest, Simpson grabbed the brothers into a rough hug and pleaded her case with a face scrunched with passion. Simpson stomped, shrieked, and shot her arms out to the sky as she justified her ambitions of being more than just a princess - a distinct contrast to Audrey Link's elegant depiction of her sister, Poinsettia. Where Simpson was rough, Link was delicate. Link's angelic voice danced about the stage, the operatic pleas for freedom elegant and lilting. When stuck in Bruiser's dungeon, Simpson and Link bounced comically off each other as Simpson brazenly stole keys from a sleeping guard while Link fell dramatically to the ground with a hand to the forehead.


Idil Erdoğan radiated dastardliness as villain Bruiser. Through erratic movements, Erdogan presented Bruiser as a sinister yet comedic character. When spewing grand plans of murdering Claudio, Erdogan dominated the stage by jerking animatedly, head and hands thrusting from side to side while succumbing to rage. Erdogan's gruff voice boomed across the stage, yet when talking to love interest Poinsettia, the gruff tone changed to a delicate one, and the jolting movements elongated into graceful, dramatic sways.


Charlotte Carson's performance as Little Bro grounded the digital world in reality. Despite relentlessly staring at the TV screen, Carson effortlessly synched movements to the actions happening on stage. As Bruiser sang "Platypus Heart" with implicit seduction, Carson was seen slowly covering their eyes, while when the trio achieved success, a wide smile was plastered across Carson's face.


The costume design by Kyra Taube, Izzy Boon, Jane Shanks, and Anushka Parashar used telling colors to identify characters: a bold, pastel yellow for daring Fish, a confident, cobalt blue for expectant hero Claudio, and a blinding, neon orange for validation-seeking Luis. With cleverly crafted base outfits of black overalls and vests, ensemble members rapidly changed their roles through distinct tops and accessories. Stark, white shirts signified clouds, while plain black outfits blended into the background. The special effects by Megan Wright threaded the line between the game world and reality. Using TVs set across the stage, Wright artfully bridged the physical and digital world. Each scene animation was made to resemble Super Mario game levels, and Wright tirelessly drew every frame by hand. The screen turned somber red when Luis lost all of his lives, infusing the performance with an added depth of emotional connection.


Enchanting and hilarious, McLean High School's production of Claudio Quest created a night of nostalgic delight. The cast and crew created an adventure that anyone would press "Play Again."


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