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Best written reviews for “Animal Farm” performed by Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington, DC. Reviewed on April 14, 2023.

Emily Reisman

McLean High School


"Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy," yet Duke Ellington School of the Arts' production of "Animal Farm" demonstrated how tyranny stands on any number of limbs. Through consistent dedication to animalistic mannerisms, original music to depict the collapsing freedom of the characters, and thorough planning of lighting cues to establish the mood, the suffocating oppression of "Animal Farm" was invigoratingly alive.


George Orwell's 1945 novella "Animal Farm" was adapted into a musical by Peter Hall in 1984, featuring music and lyrics from Richard Peaslee and Adrian Mitchell. The story begins with a child cracking open a fairy tale book where animals on a farm are being taken advantage of and they strive for liberation. After a successful rebellion against their oppressor, the barnyard occupants elect three pigs Napoleon (Moyo Ifafore), Snowball (Eric Curry III), and Squealer (Rainah Taylor) to manage their new society. What begins as a taste of freedom soon mirrors the exact injustices the animals wanted to escape.


Curry's portrayal of Snowball embodied the spirit of a passionate leader, infusing his speeches with gripping pauses and sharp diction. His earnest demeanor contrasted well with the power-hungry Napoleon, symbolizing the juxtaposition between democratic and totalitarian rule. Ifafore's depiction of her character included a domineering manner portrayed with commanding volume in her voice and a confident swagger to her walk. The transition from a hunched posture and animal-like jerking to human stances was effective in showcasing how corrupt Napoleon had become. Taylor's performance as the third pig in the triumvirate, Squealer, took control of the animals in a subtler way. Her chipper smile and soft tone when addressing the distressed crowd belied the chilling characteristics of emotional manipulation. Taylor's soothing vocals in "The Boulder Song'' exemplified this, as her gentle soprano coaxed the defeated animals into continuing their work.


Snorts, neighs, barks, and brays filled the air. A horse scuffed its hoof against the floor, hens flapped their wings, and cats batted their paws. The farm ensemble exhibited the traits of their animals persistently throughout the show, producing an immersive view into the barn and humorous moments sprinkled within the tension. The synchronization of the group's movement and rhythm was memorable in highlighting their hive-mind mentality, while their unique animal gestures and noises personalized their performances.


The student composition of music added a new perspective to the tone of the musical. Abdullah Muhammad sculpted the sounds of his songs to illustrate the characters, with the ominous minor chords of Napoleon's "Runt of the Litter" representing his descent into greed, and the hip hop techno style of "27 Ribbons" showcasing the sassy Mollie. Emmett Justice's drumming further developed the energy of the scenes, the faster beats accompanying the frenzied fighting of the animals and the softer tapping of the cymbals foreshadowing conflict. Delaney Price, Fitz Morrissey, and Leila Graham's lighting underscored the feeling of each moment with one hundred and forty different cues. The somber hues changed into hopeful colors as the animals gained their freedom, only for the bleak shades to later return as the farm reverted back to a prison.


The extensive attention to detail and commitment to characters enlivened the sinister process of how leaders can turn vulnerability into oppression. Even though the animals were taught that "the best thing to think is nothing," Duke Ellington School of the Arts' production of "Animal Farm" gave the audience plenty to think about.

Kaiya Mayhew

Quince Orchard High School


SUCCESS! The animals of Manor Farm have driven out the neglectful Mr. Jones and taken matters of the farm into their own hooves. Without man, the hens can keep their precious eggs; without man, the animals may reap the rewards of their own labor. Man's greed corrupts him, but the animals know they are above that. Under Animalism, all animals are equal…with one caveat: some animals are more equal than others.


This is Duke Ellington School of the Arts' production of Animal Farm. Adapted from George Orwell's novel Animal Farm by Peter Hall, with music by Richard Peaslee and lyrics by Adrian Mitchell, this musical tells the story of a group of animals attempting to create a utopian farm where everyone is equal. However, "Animal Farm" soon falls under the totalitarian rise of the pigs, who exploit the animal workers just as the humans before them did. A compelling warning of the dangers of absolute power, Animal Farm explores the dynamics of capitalism, communism, democracy, and human greed.


Duke Ellington's black box production of Animal Farm was both humorous and powerful. The students embraced this difficult show with the strength of their ensemble and made it their own with creative additions to the musical's original score.


Moyo Ifafore, playing Napoleon, drove the pigs' corruption arc with a commanding stage presence. Ifafore professionally balanced Napoleon's trustworthy demeanor with his evident ambition. An open posture and a practical tone portrayed him as a fair leader, while contemptuous snorts revealed his inner feelings of self-superiority. Alongside Ifafore was Rainah Taylor, who created a compelling, manipulative character out of Napoleon's right-hand pig, Squealer. Squealer's villainy peaked when she forced the old donkey, Benjamin, to laugh; Taylor's authoritative tone made it clear that the pigs would tolerate no resistance.


The entire cast of Animal Farm demonstrated impeccable chemistry, especially in songs that required them to work together, such as "Anything Can Be Done." The animals stomped and clapped in unison, adding an undercurrent of powerful rhythm to the already powerful number. Their fluid cooperation unified them as a group, while the actors' convincing animal noises distinguished their respective animal roles. From amused piglike snorting to devastated donkey braying, the animalistic mannerisms ironically acted as perfect conductors of human emotion.


Assisting in the telling of the story were several brightly colored box props (Eugenia Nikolayeva, Luther Beckett.) The boxes proved to be versatile elements of the environment: throughout the story they shifted from platforms to a windmill to one long dining table. Another technical element that greatly enhanced the story was the lighting (Delaney Price, Leila Graham, Fitz Morrissey), most notably when the animals drove out Mr. Jones. A single blue spotlight shined down as the animals mobbed him, abating once the drumming crescendo ended and the animals shoved him off the stage.


The music itself was in part composed by Duke Ellington student Abdullah Muhammad. Muhammad integrated bossa nova and 80s rap style into his songs, demonstrating an impressive understanding of music composition. The new songs added engaging variety to the score while blending cohesively into the rest of the musical.


Animal Farm is a challenging show to undertake, but the students of Duke Ellington School of the Arts performed it masterfully. The final product was both a humorous piece of fiction and a powerful call-out of reality. The students struck true to the original themes while making the musical their own, resulting in a truly memorable performance.


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