NPHS Theatre takes back the stage

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James Klemmer

The cast of NPHS Theatre’s “Descendants”.

TOWAMENCIN – For 50 years, North Penn High School Theatre has been performing and putting smiles on the faces of many with their fall and spring  productions. Classics like Anything Goes, Oklahoma!, and Mamma Mia! have all been brought to life on the NPHS auditorium stage, and this year, the company is set to premiere their pre-recorded version of Disney’s Descendants: The Musical.  

Adapted from the incredibly popular movie franchise, Descendants follows a new generation of Disney characters descended from the infamous villains Maleficent (Olivia Greco, senior), Evil Queen (Ella Notte, sophomore), Jafar (Nick Nardone, sophomore), and Cruella de Vil (Genesys Perez-Berrios, junior). When their children, Mal (Fiona Hodgson, junior), Evie (Ally Wolfe, junior), Jay (Keenan Washington, senior), and Carlos (Jeremy DerMovsesian, senior), better known as “the Evils,” find themselves invited into the civilized world of Auradon by Prince Ben (Eric Lewis, junior), they must decide between good and evil without the looming influence of their villainous parents. 

Left to right: Jeremy DerMovsesian (Carlos), Fiona Hodgson (Mal), Ally Wolfe (Evie), and Keenan Washington (Jay).

Follow along with these mischievous characters as they adapt to life in Auradon! Disney’s Descendants: The Musical will be streaming this weekend only on Friday, May 14 (7:30), Saturday, May 15 (7:30), and Sunday, May 16 (1:30 and 4:30). 

Despite this year’s circumstances, producer and director, Mrs. Andrea Lee Roney, has successfully been able to put the show together in less than two months; a huge change compared to the 3-4 months she usually would have to prepare the spring musical. 

“We had exactly 4 weeks to pull it off,” Roney said. “We usually do 16 to 18 weeks for a spring musical from auditions through performance and from the time we got the license [for Descendants] through when we recorded it, it was about 7 weeks.”

We usually do 16 to 18 weeks for a spring musical from auditions through performance and from the time we got the license [for Descendants] through when we recorded it, it was about 7 weeks.”

— Andrea Roney, NPHS Theatre Director

Needless to say, accommodations had to be made. 

“We started out with virtual rehearsals-we told the students in it that when they came back from spring break, they would need to have everything completely memorized, music and dialogue. We literally had one night to stage every single number,” Roney explained. 

But the rehearsal process of Descendants wasn’t coordinated by Roney alone. Students from the cast and crew, this year more than ever, helped to bring the show together just in time for filming. 

“We had two rehearsal assistants, Livi Greco and Jeremy DerMovsesian, and they were very instrumental in keeping some rehearsals going while we were doing other things. Then we had two dance captains, Ally Wolfe and Keenan Washington, and they actually helped to create a lot of the dances,” Roney said. “We couldn’t have done it without them.”

Additionally, students belonging to the stage crew became a major part in the filming and preparation process that went into this year’s musical. Once the show had been announced, they immediately began organizing the props, sets, and lighting; some of the most important factors that make a great show. 

“We’ve had four people working on costumes, we’ve had people building the sets that we had. We had people working on lights, camera people and some on sound, we had stage managers and all of the normal aspects we usually do,” Roney said. 

Despite having a much smaller cast/crew of only 45 people, compared to the usual 120, Roney and her students still managed to create a fulfilling and meaningful experience together. 

“We became a very tight knit group, working together and working so intensely in a short period of time,” Roney said.

We became a very tight knit group, working together and working so intensely in a short period of time.”

— Andrea Roney

Compared to the previously streamed show Breathing Through Covid, which North Penn Theatre premiered earlier this school year, Descendants was tackled quite differently. 

Descendants was done on our stage, as we normally stage a show, with four cameras in the audience, and we had to film it straight through from beginning to end according to our licensing with Disney. Breathing Through Covid was all done at kids’ houses. They literally recorded themselves on their phones or on their Chromebooks and all of it had to be edited together,” Roney said. 

Staging a musical during the pandemic for the first time presented its challenges for Roney, the cast, and the crew. Dancing and singing in close proximity to others as well as something as simple as sharing a costume with another student was all out of the realm of possibility. 

“With this show, we had to be very careful that there was no sharing of costumes and we had to be very careful about how people were spaced out in dressing room areas,” Roney said. “But we did have the rapid assurance Covid testing the Saturday before we recorded, and the Thursday, Friday, and Saturday of recording the show. Since everybody tested negative on Thursday and Friday night, the Montgomery County Department of Health allowed us to reduce the social distancing on stage so that was great; we still kept the masks on, but at least we were able to be closer on stage.”

While being able to stage a musical in-person was rewarding, getting to perform one show as an entire cast for the first time in over a year actually ended up becoming a bittersweet moment for students participating in Descendants

“I think one of the hardest things when we finished recording on Friday night was the realization that that’s it, once and done. Normally we have a Gold Card matinee on Wednesday, we have performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night, and a Sunday matinee, so we usually get 4-5 performances in,” Roney reflected. “This was one and done.”

One of the hardest things when we finished recording on Friday night was the realization that that’s it, once and done.”

— Andrea Roney

“As we know, this whole year has been different, and challenging, and not the way we are used to things, but that doesn’t mean it was bad. We’ve found good things and good moments within it, and satisfaction in doing a job well done,” Roney said.

And while she can’t wait to get back to having a larger cast and giving other North Penn students the opportunity to get involved, there are still things Roney would be willing to keep after this year.

“We’ve learned that if there’s bad weather, we can still have a rehearsal virtually, or if there’s some other activity going on in the auditorium and we can’t be together, we can figure out a way to do a rehearsal and not lose that time,” Roney said. “I also think auditions being pre-recorded allowed students to be less nervous, because they could record themselves until they had the shot that they wanted, and I think we are going to keep that.”

“It was much nicer to sit through auditions in my bathrobe on a Saturday morning eating breakfast,” Roney laughed. “I think there’s some things that we’ve all learned in theatre that are not going to go away, and I think there are some things that we can’t wait to get back too.”

Similar to how many people have felt during the 2020-2021 school year, Roney feels that she has learned so much. While taking things like rehearsal time for granted is something she feels people might not be so quick to do in the future, seeing the resilience of her students this past year has been truly inspiring to her. 

“Our students just blew us away with Breathing Through Covid and with this show, and with how quickly they learned things and how willing they were to throw themselves into whatever this process was going to be and give it their all,” Roney said. “I think it’s just such a testament to them and to their talent and their passion.”

“I think that there isn’t just one way of doing things. You can get into a rut sometimes when you think ‘Oh, this is the way we’ve always done something’ and this year has challenged us to think outside of the box in many ways as teachers, as students, even beyond theatre. So I think we’ve all become a little bit braver,” Roney continued. 

One thing is for sure though, and that is that the North Penn High School auditorium will always feel like home, no matter what state the world is in. 

“It was like riding a bike. You know, you can go without riding a bike for a while and then you get back on and it’s just like ‘There I am.’ It feels natural and it feels like being at home, and I think that was a great gift to be able to have this year,” Roney said.

You know, you can go without riding a bike for a while and then you get back on and it’s just like ‘There I am.’ It feels natural and it feels like being at home.”

— Andrea Roney

By tuning into Descendants, the Musical, students, parents, and families can expect to hear upbeat, lively music matched with the incredible talent of the NPHS Theatre department shining through their living room screens.

“They should expect to see a really fun show. I think our kids did such a great job with body language and movement and fun and their singing is so glorious,” Roney said. “If you know the Descendants movies you’ll be like ‘Yes! There’s Carlos, Jay, Evie, and Mal and all of the characters I know and love’, and if you’ve never seen it before I think you’re going to find it really delightful.”

Make sure to purchase your tickets as soon as possible (the show opens tomorrow!) and show support to the hardworking theatre department. This is surely a unique production you will not want to miss!

Purchase your tickets on-line at www.npenn.org/theatre. (Some handling and credit card fees will apply.)

For questions or assistance contact [email protected] or call 215.853.1309.