The spirit of American ingenuity thrives among South Jersey Community Theatre performers. While the COVID-19 outbreak has postponed all live theatrical shows, a group of dedicated performers didn’t allow the pandemic to keep them from practicing their craft and entertaining audiences. The production team of Alix Vitarelli, Amanda Adams and Mike Gibbins created the internet piece: QuaranMean Girls: The Virtual Musical. Your correspondent attended the virtual premiere on Saturday, April 25th.
In a time of social distancing, the production team took the adage “safety first” to another level. All of the performers recorded their parts in their own homes. The editors arranged the footage so it appeared the actors performed together. The combination of strong acting and professional production values facilitated this fan’s suspension of disbelief.
This story of a high school student coping with a crush, wanting to fit in with the popular kids while struggling to find one’s identity spoke to this reviewer. Part of that may have had to do his current situation. Sitting home alone on a Saturday night with nowhere to go put him took him back to his high school years. A bigger reason had to do with the quality of the production itself.
QuaranMean Girls told the story of Cady (played by Alix Vitarelli). The character grew up in Africa where her parents studied wildlife. A lack of funding forced them to move back to the United States. Cady then found herself in an even harsher environment: the social jungle of an American high school.
Two groups competed for Cady’s friendship. Flamboyant Damian (James Lim) and Goth-girl Jamie (Shannon Harkins) approached her at first. Then the popular crowd, known as The Plastics, invited her to join their clique. Led by Regina George (Nicolette Palombo), they included the insecure Gretchen (Amanda Adams) and the dimwitted Karen (Shannon Forbes). More conflict resulted as Cady discovered that she and Regina competed for the affections of Aaron (Mike Gibbins).
It’s pretty much a theatrical law that any show regarding high school must have an underlying bildungsroman. As the story progressed, Cady needed to determine if she wanted to hide her mathematical aptitude or be her true self.
Alix Vitarelli’s fans will love QuaranMean Girls: The Virtual Musical. This project served as the perfect medium for Ms. Vitarelli’s multiple talents. It allowed this entertainer to showcase her abilities as a producer, editor, actor and vocalist.
Ms. Vitarelli possesses an outstanding aptitude for non-verbal communication. Even though she wasn’t in the same room with the other people in the scenes, Ms. Vitarelli always displayed the proper expressions at the perfect times.
The quality of Ms. Vitarelli’s vocal tracks sounded professionally recorded. It allowed the audience to hear her stellar vocals with near MP3 quality sound. Her beautiful performances on “Stupid with Love”, “Fearless” and “I See Stars” are well worth a listen.
On most occasions, directors are limited by the space on the set. The team took advantage of the freedoms a virtual setting allowed them. The use of the pumpkin motif that transitioned into the club scene during Shannon Forbes’ “Sexy” ode to Halloween and world peace made the song even more memorable. Superimposing Nicolette Palombo’s face on wildlife during the “Apex Predator” number showed phenomenal creativity.
All of the cast members displayed great imagination working on this project. As they weren’t in the same location when they performed, the performers needed to show that they were either talking to or listening to another person in the scene. All the actors executed this challenging task very well.
The show featured a wide range of genres for a musical. Shannon Hawkins sang a moving exploration of Gretchen’s insecurity on “What’s Wrong with Me.” Nicolette Palombo delivered sultry soulful vocals on “Someone Gets Hurt.” Charlie Barney kicked it old school on “Who’s House is This?” accompanied by Ms. Vitarelli, Ms. Hawkins, Ms. Forbes and the ensemble. Shannon Forbes delivered a gripping “I’d Rather Be Me.”
While the virtual setting expanded the project’s creative boundaries in many ways, it did limit the opportunity for sophisticated choreography. James Lin didn’t allow it to confine his abilities. Mr. Lin preformed several superb routines. He executed an excellent pirouette at the end of “Where Do You Belong.” Mr. Lin added solid dance moves to the jazzy “Stop.”
The production team still managed to put together a solid opening dance sequence for “It Roars.” Once again through skillful editing, Ms. Vitarelli performed while accompanied by a group of dancers. Several performers played multiple ones in the sequence.
The most memorable scene in the show occurred when Ms. Vitarelli and Mike Gibbins performed a duet on “More is Better.” In addition to the tender vocals, the scene included a kiss between the two characters. Mr. Gibbins and Ms. Vitarelli made it seem realistic.
While most of the editing showed excellent attention the detail, the background of the school hallway contained a glitch. Due to the tape loop, your correspondent saw the two gentlemen wearing gray tee shirts more often than he’s seen the people he lives with during the shutdown. Other than that one minor shortcoming, the production team employed the backgrounds exceptionally well.
The performers also deserve tremendous credit for their work on hair and makeup. All the salons had been closed for close to a month prior to the show’s premiere. One wouldn’t know that from watching QuaranMean Girls.
Other members of the cast included: Crystal Clear, Gregory Drey, Sydney Johnson, Ellorah Maeve, Rebekah Adams, Zac Bacaro, William Reid, Allyssa Winkelspecht, Caroline Piotrowski, Aaron Wachs, Elizabeth Bove, Kirk Slingluff, Kathryn Pepe, Gina Petti Baldasari, JR Fitzgerald, Israel Orengo, Kori Rife, Lauren Craven, Sophie Manglass and Jeff Rife.
Those who missed the premiere can still see QuaranMean Girls: The Virtual Musical. It’s available at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCgNAoxOXu5Eh8f9n9QrBEiA.
The team announced that its next project will be 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. After the quality of this show, audiences will no doubt anticipate that production.
Even more we all anticipate the opportunity to see all these performers back on stage in a physical theatre again. Virtual theatre has its own merits, but there’s something special about live performances that no media can substitute.