A wicked opening night: ‘Descendants’ cast and crew celebrate triumph, raw reactions

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Photo by Anna Diorio ’23

The premiere of “Descendants: the Musical” took place on Friday, April 1. This show, an adaptation of the Disney movie series by the same name, is a mix of all three “Descendants” movies and received several standing ovations from the audience throughout the performance. The show is set for more performances on April 3, 8 and 9 with a double cast.

Rapturous cheers flooded the offstage wings of the Staples auditorium after the cast and crew of “Descendants” took the first of their final bows on opening night. Minutes after the curtains closed, characters plucked from the beloved fairy tales that lived in our childhoods rushed to the back in excitement—stripping down heavy layers of tulle and adrenaline, peeling off mic tape, attending to sore muscles and swapping out character shoes for Air Force Ones. All was well in the land of Staples Players, who were overjoyed after an incredible performance. 

Friday, April 1 marked the opening night performance of Disney’s “Descendants: the Musical,” a stage adaptation of the Disney original movie series by the same name where the son of Queen Belle and King Beast offer the children of Disney’s most infamous villains a chance at a better life—a life of good. Since the announcement of the musical back in late November, members of Staples players have devoted several months to ultimately putting on the quality performance hundreds of theater-goers come to see each year at Staples High School. The audience was far from disappointed and so too were the cast and crew given their animated response in the moments immediately after the curtains closed.

“I really wasn’t expecting everyone to enjoy it so much,” Jayden Saenz ’23, who played Carlos, said,  “I feel like the energy and the audience tonight was more than I could ever have imagined. It was just really overwhelming in a great way.”

I really wasn’t expecting everyone to enjoy it so much. I feel like the energy and the audience tonight was more than I could ever have imagined. It was just really overwhelming in a great way.”

— Jayden Saenz ’23

Like many of the individuals involved in the show, Saenz has been a part of Staples Players for the whole of his high school career. With each new production, he’s learned about growth in a myriad of ways—improving as an actor, demonstrating the growth of the characters he plays and developing as a young adult. 

“Starting in the beginning it was really overwhelming and I just didn’t think it could get so much better,” Saenz said. “It’s really easy to compare yourself to other people and feel bad about yourself but you know it’s really amazing as you go through it.”

The concept of innocence and individuality as a teenager has allowed for the majority of the “Descendants” cast to truly connect with their characters. Sebastian Gikas ’23, who portrays the leading role of Prince Ben, along with Max Ardrey ’23 (Closing Night Cast), is one such young individual. 

“Ben’s a normal character,” Gikas said. “Obviously he’s a prince but at the end of the day he’s a normal person with normal ideas and I think it’s just kind of like that. He’s a teenager. He’s my exact age. So he’s not really ready to be king yet.”

Unfortunately for Gikas and the rest of the company, they haven’t had the luxury of living in a Covid-free world that the people of Auradon have enjoyed. In the weeks leading up to opening night, a surge of Covid-19 cases erupted in the Staples Players community. This casted a spell of widespread anxiety around the prospect of the show being canceled or postponed, as was the outcome of “Seussical: the Musical” in 2020.

“I know a lot of us were getting [COVID] so I think the spaces during rehearsal were super difficult because we had a week,” Raia Badurina ’23, Queen Belle, said. “It was during tech week where a lot of people were getting sick, so we had amazing understudies who filled in but that was probably the most difficult part.” 

Despite such obstacles, the community and friendship forged among Staples players still remained strong. 

“The bonding process throughout the show throughout reversals and throughout doing the shows—we just get so close as a cast and […] it just feels great,” Zoe Schwartz ’24, a member of the Dance Ensemble, said. 

With the significant number of hours contributed by students—rehearsing long after dark during the week, stretching over the weekends and even eating into school hours—it’s no surprise that such strong relationships were made. 

The Players community extends beyond those under the spotlight. Operating the lights from above are several young members of the “Descendants” crew, including Anya Pulichino ’23 who is a Spot Operator. 

“For spot-op I basically follow around the actors with a light,” Pulichino said. “The stage manager tells me when to go and then when in the booth, I basically just watch and take notes—if we need to work on something. Learning experience.”

Learning is certainly a large aspect of being a part of the theater program, as it is for most clubs and institutions at Staples. 

“I’ve learned a lot about lights,” Pulichino said. “I’ve learned how to create certain settings in shows. I’ve learned how to work the board better. I’ve learned how to be a better spot.”

There are a number of forces at work that play integral roles in creating such a high quality show. Every aspect of the production is orchestrated by students: the lights, the sets, the costumes, the hair and makeup. Notably, the pit orchestra has a principal role; they are largely the ones who allow for the show to be called a musical.

Sasha Maskoff ’22 mans the keyboard beside the stage. For Maskoff, a classically trained pianist, the modern “Descendants” music added a twist to her typical musical repertoire.

“This show has a lot of electronic aspects to it so a lot of the keyboard music has drum effects and other instruments mixed into the keyboard sound,” Maskoff said. “I had to learn on the spot how to regulate that and how to work on it using the computer.” 

Her experience proved to be a positive one, nevertheless. 

“Playing in the pit orchestra was such a different experience to play in than in a regular orchestra or participating in in-school ensembles so I really liked the experience,” Maskoff said.

The culmination of so many people— busy, young high schoolers—working to create something so magical is what makes Staples Players productions so special. In their raw reactions immediately following the end of the performance, the passion and dedication each of these students present is so apparent. “Descendants” has seemingly succeeded, with flying, Auradonian and Isle colors, in providing students (and audience members) once again with an unforgettable experience and overwhelming pride.

“It’s just like a whole entire community,” Gikas said, as cast and crew mates complimented him excitedly. “You gain a lot of really good friendships, really good bonds. You get to produce really really great shows with great tech, great directors, great everything. So it just makes it all really enjoyable.”