“Beasts of Homeland! Beasts of land and sea and skies! Hear the hoofbeats of tomorrow! See the golden future rise!” This past weekend, Duke Ellington School of the Performing Arts took on the challenging production of “Animal Farm.” The production began on a playground full of children playing and singing songs. However, the sounds of “duck, duck, goose!” quickly dissolved into “oinks,” and the sound of children playing musical chairs transformed into clucking chickens. Soon, the audience was transported to the Manor Farm, in which “All Animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.”
The acclaimed novel “Animal Farm,” written by George Orwell, was first published in 1945. However, in 1984, it was later adapted into a stage musical with music by Richard Peaslee, lyrics by Adrian Mitchell and direction by Peter Hall. The allegorical play provides a response to the Russian Revolution of 1917. The story follows the story of a group of barnyard animals seeking to rebel against their abusive farmer in order to create a world in which “all animals are equal.” However, while under the dictatorship of pig Napoleon, the rebellion begins to dissolve as the farm decays in a worse state than before.
Moyo Ifafore's portrayal of Napoleon, a typically unlikeable character, was convincing. Throughout the performance, the actor developed a strong connection with the audience by holding intense eye contact. Sydney Downs showcased impeccable intonation and linguistics in their lighthearted performance as Benjamin. The actor replicated the “heehaw” sound of a Donkey perfectly as the lines were projected across the stage. Also of note was the incredible physicality. During the show, the actor was always hunched over with teeth pronounced and eyes rolled upward. Abdullah Muhammad, the actor playing Old Major, gave a powerful rendition of the song “Beast of Homeland.” Throughout the performance of this impactful number, the actor demonstrated exceptional vocals, showcasing a range and technical ability unusual for typical high schoolers. However, what set this show over the edge was the ensemble. Together, the actors moved as a unit across the stage. Their animalistic behavior was outstanding. Each actor held their hand in a specific manner in order to replicate the hoofs or wings of their animal. In addition, they snorted, itched their ears, and cleaned their hands just as typical animals would.
The lighting, designed by Delaney Price, Fitz Morrissey and Leila Graham, was creative. During scenes with Mr. Jones, they created shadows of the actor on the wall. Not only did this add to the character's intimidation, but it also served as an ingenious source of creative relief. Freya Taggert, Eugenia Nikolayeva, Luther Beckett and Savana Dawson designed detailed prop masks. Every mask was textured perfectly to match the animal the actors were portraying. The raven one was particularly eye-catching, as it was covered in beautiful black feathers which frayed out the sides. Autumn Whetstone, Abdullah Muhammad and Emmett Justice took the category of creativity to a whole new level. While Muhammad produced songs, Justice and Whetstone composed songs that were performed after the great windmill crash. Each song was in an 80s rap style and added needed comedic relief to the performance.
When you go to see Duke Ellington's powerful performance of “Animal Farm,” remember:
“Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.
Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.
No animal shall wear clothes.
No animal shall sleep in a bed.
No animal shall drink alcohol.
No animal shall kill any other animal.
All animals are equal.”
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