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No Refund Theatre Presents: ‘The Most Popular Girls In School’

No Refund Theatre returns with the final production of its fall catalog, closing the curtain on the season. This week, the organization presents “The Most Popular Girls in School”.

Directed by junior Ella Bradner, the play tells the story of high school students, Shay Van Buren and Mackenzie Zales, arch-rivals as leaders of their respective friend groups. As head cheerleader Mackenzie and rich socialite Shay duke it out in the battleground of Overland Park High School, absolute chaos ensues, complete with a squad of sidekicks known as the varsity football team.

A comedy adapted for the stage by Bradner and her sister, Marley, from the original YouTube series of the same name, the show is set in the ultimate modern Barbie world. Jumping between the students in high school and their former middle school selves playing with dolls, the story explains the deep-seated rivalry, setting the stage for the arrival of the new girl on campus, Deandra. 

In the brutal game of teenage life, an untimely run for Prom Queen stirs the pot, culminating in the declaration of a new Queen Bee. In the final rumble, much inspired by the Montagues and Capulets of classic theatrical works, a clear lesson emerges: Perhaps being a Barbie girl in a Barbie world is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Bringing the popular story to the NRT stage, director Ella Bradner was thrilled to see her work come to life in her first time directing with the organization.

“My sister found it, told me about it, and we fell in love,” Bradner said. “This show is my humor and was practically my middle school experience…This show raised me and created my sense of humor.”

Watching the YouTube hit as a middle school student, Bradner has loved the story for over 10 years, memorizing almost the entire series at 13 years old. Rediscovering episodes while home during the pandemic, she was inspired to put her own spin on the work, especially after the original writers, Mark Cope and Carlo Moss, gave fans the green light.

“One of the writers said, ‘…The fans have full permission to do whatever they want with this show…’” Bradner said. “And my sister and I said, ‘Alright, let’s do it.’” 

Since “The Most Popular Girls in School” has only been brought to the stage once before with a different story, No Refund Theatre’s interpretation is truly one of a kind as the world premiere of this script.

“No one’s ever really done this before,” junior Jonathan Yourchak said. “It was definitely kind of nerve-racking but also very exciting.”

Playing the role of Deandra, the new girl on campus, Yourchak enjoyed the challenges of tackling an original script. Uplifted by the supportive environment created by the cast and crew, sophomore Laura Spohn, who plays the role of Shay Van Buren, simplified the joy created together.

“I love these people,” they said. “It is so great, and everyone is so helpful, too.” 

Conquering the comedic aspects of the show for both comfortability and creativity, the cast bonded throughout the process, much aligned with NRT’s commitment to inclusivity for all. Welcomed into the club in her first NRT production, sophomore Starlett Sawchak explained exactly how she saw the organization’s values enacted in real life.

“This just made school 100 times better for me,” Sawcheck said. “It’s just so comforting, and it’s the best feeling being able to do what you love the most with the people you love.”

Returning to the stage for the first time in over eight years, senior Alex Starr also expressed similar sentiments, discovering comfort in the cast while playing the role of football star, Blaine McCaine. Within other aspects of the show, including bright costuming and technical elements, a dance number is included in the prom scene, performed by the football team of Overland Park High School.

“I have one year of dance experience under my belt…I took hip-hop classes for a whole year, and it really felt like I was just coming back into it,” Starr said. “It may have completely blindsided me, but honestly it’s become completely natural after enough rehearsal.”

Featuring a trio of actors, including Starr, Ian Dargitz, and Pearce Hartz, the original choreography is actually an homage to No Refund Theatre’s Spring 2022 production, “She Kills Monsters.”

“’She Kills Monsters’ was the first in-person show I did with NRT,” Bradner said. “So we said, ‘We gotta bring it back.'”

Paying tribute to the people of both productions, Bradner naturally included the dance number here, adding to the ridiculousness of common portrayals of the high school environment. Layering onto the theme of absurdity is the lead character of Mackenzie Zales, the ruthless head cheerleader played by junior, Gabby Kline.

“It was so much fun to dive deep into her psyche and try to figure out why she is the way that she is,” Kline said. “What makes her so mean and judgemental?”

While growing her portfolio in the challenges of the role, Kline also reconnected with her roots as a lifelong fan of the original YouTube series. 

“In middle school, me and my friends would watch it on the back of the bus and then we would go into school quoting it,” Kline said. “Then, we would get in trouble because you really shouldn’t be quoting it in middle school.”

Comically reflecting on the childhood memories turned college fun, it becomes clear that the moments behind the script mean much more than the light-hearted comedy meets the eye. Articulated by senior Jason Scansaroli, it’s the people and process that make each NRT production quite unique in value and experience.

“You have to have a reason for doing every show that you do,” Scansaroli said. “Whether it’s something that you want to get out of it, or you’re doing it for somebody or…with somebody.”

Furthering the idea of family values for meaningful content creation, director Ella Bradner reflected on the dream come true in creating NRT’s production of “The Most Popular Girls in School.”

“I’m still just sitting there crying…” Bradner said. “Despite how silly it is, it really means a lot to me…This was the thing I did with my sister, this was the show I watched with my sister, and this was the show that I wrote with my sister.”

Three performances of “The Most Popular Girls in School” will play at 8 p.m. on Thursday, December 1, Friday, December 2, and Saturday, December 3, in Forum 111.

As always, all No Refund Theatre productions are free of charge. A trigger warning is emphasized for sexual content, partial nudity, language, and violence.

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a junior majoring in marketing and psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 18-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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