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Our [art]seen bloggers are University of Michigan students who review arts events on and near campus, sharing their thoughts and experiences on live music, film screenings, dance performances, theatre productions and art exhibitions.
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Preview: Michigan Pops Orchestra Concert “Tick Tock, It’s Pops O’Clock”

This semester, the Michigan Pops Orchestra chose ‘Time’ as the concept for their concert, meaning the pieces they’ve selected have some kind of tie-in to that theme. On their instagram @michiganpops they’ve advertised OSTs from Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, and Star Trek, as well as pieces from classical composers like Beethoven and Tchaikovsky. I’m assuming that they chose timeless classics (heh) that everybody has heard alongside other iconic soundtracks, so it’ll be music familiar to the audience. Full orchestral symphonies aren’t as commonly heard though, so it’ll still be a new experience for a crowd not as well-versed in classical music.

The Michigan Pops Orchestra is one of the only (perhaps the only) ensemble on campus that is completely student run. This allows the performers much more artistic freedom, so each one of their concerts is unique. One aspect of Pops that differs the most from other ensembles is their inclusion of skits and films; I’m not sure what the skits will be, but the films they’ve created will be playing during Jurassic Park and Harry Potter!

Everybody is welcome to attend their concert: K-12 students get free entry, Adults pay $9 per ticket, and University students get discounted tickets for $5.

Tickets will be sold in the Posting Wall at Mason Hall from November 28th to December 2nd and at this MUTO link: mutotix.umich.edu/3688

Don’t worry if you missed these dates, though, because tickets are also being sold AT THE DOOR the day of the concert on December 3rd at 7:00pm in the Michigan Theater.

Review: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

*There won’t be any spoilers… at least not intentionally*

Black Panther: Wakanda Forever definitely did not unfold as I expected it to. I didn’t think it’d be as good as the first Black Panther, but I’m pretty disappointed in the quality. Letitia Wright (Shuri) truly got to shine in this film and her performance was phenomenal. In my opinion, though, the plot still held back what she is capable of. I look forward to seeing her acting in other films for sure.

I mentioned in my preview that I was curious if the directors might use Wakanda Forever to start building toward a driving plot for the new generation of Marvel, but that didn’t happen at all. None of the other recent Marvel films I’ve seen so far have done that either, though, besides the latest Spider-Man, so I’m not upset with Wakanda Forever in that regard.

What upset me is the storytelling, pacing, and characterization.

I wanted to see how the creators would effectively work around the hole left behind by Chadwick Boseman’s death but the resolution they came up with was very flat. The opening scene was definitely exhilarating and emotional but the transition to the next scene was rather anticlimactic and there wasn’t much explanation provided. Whenever the topic came back up, there weren’t any additional details either as I hoped there would be.

This relates to the problem of pacing I mentioned before: after the initial drama, the rising action was very slow and tedious. I didn’t feel like there was a steady buildup and so once the climax hit we were bombarded with a lot of rushed action and character development, leading to an unsatisfactory falling action as well. Not only that, though; the initial premise for the conflict was pretty promising, but then the conflict itself was rather… interesting. A new character that I thought would be vital didn’t play as impactful as a role that the premise hyped her up for, either, which I found surprising. The ending scenes did somewhat tie back to the opening, but there were a lot of holes left in the plot, especially in regards to the passage of time, and ambiguity for what comes after.

Something I did really like about the plot though is the dynamic difference between Shuri and the elders. We already saw some tension between them in the first film, but it played a bigger role this time as a recurring theme. I think lots of young adults would be able to relate to generational differences, such as scientific vs. spiritual beliefs and progression vs. tradition. I wish they showed more scenes of them interacting.

Overall, it’s not a film I’d recommend for its quality. I also don’t think it’s essential to the Marvel Universe, and perhaps watching it might even take away from the impact that the first Black Panther had. I do think my review sounds rather harsh: I don’t actually hate the film, but it’s just disappointing and not something I’d watch again or recommend to others.

 

PREVIEW: Black Panther: Wakanda Forever

It’s been a long time since the first Black Panther film came out in 2018; the next film had already been teased at the end of the first movie, and after rewatching it two times I grew increasingly antsy about the release of Black Panther 2. I actually haven’t watched any of the movie trailers and I’ve done a pretty good darn job staying away from spoilers, so I’ll be going into the movie theaters completely blind.

The unfortunate passing of Chadwick Boseman has definitely left a huge hole in both the audience’s hearts and the plot itself. His phenomenal acting as T’challa was one of the highlights for me, and so I feel like the entire time I watch Wakanda Forever I’ll dearly miss him and his character. Although movies tend to take a few years to release anyway, I wonder how much his absence has affected the filming process and how the directors have decided to work around it.

So much has happened in the Marvel Universe with the main turning point being Avengers: Endgame. I’m curious to see how this new movie will drive the direction they will go now after the end of the first generation.

REVIEW: Little Shop of Horrors

2:00pm • Sunday, November 20, 2022 • Power Center

I’m so glad I had the opportunity to experience Little Shop of Horrors, presented at the Power Center this weekend by MUSKET. The performance began before the lights dimmed, as Chiffon (Arin Francis), Crystal (Maya Mcentyre), and Ronnette (Gilayah McIntosh) wandered the auditorium, interacting with the crowd. Eventually they disappeared backstage, only to reappear along with the rest of the cast, to open the performance with “Skid Row.” From that point onward I was continually impressed by the talent and personality of each actor. Forming the chorus, Francis, Mcentyre, and McIntosh were reliable throughout their performance both for their solid harmonies and for their affectionately eye-rolling reactions to Seymore and Audrey. In addition to his role as Orin Scrivello, Audrey’s abusive boyfriend, Caleb McArthur scrambled onstage in at least four other mini-roles, creating fresh personas for each. I appreciated the way that Michael Fabisch threw himself into the awkwardness required for the role of Seymore. And Mr. Mushnik, played by Dylan Bernstein, was a perfect drama queen.

My favorite human role was definitely Audrey, played by Mackenzie Mollison. In the beginning of the show, Audrey is trapped in an abusive relationship with a sadistic dentist, and while in “Somewhere that’s Green” she dreams of living a simple life in a suburban development, she doesn’t believe she deserves to be loved by someone kind. Mollison brought humor to the role with her excellent comedic timing without oversimplifying the show’s darker themes of abuse and self-hatred. Her powerful voice seemed subtly restrained throughout the performance to reflect Audrey’s situation: occasionally bursting out in full spirit but quickly stifled again.

The shameless Audrey II, however, voiced by Morgan Gomes, resisted all restraints. Gomes, while only appearing onstage in person for the final curtain call, defined the performance with her spectacular voice. The plant only begins speaking mid-way through the performance, but when Gomes’ voice finally echoed through the theater, I saw jaws drop.

Engineering the evil plant itself is notoriously difficult, and MUSKET pulled it off with humor and style. In its first form, the Audrey II was a single, tentacle-like shoot with a little flower at the tip that Seymore slung around the shop during “Grow for Me.” Upon the plant’s entrance, I figured this first edition was too small for the team to have bothered animating–but to my surprise, in response to the characters’ lines, it drooped, perked up, and even nodded, all without any visible assistance or puppeteering from onstage. As Audrey II continued to grow throughout the show, I never noticed the stage crew replacing it or making adjustments, which is doubly impressive for such a large and mobile prop. The choice to have Audrey II consume its prey by sucking them into its stem resulted in some entertaining visuals: because the shape of the plant was vaguely humanoid, we seemed to watch Orin, Mr. Mushnik, Audrey, and finally Seymore disappear between the plant-being’s “legs.”

Overall, a big congratulations to everyone involved in putting together this fun rendition of Little Shop of Horrors. I encourage everyone who missed the performance to consider buying tickets to MUSKET’s winter semester show, A Chorus Line. I can guarantee that I will be in the audience.

REVIEW: The Music of Studio Ghibli

This past Saturday, the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra performed a sold-out show at the Michigan Theater. Led and conducted by Wilbur Lin, the orchestra played arrangements of film scores from Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, and My Neighbor Totoro. 

The concert was a delight. I have grown up watching Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli films, and had been looking forward to this event since the start of the semester. Joe Hisaishi’s scores are particularly successful as not only the main themes are iconic, but each other piece from each film are unique, sweeping, whimsical, full of wonder, and simply beautiful to listen to. 

The Spirited Away arrangement perfectly encapsulated the mystery of the film, as well as the chaos that ensues as the story progresses. It was a treat to watch the orchestra play live, and being able to identify what instruments were playing what. With “Merry-Go-Round” and “Cave of Mind” from Howl’s Moving Castle, I loved hearing the same theme played via different techniques – plucking, or pizzicato, as well as the typical bowing technique I am most familiar with hearing. 

I also appreciated that Maestro Lin spoke between arrangements to discuss themes from the film, noting the differences between the more Hollywood dramatic scores of Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle and the more popular-and-familiar-at-the-time Japanese TV reminiscent score of Totoro. The Totoro Orchestra Stories were particularly joyful as the music is arranged to teach children about the different components to an orchestra – highlighting the woodwinds, strings, percussion, etc. by section before the orchestra as a whole launches into themes from the film. Local music teacher Momo Kajiwara also joined the stage as a narrator in Japanese. 

I had only been to one orchestra performance of a film score prior to this event. At the first event I attended, the symphony orchestra performed the entire score for the third Harry Potter film, with the film playing on a screen above the performers. I often find that when I watch a film or show, I do notice the score, but it is something I have to revisit after watching in order to fully appreciate. Hearing the score isolated from the context of the film with the Ghibli concert allowed me to be completely immersed in the music, and having the films played in the background was not necessary to be engaged and awed. 

And of course, seeing Totoro in the flesh was a welcome surprise:

REVIEW: THE MUSIC OF STUDIO GHIBLI

There was already a line of anxious concert goers waiting to get into the Michigan Theater when I arrived a half an hour early to the event. I joined the bundled up crowd as we slowly made our way into the theater to escape the cold. There was a line inside to take a photograph with Totoro, one of the main mystical forest creatures from the animated film, My Neighbor Totoro. Totoro looked positively adorable in his little round, gray and white costume, happily posing for pictures with the audience. Needless to say, I had to get a picture myself before finding my seat. The stage was set up with three movie posters suspended from the ceiling, showcasing what soundtracks would be performed  that night. I was particularly excited to listen to Spirited Away. 

I expected the orchestra to perform admirably, as it was the Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra after all. However, I wasn’t expecting the music to sound like it was a professional recording of  the movie itself. As the orchestra played, I could imagine every scene of the film as it unfolded and if I closed my eyes, I could almost believe that the film itself was being projected onto the stage. It was an amazing performance, made even more so by the quick comedic quips from Wilbur Lin who conducted the symphony that night. Lin also took the opportunity between soundtracks to give a little history about each of the pieces  that the symphony was performing, which I’d never experienced before. I found it fascinating to learn a little more about the music behind Studio Ghibli.

The best part of the night however was just before the final piece of music was performed when Lin suddenly left the stage. The audience was perplexed to say the least. There were murmurs all around the room questioning what was happening. There hadn’t been an intermission listed on the brochure, but that was the only possible reason I could think for the conductor to have walked off stage. However, it wasn’t long before someone returned, not Lin, but Totoro! The rotund creature clambered his way up to the stage, baton in paw, before taking his rightful place in front of the symphony. He lifted his arm dramatically as the audience instantly hushed and then…chaos ensued. Totoro tried his absolute best, much to the audiences enjoyment, but it turns out that forest spirits probably aren’t the best suited to conduct a symphony orchestra. Totoro was soon dragged off stage and Lin returned to finish out the concert, though it took a fair moment for the audiences giggles to subside.

It was a fantastic experience, the conductor and the symphony, but Totoro stole the show.