College is a time for doing stupid things, they say. And having done more than my fair share of them myself, I can attest to the highs and lows of adulting. But at least I learned a little about myself in the process.

That’s the feeling Pacek and Paul — Michigan students themselves when they wrote the show — knew all too well. And it’s the feeling Edges hits right on the head.

Edges is more a song cycle than a full musical with a plot and fleshed-out characters, a show that feels more like an intimate confessional than a Broadway spectacle. Penny Seats’ staging did justice to that. Kerrytown Concert House is literally a converted house, adding to the idea that these characters were more than just written constructs — they could have been any of us.

The first half of the show was set up almost like a group therapy session. The only sets were a pair of stools, and when it was each character’s turn to sing, they would take a stool and tell their story as the other actors watched from the audience. This worked with the material of the show, but at the same time, some of the actors sat on the right side of the stage, where there were no audience members and where the majority of the audience couldn’t see. I don’t want to fault the company for working within the confines of their space, but this setup annoyed me slightly throughout, as the actors would be turned to the side at times singing to the other characters, making them hard to hear.

Edges operates in two halves — essentially, falling in love and falling out of love. After the opening number (a quintessential “I want” song about being afraid to be who you really are), various characters took their turn singing about all of love’s messy parts. The songs themselves were intensely relatable, but adding to that was the fact that the characters are not given names, adding to the idea that they could be any of us.

One highlight was “I Hmm You” — one of the few songs in the first half sung by two characters — which was equal parts awkward and delightful. The actors executed perfectly what it was like to be a 20-something in love.

But Edges had its share of emotional numbers as well, my favorite of which was “Lying There.” The song, about lying next to the person you love, unable to sleep wondering if they feel the same way, was resonant and heartfelt.

The show’s shift happened at “The Facebook Song,” the first ensemble number since the opener. “The Facebook Song” was hilarious (even if slightly outdated — the number one way you can tell this show was written in 2005 is that Facebook was not only the go-to social network for college-aged kids, it was still called “the Facebook”) and the choreography — where each character held up a cardboard Facebook icon and turned it over to reveal certain postings — only added to the song’s comedy. However, I also felt that the song almost didn’t belong in the show. The other numbers, while not necessarily connected, showed a clear arc, but “The Facebook Song” seemed to not fit in with that arc. It seemed almost as if it were in the show as a marker of sorts between the first half and second half. However, “The Facebook Song” brought down the house and for good reason, so I’m loathe to say it didn’t belong.

In the second half, the audience learns that the relationships set up in the first half haven’t been going well, as the various characters come back onstage and sing an array of breakup songs that are at times hilarious and heartfelt. Actor Emily Manuell — who nailed the emotionally-resonant “Lying There” in the first half — was given a complete change of pace in “In Short,” a number about all the ways she wished the person that once kept her awake would just die. She nailed the comedic timing of the piece, another showstopper that left me laughing out loud.

The show wrapped up with another ensemble number where the characters come together saying they’re ready to be loved again. They’ll likely go through all the same feelings again, but at least they’ll be better for it. And that’s where the show packs its real punch.

At times, Edges was almost painfully relatable, eliciting uncomfortable laughter and the kind of awkwardness that’s funny because it’s real.

That’s how you know they nailed it.


Thirteen years ago, two 19-year-old Michigan students had a problem. They were being shunned from their school musicals.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul were still cast, but were given background roles. That’s not out of the ordinary for underclassmen. But, well, theatre kids and college students can be cocky — I should know, I’ve been both — and Pasek and Paul weren’t satisfied. So they decided to write their own show, Edges, about their experience. After all, when you write the show yourself, you can have whatever role you want.

Ask most people today, and they’ve never heard of Edges. And it’s mostly theatre buffs who know the names Pasek and Paul. But their other works are a different story.

La La Land. Dear Evan Hansen. The Greatest Showman.

The accolades are piling up for the pair. They’ve won Golden Globes, Oscars, Grammys and Tonys — a meteoric rise for two guys who graduated only a decade ago.

And while Pasek and Paul are more known for their recent work, Edges — a coming-of-age song cycle written about our generation — is still a cult classic among a certain subset of college students. Edges is no slouch, either, as it won the pair a Jonathan Larson Award (named after the late Rent composer) at the age of 19 — the youngest to ever win.

This week, we, too, can return to Pasek and Paul’s roots and be transported into a world not so different from our own.

I wonder what Pasek and Paul, the 19-year-old theatre “rejects,” would think if you told them that in 2018, their story would almost seem like one right out of a musical — the cocky youth, the show-within-a-show, their rise to the top.

And I don’t know about you, but I want to see where it all began.

Edges, presented by the Penny Seats Theatre Company, runs at the Kerrytown Concert House February 8-9 and 14-16 at 8 PM and February 11 at 4 PM. Tickets are $15 general admission online or at the door, or free with a Passport to the Arts.

REVIEW: Flux by Cadence Dance Company

Cadence Dance Company performs “Green Light”

“Continuous change or movement.”

That’s the definition of the word flux. But it’s also a summary of Flux, Cadence Dance Company’s winter show.

With a collection of contemporary pieces set to a soundtrack of indie music, Cadence, a self-choreographed dance company, showcased more than just movement. They told stories with every piece, stories that changed and evolved as the dances developed.

Especially in their large-group numbers — which I preferred to the small-group ones — Cadence showed a willingness to take risks with their choreography. The opening number, “8 (Circle)” utilized unique formations and lifts to great effect.

The small-group numbers didn’t have enough dancers to use those formations, so several of them had more standard contemporary moves. That didn’t mean it wasn’t innovative, though. My favorite of the small groups was “All Night,” which featured stools as props.

Cadence was strong technically, especially when it came to their turns.  There you could see the amount of rehearsal they put in; their turns were well synchronized even in complicated turn sequences. But at the same time, they didn’t overdo it on the turns.

However, my favorite technical aspect of Cadence’s dances were the lifts. Many numbers — especially the large-group ones — incorporated impressive lifts that at once showed grace and strength.

I was especially impressed with the finale, “Landfill.” The choreography was unique and affecting. The lifts and turns looked good. And though it was a full-company number, the end featured partner work. The partner choreography added to the meaning of the dance’s narrative about a toxic relationship. The two partners’ chemistry was such that it made you feel something. The number packed a punch and was the perfect ending to the show.

Cadence’s penultimate piece was called “Vor Í Vaglaskógi.” It was a senior number, a concept I haven’t seen from any other student groups. I liked the concept of giving the seniors one last number together, and that added more meaning to the movement.

That said, some of Cadence’s other numbers were somewhat forgettable. They weren’t bad by any means, but there was somewhat of a gap between the best numbers of the show and the others. I may have made the show a little shorter — putting more emphasis on the strongest numbers without really taking anything away.

The guest numbers — from hip-hop crews FunKtion and Encore, a cappella ensemble The Friars and tap dance group RhythM Tap — complemented Cadence nicely without overshadowing the main show.

All in all, Flux was an impressive concert that brought to the table things I haven’t seen from any other student dance group.  Their passion for what they did shined through and created something unique and bigger than themselves.

REVIEW: It’s TAPpening

RhythM Tap Ensemble perform “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” at their winter show “It’s TAPpening”

That tappened. And it was, well, fanTAPstic.

Puns aside, RhythM Tap Ensemble drew me in from the moment the curtain went up. For the first part of the opening number, “Cry Me a River,” the stage was dark. It was all shadows and the sound of synchronized tapping.

I never would have expected a tap dance to “Cry Me a River,” but it worked. My only complaint was that the taps were louder than the music, an issue that was fixed for the remainder of the numbers.

“It’s TAPpening” was a first for RhythM. In previous years, they teamed up with another student dance group for their show. This year, for the first time, they had a full-length performance dedicated entirely to them.

In that performance, they displayed their creativity and versatility. They used a wide range of songs for their number — from an acoustic version of “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran to the fast-paced “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back” by Shawn Mendes to the electro-house beats of “Five More Hours” by Deorro. But RhythM never bit off more than they could chew. The different styles worked together seamlessly. Rarely did something seem off, and when it did, it was fixed by the end of the number.

However, the highlight of the show for me wasn’t any of those songs. It was “Acappella,” the first half finale. As the name indicates, the number eschewed a song altogether. Instead, it created its own song.

I often don’t like a cappella tap numbers, but this one was done well and it was stunning. The group tapped out its own rhythm, perfectly in sync. The dancing became a kind of percussion. The rhythms became harmonies. And at the end, 16 dancers stopped, leaving just one, tapping solo, still creating her own beat. She started out quickly and slowed down gradually, finally giving in to the intermission as she stopped and the curtain fell.

RhythM’s choreography burst with personality on the upbeat songs, especially “Shape of You” and “Five More Hours.” Both small-group numbers, the chemistry between the dancers was evident. In “Five More Hours,” the sass of dancers Emilia McCotter and Lexi Fata combined with their costumes — sparkly green tops and black leggings — perfectly encapsulated the party feeling of the song.

The guest numbers were also a lot of fun, and all five groups that performed were talented. My only complaint was that Photonix — a glowstick performance group — came directly before “Acappella.” Photonix’s performance was so popular it may have overshadowed the following number, the best of the show. Still, the guest numbers provided a nice change of pace and added more to my list of student groups I need to see.

Though RhythM Tap Ensemble is not one of the most popular student dance groups on campus, their show was my favorite I’ve seen so far. Their rhythm, musicality and unique choreography combined to make a show that left me captivated even after the final curtain.

PREVIEW: FLUX by Cadence Dance Company

The poster for Cadence Dance Company’s winter show, FLUX, lists three definitions of its title.

First, “the action or process of flowing or flowing out.”

Second, “continuous change.”

And third, “a contemporary dance performance.”

The third definition is obviously not the dictionary one, but nevertheless it fits with the other two. Contemporary dance is a study in flow, in change and experimentation.

The title not only fits perfectly, it makes me excited to see what Cadence has in store.

The first time I saw Cadence Dance Company was at Michigan’s Best Dance Crew, where they placed third. At a competition mostly dominated by hip-hop crews, Cadence’s performance was an intriguing change of pace.

Now, Cadence will put on a full-length performance showcasing their own choreography and style. A contemporary, lyrical and modern company, Cadence “presents a balance between the rigors of studies and freedom of movement,” according to their website.

FLUX by Cadence Dance Company will also feature guest performances by other student groups, including hip-hop crews FunKtion and EnCore, tap dance troupe RhythM Tap Ensemble and a cappella ensemble The Friars. The show is on Saturday, January 20 at 7 PM at the Power Center. Tickets are $7 for students and $10 for adults at the door, or free with a Passport to the Arts.

PREVIEW: It’s TAPpening

I first saw RhythM Tap Ensemble as guest performers at Impact Dance’s winter show. They performed a high-energy number to Zedd and Aloe Blacc’s Candyman that left me impressed.  When I began seeing signs on the Diag for “It’s TAPpening,” RhythM’s upcoming performance, I instantly wondered what else they had up their sleeves.

RhythM is unique among university dance groups in that they perform solely in tap, a style no other student organization is dedicated to. Tap focuses on rhythm and musicality, on crisp movements, on looking good and sounding better.

“It’s TAPpening” will feature self-choreographed routines from RhythM as well as guest performances by contemporary dance company Impact, visual performance group Photonix, hip-hop crew EnCore, jazz dance troupe Outrage and a cappella ensemble Compulsive Lyres.

If you’re looking for a sharp, high-energy performance this weekend, “It’s TAPpening” is the show for you. The event begins Friday at 7 PM at the Mendelssohn Theatre. Tickets are $5 for students and $8 for adults at the door, the Michigan Union ticket office, or Mason Hall.