REVIEW: Big Fish

It is a story of love. It is a story of dreams. It is a story of being misunderstood and one of wanting to understand. Big Fish is a story filled with stories, and it’s one definitely worth watching.

The 12 chairs version of this musical performed at the black box theatre of The Encore created an intimate setting for this musical exploring the truths and exaggerations behind a faltering relationship between father and son, between a dreamer and a realist. As Will questions everything he knows about his father, he dives deep into the stories he’s grown to doubt.

It all starts with a witch who tells Edward Bloom how he dies. The aura around this scene gave me chills. With Anna Birmingham killing it as the witch surrounded by four dancing creatures and green lighting and music to set the mood, I would’ve freaked out just like Zacky Price. The town of Ashton is too small for a man like Edward Bloom, creating a big fish in a small pond. Edward sets out to see the world and befriends a giant named Karl and a circus ringmaster who is secretly a werewolf, only to come across love at first sight when he sees Sandra, winning her over at Auburn University with daffodils. His adventures are wondrous and empowering — just enough so for Will to become skeptical of the tales he once loved.

The entire cast rocked every song and dance move, from the Alabama Stop to the “Little Lamb from Alabama” routine. In the number “Stranger,” Billy Eric Robinson as Will nailed the longing of a son that just wants to know who his father really is before it’s too late and as he prepares for fatherhood himself. Emmi Bills and David Moon’s beautiful love duet “Daffodils” captured the chemistry that lets the audience see how Edward’s dream finally came true as he finds his soulmate, and Bills’s touching rendition of the ballad “I Don’t Need a Roof” perfectly reinforced that love. Ridiculous laughter was provided by Connor Giles and James Fischer as the hilarious brother duo Don and Zacky Price. Moon nailed the often rapid transition between acting as a sick, dying man and as an exuberant young man with his entire life ahead of him and his sights set to the skies. Together, all 12 members of the cast created a beautiful story that stretches your imagination.

Stories are a source of inspiration, and as Will reconciles this with the father he never knew, he realizes that the man who’s like a stranger to him is a man who is just finding a way to leave a memorable legacy for the family he loves.

If you’re in the area for the next month, be the hero of your own story and go out to The Encore in Dexter to watch this talented cast tell this story you don’t want to miss.

PREVIEW: Big Fish

Alternating between two timelines of the present-day real world and the storybook past, Big Fish is the story of Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman, and his son Will as they grapple with mortality and their faltering father-son relationship that has been riddled with tall tales. Based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions and the 2003 film Big Fish written by John August and directed by Tim Burton, Andrew Lippa has merged the two with music and lyrics to create a musical as mystical as its plot.

Celebrate the end of finals week, the 2017-2018 school year, and the coming of summer with a musical that will stretch your imagination and warm your heart. From April 26 to May 20, The Encore Musical Theatre Company will be performing Big Fish from April 26 to May 20, so there are many chances to see the amazing talent The Encore has to bring! Tickets can be bought at https://www.theencoretheatre.org/tickets/.

REVIEW: Once Upon a Pops

As much as I love words, they can only do so much. When I am speechless, when words escape me, I turn to music to express what I cannot put into words. The Michigan Pops Orchestra have combined my two favorite modes of communication, putting on a night full of literature, ranging from childhood favorites to modern classic, all in the form of music.

Disney made a beautiful showing through Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin, and movie and musical soundtracks had their fair share of representation through powerful, emotional performances of Forrest Gump, Jane Eyre, The Godfather, Les Misérables, The Phantom of the Opera, Fantastic Beasts, Romeo and Juliet, and The Sound of Music. All of these selections gave the Pops a chance to shine.

The break from literature was found in Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concert in D Major. Katie Sesi was the winner of the 2018 MPO Concerto Competition and performed this beautiful masterpiece with breathtaking precision and tackled the incredibly intimidating technical difficulty with poise. I’m excited to see all the talent she has to bring to the music scene at University of Michigan when she attends in the fall, as she already received a standing ovation with her debut performance with the Michigan Pops Orchestra.

The night featured soloists Kevin Starnes, who shook the jungle with his silky baritone rendition of “Bare Necessities,” and Allison Prost and Michael Floriano as they took on the classic love duet, “All I Ask Of You.”

It wouldn’t be a Pops concert without a hilarious video narrative and a trivia game. This time we followed the story of a princess, stand partners, and the inferior Harvard Pops Orchestra as music director Rotem Weinberg read the story of the PrinPop Bride from “Scheherazade” for a sick boy. The battle of the bookworm consisted of naming a classic book based on amusing summaries (my favorite was “teenage boy fights noseless alum”).

Overall, it was a pretty standard Pops concert, which means it was phenomenal, full of the usual amount of laughter and engagement and amazing music you find at a Pops concert. I can’t wait to see what the Michigan Pops Orchestra has to present next year!

PREVIEW: Once Upon a Pops

Once upon a time, a student-run, student-directed orchestra formed on the University of Michigan campus, bringing engaging, exhilarating music to the stage. With special effects to blow your mind, these familiar tunes from all your favorite movies will make you dance internally and sing along as your inner child rejoices.

The Michigan Pops Orchestra’s “Once Upon a Pops” concert will be at the Michigan Theater on April 7 at 7pm. Tickets are $5 for students and $8 for adults, but it’s FREE with a Passport to the Arts voucher! So snatch one up around campus and take a trip down memory lane this weekend!

REVIEW: Bloom

NERDS can lift any sad or sick spirit. After a couple days of feeling under the weather, involving little movement and work, I made my way to the Union to watch this semester’s production of Bloom. And that was certainly the highlight of an otherwise bad weekend.

As a purely student-run theater group, this original production was amazing in terms of its talent in acting, singing, composing, and writing, as well as the powerful message it conveyed. Despite some curtain technical difficulties (handled with poise and laughter) and an extended intermission due to the game (GO BLUE), the cast carried on and performed this important work filled with heartfelt, heavy content that is not represented in media enough. The importance of the opportunity NERDS provides students cannot be emphasized enough. Diana Yassin, part of the ensemble, said, “It was a really good experience because I’ve never done anything theater-based in high school because it was always really intense and stressful and scary. But then I came here…and it was really fun and there’s not a lot of pressure on it and everyone’s really nice.” You heard it here folks: NERDS makes dreams come true.

Leah King and Asritha Vinnakota’s portrayal of best friends Margot and Aggie, each struggling to make sense of their own sexualities, was very real and authentic. Their misguided intentions and projected insecurities are problems all too common in friendships and the community. The fact that this Austen-era world highly resembles today’s world still is disconcerting. But it is works like this that is changing the narrative.

This musical had many intricate layers that complicated the lives of the characters. Playwrite Sarah Costello did an amazing job highlighting the difficulties of being understood, even among close friends and people who might understand you better than you might think. The tension between Margot and Aggie was heartbreaking, as their struggles were more similar than they knew, showing how one’s identity may obscure the understanding of another’s.

Taking place in a world where impromptu love duets determine your fate, Margot’s inability to romantically duet led to many raw solos that Leah absolutely killed. Asritha’s gut-wrenching performance of “Right In Front Of Your Eyes” showed everyone the silent struggles Aggie also deals with as she grapples with her own feelings of bisexuality. Toby Jaroslaw’s well-intentioned Ollie complicated the situation but despite his embarrassment, his continued support at the end is a perfect example of how one should treat someone who comes out as asexual and aromantic — exactly how you treated them before (and his proposal number “Next To You” was stuck in my head for the rest of the night). As the town’s outcast, Ellen Paquet’s song as Aunt Clarabel was so beautiful, it was exactly what Margot needed to hear. And the platonic duet between Margot and Aggie at the end was truly heartwearming as each character began to accept that they are exactly who they are meant to be.

The costumes were beautifully designed and symbolically important. Margot’s stunning dress — purple, white, and black — was the color of the flag for asexuality, and Aggie’s was the color of bisexuality — pink, lavender, and blue. The subtle symbols may seem small, but they are huge for raising awareness, as well as being an integral part of each character.

Bloom was truly groundbreaking in terms of representation for invisible and misunderstood minorities. Castmember Fareah Fysudeen commented on the significance of this musical, saying, “I think it’s really important for representation…and I’m sure it meant a lot to people in the crowd and onstage. Overall, it was just a really enriching experience.” Just as Sarah wrote the change she wanted to see, every member of NERDS believed in the power of this musical and dedicated three months of their time to this production, being the change they also wanted to see onstage.

Championing platonic love over romantic love, a concept foreign to many heteronormative people, is not weird or abnormal. Being aromantic or asexual does not mean something is wrong with you. Just as Margot was a beautiful character that gradually found her way to happiness and acceptance, if you are struggling to find your place with your sexuality, Bloom shows that there is a community that cares. You are wanted, you are accepted, you are loved, and you are supported. You, too, will bloom.

REVIEW: Who Can Relate

After an amazing week full of mental health awareness, it all led up to the Who Can Relate concert featuring not just Logic but many many more, as Hill Auditorium filled with people committed to destigmatizing and fighting mental illness.

With a surprising video greeting from Bill Clinton as the opener, the UM Men’s Glee Club took the stage with powerful vocalists to perform “Glory.” Then Glenn Close came out, talking about her work with her organization, Bring Change 2 Mind, changing the narrative around mental health after her sister was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (fittingly, yesterday, March 30, was national bipolar day) and her own struggles with depression. And as the stage worked on some server technical difficulties, we got treated to an impromptu performance by Glenn Close, which was amazing in itself.

Kevin Hines, a Golden Gate Bridge suicide survivor, led everyone in shouting “Be here tomorrow.” A phrase so simple, yet so powerful. As the auditorium rang with these three words, I felt the reassuring tension as they echoed into silence. Hakeem Rahim performed spoken word pieces that struck a chord about rising up again. As the founder of I Am Acceptance, his work is also changing the world, and having his presence onstage was truly special. Finally, NFL star Brandon Marshall and his wife Michi talked some more about the importance of support groups and getting help, as Marshall himself lives with borderline personality disorder. Seeing these prominent successful figures united around a common cause that affects all their lives personally is a reminder that, though it is a hard journey, the future is bright and worth fighting for.

By the time Logic took the stage (wearing a Zingerman’s shirt no less), everyone was on their feet and ready for a night of great music. This was the very first time he was performing his newest Bobby Tarantino II mixtape, and though it was only released earlier this month, everyone was singing every word. At the end, he performed his hit “1-800-273-8255.” Seeing everyone sing this song with their phone lights waving in the air was truly touching.

Logic’s story is also one of great admiration. He started on food stamps, and now he has a Netflix documentary and is about to start his summer tour. The first time he performed in Ann Arbor, it was at the Blind Pig as an opener for a small crowd, and yesterday he performed in front of a crowded Hill Auditorium where everyone was singing along. His journey is an emblem of hope for many others that started from nothing that the future will allow them to make something of themselves.

However, the concert did not end there. After Logic left the stage after his last song, Harris Schwartzberg, the man who put this all together, called Logic back to the stage as “You Will Be Found” from the amazing musical Dear Evan Hansen was performed as a thank you for Logic. This breathtakingly important song about mental health was a perfect ending to a night filled with inspirational people and songs.

The night was just amazing. Full of uniting strength and infinite support, it was a beautiful reminder that you truly are not alone. If you or someone you know is fighting with mental illness, there is hope and love. Stay strong <3