REVIEW: In The Heights

America is the land of opportunity. Many people from many countries immigrated to the United States in search of a better life, of a better future for their kids. And as this new generation grows up in the land they call home, they must grapple with what home truly means.

MUSKET’s performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s baby, the predecessor to Hamilton, embraced this culture that seems lost in the face of white America. With an extremely diverse, and truly phenomenal, cast, you could see in everyone’s eyes that they were proud and thankful for their heritage as they sang and danced their hearts out onstage at this sold out show. With flags proudly waved and memories preciously cherished, this production of In The Heights was filled with overwhelming talent and pride.

It touches on the sacrifices that parents make for the sake of the children they love and wish to provide for. The selfless hardships they endured are appreciated, not lost, on the continuing road of struggles as we all try to reach a higher pinnacle of greatness and hope. Kevin’s desire to escape the life of farming led him to leave his father’s footsteps and to pave the perfect path for Nina that he always envisioned, despite the difficulties that proves to be.

It touches on the struggles of Latinx minorities to succeed as first-generation college students. The pressure for Nina to make it out and make something of herself, and the reality of how difficult that is with financial burdens, is something that universities must take into account as they provide more assistance for more opportunities for better education.

It touches on the importance of family and community. Abuela Claudia’s presence and legacy roots Usnavi in Washington Heights and the Dominican Republic simultaneously. Benny may not be Latino, but he is among family in the Heights as well.

It touches on the dreams of leaving only to be pulled back by the weight of home.

It touches on a Latino community with no power — singing repeatedly “We are powerless” in the midst of a blackout — still powering through such adversity.

MUSKET brings all these aspects of life to the surface through powerful vocals and classic Miranda lyrics and savvy Salsa moves that exposed these struggles and difficulties — and the strength and perseverance of immigrant families.

I left the Power Center speechless, pretending I didn’t just cry after basically every number. I witnessed some of the best choreography I’ve ever seen and heard some of the best music I’ve ever laid ears on. The band’s power just enhanced the vocals and power displayed onstage, providing an amazing backdrop that set the tone for every note sung and fit with every move made. There was excitement in the air and celebratory joy and stunning sadness. It was real.

This musical forced me into a position of intense self-reflection. It made me appreciate my parents — immigrants from Taiwan — even more, and it’s given me a lot to think about in terms of my own story and my privilege and the life I’m going to make for myself here at Michigan.

However, it also brought my attention to the greater world around me, and the journey of everyone here. The diversity represented onstage was truly groundbreaking, and having such an inclusive show at the University of Michigan right now is so important. The chemistry among the cast is only natural as they share a common piece of history and understanding. The uniting factor for everyone on the cast, crew, and band was a pride in the past and a vision for the future, and that power and passion made this performance resonate beyond the stage and into the real world.

Tl; dr: The vocals: WOW. The choreography: WOOWWWW. The passion: WOWOWOW. And the message? Just *wow*.


PREVIEW: In The Heights

This 2008 Broadway classic has found its way to University of Michigan’s campus! Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical In The Heights follows the lives of a Hispanic-American neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City over the course of three days. MUSKET is bringing UM student talent to this masterpiece this weekend!

Catch this production at the Power Center on March 16 and 17 at 8pm and March 19 at 2pm. Tickets ($7 for students and $13 for adults) can be purchased at or at MUTO.

REVIEW: First Date

“The One.” Everyone is on the lookout for their soulmate to settle down with. That special someone may not be who you are expecting or are used to however. First Date was a light, funny, and awkward musical exploring a blind date that has the potential to go somewhere.

Aaron’s (Drew Benson) nervousness and Casey’s (Sarah Mazurek) hostility were apparent in their initial interactions — and if first impressions were bought, that would’ve been the end of this first date. However, the date lives on as Casey ignores her hilariously flamboyant best friend Reggie’s bailout calls, and they gradually move past the small talk and delve into talks about religion, passion, and the future.

At each and every turn, they each imagine their own voice of reason and doubt in the form of best friend Gabe and sister Lauren. From imaginary (or real?) babies to bad boy exes, every aspect of the future and the past is brought to the present throughout this first date. The dangers of the world wide web were brought alive through the manifestation of Google and every single post that can never be erased. There was sass and attitude in their conversations, and this first date was truly a journey of blunders and embarrassment.

Through the laughter, there were still scenes of sensitive topics among the musical numbers. Aaron remembers the tragic love of his passed mother and seeks closure with his ex-fiance through a rocking cathartic song. Casey engages in an honest introspective reflection about her personality and the inner walls she’s put up in order to protect herself. The vulnerability they express brings them closer as they reveal more of their true selves, despite the initial odds of their personalities clicking being against them.

Sarah Mazurek and Drew Benson’s vocals were beautiful and complemented each other perfectly, and everyone else provided great backup or solo numbers about, for instance, food. This nine person cast fully embodied every quirky character they turned into, and the dynamics between everyone were truly entertaining.

As Casey and Aaron ignored the voices that followed them throughout the entire night and decided to take the leap, the last scene is one that is highly predictable, but heartwarming nonetheless (in addition to a surprise potential relationship forming right before the end). A2CT’s production of First Date was a feel-good play riddled with amusing quirks, brutal honesty, and enlightening humor.

PREVIEW: First Date

We’ve all been there — first dates. The first date that brings dread or butterflies to your stomach. The first date that is either endless torture or an instant click. The first date that has you already setting up your next blind date or planning your wedding. And then there’s the first date that is perfectly average and leaves the future completely uncertain.

Meet Aaron and Casey, chronic singles meeting for their arranged blind date. Featuring characters such as Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, Google, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, this original comedy musical set in the modern technological age explores the possibilities of love and chemistry at a certain point in life between two people and all the doubting voices carried along the way. Do the sparks fly? Is love in the air?

A2CT is putting this production on at the Arthur Miller Theatre March 8-11 with showtimes at 7:30pm on Thursday, 8pm on Friday and Saturday, and 2pm on Sunday. Student tickets are $14 and can be bought online at or at the door. This event is also FREE with a Passport to the Arts voucher!

REVIEW: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Have you ever had your stomach hurt from laughing so hard one second and then holding your breath, trying not to cry the next second? That was me Friday night as I sat in the Arthur Miller Theatre, a room completely tense and enraptured as it awaited the judgment on Judas Iscariot — a traitor, a follower, a son, an enemy, a friend, a betrayer, a human.

I read The Last Days of Judas Iscariot in my creative writing class last semester, so I already knew how good this play was. Stephen Adly Guirgis’s ability to craft a work that is simultaneously light and heavy is a marvel in of itself, and one I greatly appreciated when I studied it.

However, I was not prepared for SMTD’s production of this play. This 18-person cast found itself waddling through a script as dense as osmium and managed to give the theater a collective headache that was frequently alleviated with the hearty laughter that this play relies on to carry its extremely deep message.

As a contemporary play, the updated references from 2005 in the script, as well as the wardrobe and music choices, brought a fresh take on this still-relevant work that is religious in every aspect and completely more than religion at the same time.

Everyone put their heart, mind, and soul into their character, and their dominant presence on the stage made the stage disappear and brought these characters to life. They nailed every monologue (and boy, were those some monologues!) and beat and intricate detail of a personality that made each character unique.

In purgatory, we catch glimpses of complex souls and the competing narratives of stories and the duality of humanity. The dynamic between the short-tempered judge struggling to find his truth and the incompetent and innocent bailiff struggling to find an acceptable case for the judge was hilariously captured by Ben Ahlers and Josh Strobl as Strobl ran around trying to appease the demands being barked at him.

The courtroom atmosphere was enhanced by the questioning that the condescending, flirtatious El-Fayoumy and the cold, determined Cunningham intensely fired back and forth. Alexander Sherwin made me comically uncomfortable with his over-the-top approach to law and flattery, and Kat Ward’s command of the courtroom in his presence was a victory for all women. Speaking of women — Mikaela Secada completely dominated the fierce and sassy Saint Monica, and her scene is a beautiful example of the complexity of the nature of emotions an individual can harbor, her nagging attitude and honest compassion making her monologue surprisingly and ultimately human.

The penultimate scene with Judas and Jesus is heartwrenching. As Liam Allen and Mason Reeves explored the depths of despair in a plea just imploring for love and forgiveness, I felt my heart stop and time froze as the pure emotions being displayed on the stage was too much and too real. Allen and Reeves completely nailed this powerful moment, and their sincerity and intensity made this play that much harder to watch and grapple with — which is a testimony to the entire cast’s talent and ability.

We make our own choices. And those choices inherently include sins. What we do with those sins — the emotional acceptance necessary of our actions — is also up to us. If anything is to come afterward, we must first be able to forgive ourselves and believe in ourselves before we can look around for forgiveness from others and believe in others.

I could go on and on about this production and the cast and crew, but I recommend you go see it for yourself. This authentically raw performance by SMTD is one that will forever be stuck in my heart as I continue to wrestle with the moral, philosophical, theological, and psychological problems this humorous and dramatic masterpiece poses and this cast so wonderfully performed .

REVIEW: Magic Giant

As part of their Magic Misfits tour, Magic Giant showed up in Ann Arbor right after playing in Columbus, OH. Naturally, the crowd at the Blind Pig automatically brought an energy and excitement unmatched from the night before in that one state, proving who the better fans are.

The Brevet opened the show, setting the stage with a rock vibe centered around lead singer Aric Chase Damm’s soul-and-country vocals to create the Americana sound the band centers around. Though I hadn’t heard of them before that night, I found myself instantly captivated by The Brevet’s unique and powerful sound, my head bopping and feet tapping to unfamiliar tunes that quickly found their way into my music playlist. Their set left me craving for more, and soon that hunger would be satiated.

After a quick set change, from the rising fog came a mystifying viola and guitar riff and a steady booming drum beat. Magic Giant emerged, and the crowd responded, jumping and singing along to the songs they know by heart as banjos, harmonicas, and cellos danced around onstage and performed fan favorites that kept the energy infectious and the night young, including “Jade”, “Glass Heart”, and “Celebrate the Reckless”.

Halfway through the show, they asked for total silence from the rowdy crowd that continuously screamed their love for this trio. After accomplishing this feat, Austin, Zambricki, and Zang left the stage to perform acoustic versions of “Nothin’ Left” and “The Great Divide” among the fans that heartfully relished in the intimacy that this acoustic proximity provided.

Then, they performed a new single still in the works, introducing a triple clap that will soon to ingrained in Magic Giant fans’ repertoire that currently includes “Woah, hey / Woooaah”s and turning small bodegas into Club Las Vegas. From this little sneak peek, there is much to be excited about for the future of Magic Giant. Until then, I’ll just continue listening to In the Wind and cherish their live charisma from this show as an unforgettable experience.

The Brevet and Magic Giant together electrified the crowd with their heart-pounding, soul-jumping music and their excited stage presence that captured their love for performing, transfusing that same love for music into us misfits and sharing their talented gift in a night full of magical happiness free of worries or pain. An escape from the daily struggle of life that weighs you down, their music lifts you up. Good vibes indeed.