REVIEW: Bright Star

As the show begins, I’m immediately drawn in by the sound of the music. Bright Star is defined by a musical genre that I had never heard in theater before: bluegrass. Bluegrass has its roots in old Irish, English, and Scottish dance tunes, as well as in African American jazz and blues. It became popular in American Appalachia in the mid-1900s, largely due to the influence of its namesake, Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. This band pioneered bluegrass’s characteristic sound of upbeat syncopated rhythms on acoustic stringed instruments. Bright Star is set in the Blue Ridge mountains in the 1920s and 1940s, right as bluegrass was flourishing in this region.

Bright Star features a combination of bluegrass music as well as a more traditional musical theater sound with a bluegrass influence. Together, these genres create a lively, energetic, and emotional backdrop for the musical’s story. The story follows one woman at two different times in her life. Through a series of flashbacks, her life story takes shape. We see how her older, sophisticated, professional self remembers the past through the eyes of her romantic, carefree, younger self. The musical revolves around themes of family, motherhood, and love. I appreciated that Bright Star features a strong female lead whom we see both as a successful literary editor and as a caring mother.

The cinematography of this production was detailed and beautiful. It was shot almost like a movie, which I was not expecting, but I ended up really enjoying it because the director and production crew took advantage of so many creative liberties. Bright Star was shot on multiple different sets, helping to facilitate seamless transitions between time periods and making the show very visually appealing. Additionally, the camerawork during the musical numbers was so fun. These numbers incorporated many zoomed-in shots of animated faces, hands clapping, and feet dancing that made me feel like I was right there with the actors. When you’re watching a show, you want to feel like you’re in the world of the characters. The engaging and playful choreography, in addition to the intimately-shot dialogue scenes, brought me into the world of the story.  

Some of my personal favorite parts of this production were the period costuming, the endearing song about motherhood, the brilliant sound editing, and how the staging and camerawork artfully distracted from the fact that all of the actors were social distanced from one another. The only thing I would have added was closed captioning, but overall, MUSKET once again has navigated this new and strange realm of virtual theater with soul and grace. Kudos to the cast and crew. 

REVIEW: The Weight of God: “The Curious Case of the Soul”

Existential dread: it’s something many of us try to avoid thinking about, and yet it’s not really avoidable at all. We’re bombarded with this concept in memes, Tweets, movies, and everyday conversations. And then there’s the awareness that we live on a planet that’s floating around in space, surrounded by even bigger planets and stars, surrounded by galaxies that are far too vast for us to conceptually comprehend. Whoa. 

In the first episode of her podcast, The Weight of God, host Fareah tackles concepts of existentialism and nihilism through philosophical theory, religious history, and her own soulful insight. Fareah is a student, writer, and an aspiring scholar at U-M. Her work always pushes me to give more generous thought to life’s big questions, and The Weight of God is no exception. This episode, “The Curious Case of the Soul (pt 1),” is a meditation on the meaning of life, and perhaps why we’ve become so disconnected from it. 

When you really think about it, everything we do in life can feel kind of absurd. This is the reasoning of philosopher Albert Camus, who also authored “The Myth of Sisyphus.” In this myth, Sisyphus receives a punishment by the Greek gods that sentences him to rolling a boulder up a hill (which rolls back down once it gets to the top) for the rest eternity. Sometimes it feels as though our lives are like Sisyphus: and endless cycle of repetitive tasks—and for what purpose?

Yet, perhaps there is a different way of contemplating our existence—one that feels liberating instead of suffocating. In the second half of the podcast episode, Fareah addresses the origins of civilization’s dissociation from its spiritual core. As she explains, the rise of Western science, philosophy, and industry has brought with it a “radical separation from God.” We often forget that humans used to rely on spirituality in order to make sense of the world and derive value from life. In contemporary Western society, our capitalist economy emphasizes a more materialistic understanding of the world, dictating that an individual’s value comes from the things we own and produce. However, these things are often out of our control, and that lack of control often breeds dread about our ability to survive. 

As Fareah explains, this may be a source of our existential fear. The world becomes a burden that must be carried by every individual. Fareah concludes that we’ve lost our spiritual history which used to be a source of meaning, and in its place, we are left with an capitalistic individualism that feels isolating and unstable. 

I don’t consider myself to be someone who’s religiously observant, but this podcast definitely made me think about the role of religion in history and in human thought. One of the reasons I found this podcast so engaging was because it didn’t feel like a lecture or a persuasive essay; rather, it felt like an invitation to think alongside Fareah. Furthermore, her expressive voice, emotive storytelling, and inclusion of music brings her “audio immersion journalism,” as she describes it, to life. 

Visit The Weight of God website to listen to the podcast and learn more:

REVIEW: Blame Game

In Beach Bunny’s popular music, a powerful indie-rock sound propels lyrics of heartbreak and defiance that feel honest, vivid, vulnerable, and grounded. Their newest EP, Blame Game, is based in this characteristic and well-loved sound, but it also branches out in a new and exciting direction. In previous releases, lead singer and songwriter Lili Trifilio has tested the waters with social commentary by addressing the tension between Eurocentric beauty standards and her personal quest for love. In Blame Game, however, she takes on a bolder tone as she names and condemns broader societal norms surrounding victim-blaming and toxic masculinity. 

The title of the first track, “Good Girls (Don’t Get Used),” plays with the idea of gendered expectations for romantic relationships, relieving women of the pressure to be a “good girl” and instead calling out toxic masculinity. The track begins powerfully with just bass, percussion, and Trifilio’s brazen lyrics. She resists the idea that her emotions are frivolous and can be ignored in order to satisfy her partner. The lyrics do not include raging insults or ill wishes, but rather, they address patterns of dishonesty in romantic relationships. As the song progresses, Trifilio takes control of her situation by drawing attention to her partner’s immaturity and insincerity, asserting that she’s tired of “fuckboy” culture and she’ll no longer fall for empty promises. 

Featuring some of the catchiest rock instrumentals on the EP, “Love Sick” turns inward. A deeply introspective track, “Love Sick” explores Trifilio’s insecurities regarding romance. With vulnerability and clarity, Trifilio expresses an intense emotional exhaustion as she sings, “I’m getting tired of breaking and healing / I’m getting sick of patching myself up.”

“Nice Guys,” features oscillating major and minor harmonies along with bright, powerful chords that make the track a truly intriguing listen. Certain lines stand out as edgy and humorous, like “If your ego had a zip code, it would be a whole state wide,” but overall, you can feel that Trifilio’s exhaustion present in the previous two tracks is also present here. She is drained from pouring her heart into people who put on a façade of kindness but don’t genuinely have feelings for her. “Nice Guys” is a call for sincerity, a call for “someone who actually wears hearts inside their eyes.”

The final and title track of the EP, “Blame Game” tackles deeply-rooted sexism in American society. The lyrics speak to experiences not so different from high school dress codes, for example, where teachers might tell young women to cover their shoulders as not to distract the boys. Trifilio addresses these sexist, heteronomative expectations head-on. With a thick layer of sarcasm, the chorus reads, “Guess it’s my fault my body’s fun to stare at / Sorry my clothes can’t keep your hands from grabbing / Yeah, it’s my problem, I’m asking for it / Guess you’re the victim and I’m the suspect.” As a society, we’ve normalized blaming women when they’re the victims of unwanted sexual advances, claiming their physical appearances warrant abuse. “Blame Game” thoughtfully questions these norms and uplifts the experiences of victims, empowering all womxn to love their bodies thoroughly and without guilt.   

Trifilio and her other amazing band-members have put together a jam-packed EP; I definitely recommend giving Blame Game a listen!


Soul is Pixar’s latest film, and as always, Pixar gets deep. Soul follows the story of a middle school band teacher who lives and breathes jazz music. He dreams of living the life of a great jazz musician, but just when he gets a once in a lifetime opportunity, he becomes separated from his soul. At its core, Soul is about purpose, about meaning of life, and about gratitude. It encourages viewers to fall in love with the little things, even when your dreams might be out of reach.

A double entendre, the title Soul refers both to the jazz-influenced music genre that originated in Black communities in the 1950s and 1960s, as well as to the spiritual essence of a living being. Together, both of these meanings drive the film. We meet our protagonist, Joe Gardner, as he’s leading middle school band practice, looking drained and hopeless. We soon discover that, despite his immense love jazz, he has been met with rejection after rejection in his efforts to make performing his career. Then, out of the blue, Joe gets the opportunity to perform with a famous jazz saxophonist. Joe is over the moon and literally starts dancing in the streets. 

All of a sudden, the screen goes black. We learn that Joe is gravely injured and unconscious, and the film takes a deep dive into philosophy as we now meet Joe’s soul. Pixar has a way of creating spaces that blur the line between reality and imagination, using playful imagery to approach topics that border the solemn and ominous. Here, we experience this space with Joe as he realizes, in a panic, that he’s nearing the Great Beyond. Yep, Pixar really just made a movie about life and death for 8-year-olds.   

Throughout the rest of the film, Joe tries desperately to get back in his body on Earth, and along the way, he meets characters and gains perspectives that completely change the way he thinks about his life. Through Joe’s eyes, we rediscover beauty in the “normal,” even the monotonous, parts of life. Just as Soul instills a deep sense of gratitude in its protagonist, it encourages its viewers to live in the present; to notice the magic of a leaf falling from a tree and to savor the flavor of a good meal.

Soul demonstrates a transformation in Pixar that has unfolded over the course of my lifetime. It’s gone from talking monsters to introspective questions of purpose and gratitude. This film is also notable because it’s Pixar’s first that centers a Black character, and portrayals of Black culture and Black joy have been largely absent from Disney. 

One of the most interesting things about this film is that the climax isn’t where you think it’s going to be. Joe gets what he wants well before the movie ends, so we don’t get that big Hollywood finish of everything falling into place. Instead, we’re left with a sense of uncertainty about Joe’s future. In the closing moments, he’s just a normal guy. The thing he wanted most doesn’t make him happy. Joe realizes that the only cure for his ever-present ennui is to fall in love with all parts of his life, from his treasured jazz music to the rumble of the subway. I truly am walking away from Soul with a renewed sense of appreciation for the little things.

REVIEW: Friend Goals

Tank and the Bangas just dropped a quarantine EP that hits close to home as we round up the final month of 2020. In just 21 minutes, Friend Goals brings us through a journey of funk, hip-hop, soul, jazz, and spoken word that speaks to experiences many of us have shared over the past year. While Friend Goals directly addresses COVID loneliness, its upbeat dance mood and theme of self-love breathes fresh air into a dreary time.

I first heard Tank and the Bangas on a Tiny Desk concert and was mesmerized by the band’s creativity and versatility. This New Orleans group has a way of blending playfulness and soulfulness in a way that feels like it shouldn’t work, and yet works so well. They are led by Tarriona “Tank” Ball, whose emotion and vocal expression give the group its characteristic energy and adventurousness. 

In most of the band’s music, including Friend Goals, Ball alternates between a voice that sounds resonant and impassioned, and one that sounds more animated and lively. I’ve never heard vocal performance quite like hers before, nor have I heard an artist boldly weave poetry into music like she does. The way she moves seamlessly between all of these techniques is fascinating to me. 

The EP’s second track, “Self Care,” is the quintessential quarantine bop we all need. It is not necessarily a happy song; rather, its lyrics convey relatable feelings of frustration and loneliness while simultaneously encouraging acceptance and self-love. The lines, “Feeling lonely I mean it / Seen the shadows I seen it / Tryna find the meaning” address the introspective loneliness born from solitude that many of us have experienced over the past nine months. The lyrics also acknowledge that sometimes it’s hard not to do things like call up your ex and relish in the familiarity and comfort of past happiness. However, that’s not all the song does. While recognizing that taking care of yourself can be difficult right now, “Self Care” wants you to embrace it. The track features a handful of vocalists in addition to Ball, including Jaime Woods, Orleans Big, and Anjelika “Jelly” Joseph, and they all sing with a strong energy that feels empowering to the listener. The last line, “I’m ready to get myself back” emphasizes acceptance and appreciation of oneself. 

Altogether, it’s a song that holds a lot of different emotions, and like the lyrics, the music also taps into several moods. The opening features a penny whistle melody that repeats throughout the whole track and feels almost eerie. Yet, when the beat drops, you can’t stop your head from nodding along to the upbeat rhythm. “Self Care” is a complex song for a complex year.

As a whole, the EP sounds like a patchwork of thoughts. “Mr. Insta” underscores our social media obsessed culture through a rumination on online fame and its discouraging downfalls. On “Friend Goals,” Ball incorporates storytelling of childhood memories and delivers her bars with an animated vocal expression. These techniques uplift her message about the rarity and joy of long-lasting, meaningful friendship. 

This EP is an exploration of different corners of emotion and musical genre. Though brief, it feels deeply honest.


Newsies is a musical that is nostalgic and dear to my heart, and when I heard that MUSKET was going to present a virtual concert of it this year, I got so excited. And boy, did MUSKET pull through. Based on historical events of 1899, Newsies follows the stories of New York City’s newsboys as they fight against the injustices perpetuated by the city’s powerful newspaper publishers.

Theater is already a form of art that requires so much creativity and innovation, but that need for thinking outside the box reached new levels this year. Even in the most “stripped down” theater performances, actors rely on their facial expressions to convey attitude and emotion. This year, MUSKET’s actors had to navigate how to portray their characters with a mask covering their nose and mouth. While seeing actors perform in masks felt very strange, I was impressed with how the actors used their eyes and their bodies to tell their stories. Furthermore, each mask had a playful illustration of a mouth on it that matched each character’s costume, which was such a creative touch.

Another component that usually contributes to storytelling in theater is the set design, or the backgrounds where the story takes place. Usually, the cast and crew of a show have the opportunity to work with a set that is designed specifically for that show, but this year, the Newsies team had to get creative. Their utilization of local, non-traditional performances spaces worked well, and their resourceful and artful use of the outdoors was truly beautiful. These visuals and storytelling were elevated by the amazing and evocative camerawork. For example, in “Something to Believe In,” the actors were singing romantically to each other, yet for most of the song, they were socially distanced and not even in the same frame. Although the actors could not hold each other in their arms, these moments were brilliantly shot and still felt intimate and loving. 

This production was simply so fun to watch. There was hardly a moment without movement, and the choreography was outstanding. The dancers were aerobic, energetic, and graceful, notably in “Seize the Day.” In addition to the engaging choreography, the cast of Newsies delivered such strong vocal performances throughout. “Watch What Happens” stood out to me as an especially memorable performance, but there wasn’t a weak moment in the entire virtual concert. The soloists’ voices sounded full and bright, and on ensemble numbers, harmonies were clean and locked in. 

Hats off to the sound technicians for getting all the voices and orchestra synched up and balanced, especially since I’m sure recording was complicated due to COVID restrictions. Whenever the technical aspects of a production are “invisible” (meaning you don’t notice them), that’s a good sign. And the sound on Newsies was seamless.


Overall, was it weird to see a socially distanced, shortened version of Newsies? Yes, of course it felt strange, but I am wildly impressed with the ingenuity of the cast and crew because they put together what I didn’t think was possible. Since March, I’ve missed live music and live theater, and Newsies brought me one step closer to experiencing that again. MUSKET’s production of Newsies felt immensely joyful, and joy is something I think we could all use right now. 

The Newsies playlist link is accessible here: