REVIEW: The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon was a wonderful production, put on by Broadway in Detroit at the Fisher Theatre. It is undeniable that the stage was almost glowing throughout the entire show. The bright lights and set decor were a defining part of the experience, giving it the livelihood that such a musical, with compelling identities and enthusiastic characters, deserves. The vibrant colors of the costumes further complemented these strong production aspects, while also playing well into building the separate identities of the characters. The animated performances of the cast were obviously doing the heavy-lifting. Between the identifiable characters, the strong choreography, or the catchy, witty tunes, the cast managed to bring life to the entire show.
For people who are unfamiliar with the show, here it is: two 19-year-old mormon missionaries, Elder Price and Elder Young, are sent out to Uganda for their first two year mission, and it’s not what they expected. Price had hoped to be sent to Orlando Florida, and follower Young just wanted to be Price’s sidekick – but instead he ends up converting many Ugandans on his own terms. Through their adventures with religion, culture, and interaction, the show expresses satire, and sometimes even deeper emotion.
My favorite parts of the show would have to be the songs “Baptize Me” and “Joseph Smith, American Moses” and the choreography. In the former, Elder Young goes through the process of baptizing Nabulungi, which is full of sexual implications. I think I loved this one because Young is such a charismatic character – he brings many laughs to the show, while also forcing the audience to empathize with him because of his low self-esteem. In the latter, the villagers put on a show for the Mormon missionaries, which is entertaining thanks to the juxtaposition between the Ugandans and the Americans reaction. The choreography is a major part of the show, paying tribute to all different genres and parts of musical history. Such complexity and variety from song to song is refreshing, fun, and completely classic. I guess it’d be foolish to expect anything but hyper-theatricality, even if it is a show focused on Mormons in Uganda.
The only issue I had with the show was, well, the show. I knew that it was somewhat controversial, but generally hailed as a brilliant production. However, as I sat through the first act, it took me some time to warm up to the jokes and feel comfortable with them. This is not because I don’t like or am not used to comedy – I love it. And beyond that, find it to be an extremely effective means, specifically when battling confusing identities, ones that are often stereotyped or oppressed. Comedy is awesome. But for some reason, the portrayal of the Ugandans, an imperative part of the show, was not cutting it for me. And despite having thought and read about the story, I still cannot put my finger on what exactly turned me off. It could be due to the current climate our world is in – one where outlandish, seemingly ridiculous ideas that appeared and functioned as jokes are finding their footing in societies that are supposed to be increasingly “progressive” and “forward-moving.” It could be a variety of reasons, objective or subjective. I’m toying with ideas here, still trying to understand why I didn’t love my matinee musical experience quite as much as I hoped that I would. Instead I’ve been left as a slightly confused google-searcher and review-hunter.
However, I saw that by the second act, as a whole, the Ugandans were more humanized and credible. They knew that everything Young was spewing to them, about kissing frogs to cure AIDS and yatta yatta, was metaphors. And by the end of the show, we’re on a positive note again, just as hopeful as Elder Price was at the beginning when he hoped to be sent to Orlando, acknowledging the importance of religion and beliefs to many people, no matter their differences. All in all, I’d say The Book of Mormon is a put-together production worth seeing, and one worth taking a more critical look at, too.

PREVIEW: The Book of Mormon

The majority of what I know about The Book of Mormon is thanks the vague tunes my roommate has been singing to me over the past month since we bought the tickets to see the show. So, I can’t claim to have a very expansive knowledge – but I love going into any show, film, or story unknowing. I also know that I’ve heard about this show since I was in middle school. It’s been a long time in the works, and I’m ready to see the captivating, comical, and often controversial, experiences of two missionaries unfold.

Grab your last-minute tickets to the Tony Award-winning musical, The Book of Mormon, showing at the Fisher Theatre in Detroit, now through December 9th!


REVIEW: Free Solo

Alex Honnold has defied human limits, solo climbing the 3000-foot El Capitan wall in Yosemite Park – and Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi were along with him for the journey, capturing it all for the world to see. The emotions this story shares are extremely raw and captivating, displaying the human desire for greatness alongside the inherent and persistent risk of death, by exploring the nature of Alex’s relationships and his task at hand.

This documentary is one that is very aware of itself, making its audience conscious of the ins and out of how it got made. For example, the camera men have to strategically position themselves along El Cap’s route, getting the footage that is necessary while respecting Alex’s practice, what he needs as he solos the vertical face. We see them planning out their positioning, and even climbing with their equipment on (a feat in itself, I would say.) We learn about how this production makes those who are involved on it nervous. As Alex’s friends, they are the only ones who he would feel comfortable with sticking their noses into his personal life. But there seems to be a part of each of them that wishes he would just give up, forget about the movie. But just like him, they are thrilled by it, too – they want audiences to know about the world of climbing, they want to see their friend succeed, they want to be the support that will help Alex reach his goals. We know about how the intended scheduling of the climb got off-put, a whole season, because Alex didn’t feel he was ready. What Chin and Vasarhelyi choose to include build the story into one that is inclusive, that heightens emotion by bringing us into its production.

The cinematography is a beautifully executed, a major player of the film. The stunning scenery of numerous climbing locations (typically adorned by a tiny, ant-sized Alex, climbing), as well as the more personal shots from Alex’s van, work together to immerse us in a world that is so huge, when you’re looking at it from a drone, but so small, when considering it from the settings that are owned privately or are occupied by yourself and those close to you. The juxtaposition between these spaces seems obvious, but in the film they almost seem to blur together in a less definitive way – movie magic.

That Chin and Vasarhelyi were able to document Alex’s relationship with Sanni McCandless, which gives more context to his human story of being a fearless climber. Alex is unique compared to most people, from his brain, to his physical abilities, to his perspective: he makes clear that he will always put climbing before someone else – but this film shows that even he, something of an emotional anomaly, loves love. The moments captured between Sanni and Alex hint towards the idea that after Alex climbs El Cap, he will be ready to settle down with Sanni. That with this specific success, he deserves something that he has never fully given himself to before.

Free Solo is a wonderful exploration of the human: physically, mentally, and emotionally. Its story provides it the chance to heighten such wonders, but its honest and penetrating execution is what gives the audience the ability to introspect. Relating to Alex, his experience, and his friends’ experiences, we can channel out most primitive, human feelings and questions.

REVIEW: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

“I wish to lose all morals, and accept decadence into my heart.”

The night starts off with crowds of people in sparkles and lingerie and all black  piled up outside of the Michigan Theater, eager to begin their Rocky Horror experience. An experience that is varied and cannot be restricted by just one adjective. An experience that is energetic, erotic, campy, and…. scientific?

With an introduction from a moth, who welcomes all of the groups who are out – the straights, the gays, the sorrorities – the crowd is riled up before the film has started. Prohibited items include: ice, confetti, water guns, candles or lighters, whole rolls of toilet paper, hot dogs, and prunes. But the moth pointed out that squares of toilet paper, or streamers, or 3/4 of a roll of toilet paper, are allowed. It is only the Leather Medusa’s second year putting on a shadow cast show of RHPS at the theater, but they’re sold out.

I stand for my virgin pledge, with about half of the audience who are marked with red lipstick Vs. Surprisingly, such a prominent cult classic still remains unseen by many. Not so surprisingly, the Rocky Horror virgins of the world are curious about the film and its culture, intrigued by its ostentatious reputation and loyal followers. And tonight, our curiosity is to be fulfilled. Soon everyone stands together, for the Rocky Horror pledge and with much anti… cipation – the show begins.

Newly engaged Brad and Janet get stuck in the rain, and wander into Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s castle, where they have a long night ahead of them. The shadow cast saunters around the stage, their costumes and movements perfectly matching those of the film’s characters. The audience yells “ASSHOLE!” at Brad, “SLUT!” at Janet, “WHERE’S YOUR NECK?” at the criminologist, and a variety of other more specific, seemingly-scripted, comments. The film can barely be heard. This culture is not exactly for the prude or sensitive – although they are the ones that the culture loves to deflower the most. Similarly to the audience culture around Tommy Wiseau’s ‘The Room’, some describe this movie-going experience as wildly inconsiderate and vulgar. But the lines of accepted norms are blurred in the midst of such a cult classic, one that drew counterculture crowds as a midnight movie at its release and still draws those audiences (or those who shapeshift into such for a night) today.

Attempting to watch the film over the yelling of the crowd, I do my best to stay in-tune while actively participating. But the participation doesn’t take away from the film’s grandeur. The unusual set, defined characters, theatrical costumes and makeup, peculiar sci-fi characteristics, lively songs and dances, canted angles, effective use of various lenses, irony, and sexual notions, are enough to interest audiences even when they are unclear of the plot (which is somewhat unclear, anyway.) I’m sure all of the other virgins sometimes sat just as confused as me, but also pleasantly entertained.

Seeing Rocky Horror is a uniting experience: the audience, together, are just as important as the film. Dancing the time warp, throwing cards and pieces of toast, everyone is in tune with one another. Even the virgins. We catch on. If all goes as planned by the Transylvanians, by the end of the film you’re going to want to dance and yell and touch everyone and be covered in sequins and dramatic makeup.

REVIEW: Dancing Globally

A beautifully put together four number show, Dancing Globally made me feel connected to the raw emotions that its dancers put out on the stage. I have never seen a modern dance performance before, but now know I will be attending many in the future. I loved the show, from its choreography to costumes to lighting to music.

The first number, ‘Excerpts from KYR (1990), Anaphase (1993), and Mabul (1992)’, was an impactful piece in which the dancers began wearing business attire, and they gradually tore off those garments – all but one dancer, who appeared to be stuck in some way. This dance was very intimate throughout, and especially towards the end as it had only two dancers left on stage. I thought this was an ideal introduction to the show because it was not hectic on stage, so I was able to take in the beginning of the show at calm pace.

The second number, ‘Vox (2018)’, was the number I enjoyed the most. I think this was because while there there was a lot going on with many dancers on-stage, the staging and choreography was well done so that you watch the intricate parts performance without being too overwhelmed.

‘fall(s) (2018)’ was the third number, one in which the dancers wore outfits with large pieces of vibrant fabric that hung off of their bodies, complementing the black backdrop that had huge, colorful flowers spread across it. The many colors and overload of movement was something that made this dance very hard to follow. While it was still aesthetically very pleasing, it seemed a bit more unkempt next to the other numbers.

The fourth number, ‘Minûtus Luminous (2018)’, was an interesting piece inspired by Jóse León Sánchez, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit. The number is intended to be “a song to those families and communities who have had to live with misfortune.”* With complex staging and large structures that mimicked the inside of a dreary building, likely a jail, it was a finishing number with palpable heart and storytelling.

While I still remain undereducated on modern dance, seeing this performance sparked an interest in me that I didn’t know existed. The dancers’ hard work and pure emotions were pulsating off of the stage, and I found myself caught up in their brilliant performance. Another major kudos would be the lighting: each number had different lighting that highlighted and intensified the emotion. I’m sure anyone who saw Dancing Globally can attest that it was bursting with talent and passion.

*from the playbook of Dancing Globally, said by choreographer Sandra Torijano

Photos by Kirk Donaldson

PREVIEW: Dancing Globally

This Saturday I’ll go to a theater that that holds more than a thousand people and watch some of the talented students from the Dance Department, who I’ve never seen perform before. Having never been exposed to modern dance, I know seeing Dancing Globally is a promising first modern dance program to attend because of my friend who is in it, who has been practicing tirelessly.
Dancing Globally, already shown Thursday February 1st and Friday February 2nd, will be shown Saturday February 3rd at 8PM and Sunday February 4th at 2PM at the Power Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets can be purchased for a variety of prices here.