REVIEW: Choir Boy

The Rude Mechanicals’ student-run production of Choir Boy was truly spectacular.

The play Choir Boy follows a group of Black students at a Christian preparatory school as they explore their identity, religious beliefs, and sexuality. Choir Boy’s touching story amplifies Black voices and talent. Additionally, this play is distinct from other plays as it has a strong musical component; it features church hymns, African-American spirituals, and stepping. This added element made the show dynamic and even more beautiful as the cast was full of incredible vocalists. I was even brought to tears during one of the musical outbreaks.

Moreover, the cast excelled on both the acting and musical fronts. Although wearing virtually identical costumes, the actors portraying the students were able to build a distinct, meaningful personality for their character — for some, even in just a few, short lines. I was deeply invested in watching “the students” grow and change during their time at the preparatory academy. The actors’ ability to subtly and cleverly display “change” in characterization added nuance to the production and reminded me of the ways I grew during high school. Further, some of the actors had to act out extremely difficult, heart-wrenching, and embarrassing circumstances. Yet, I felt as though everything was performed with 110% percent. I admire the courage of the performers who leaned into the material’s difficulty instead of shying away from it.

Above all, this production was able to draw in audience members emotionally. Accordingly, the audiences’ enthusiasm was palpable. I saw the Saturday night show which had an audience that practically filled the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. Throughout the production, I could hear audible gasps and screams during shocking moments and “awwws” during moving scenes. After each song, the audience gave hearty applause, and the play ended with a standing ovation.

The Rude Mechanicals demonstrated their acting and creative prowess with Choir Boy. I will be attending any and all Rude Mechanicals productions for the rest of my time at Michigan.

(Photo from the Rude Mechanicals’ Instagram Page @umrudes. 11/19/21)

REVIEW: University Philharmonic Orchestra’s Fall Concert

On October 14th, I had the pleasure of attending the University Philharmonic Orchestra’s fall concert at Hill Auditorium. As a freshman, I was especially excited to see this instrumental group as they feature an all-freshman string section. The University Philharmonic Orchestra program, in particular, is designed to allow student musicians to sharpen their performance skills while playing world-renowned works in a large ensemble setting.

Boasting four diverse musical selections and a special organ feature by world-renowned organist James Kibbie, the concert was truly entertaining. The excitement of the students in the orchestra was palpable — adding to my enjoyment of the evening. Further, Hill’s exquisite interior added frill to the already lively atmosphere. I would, however, have wished that there were more even people in the audience, especially given that Hill is an exceptionally large venue.

The orchestra opened the concert on a bold and majestic note with “As Dancing is to Architecture” (1996) by Christopher Theofanidis. This piece highlighted the orchestra’s ability to infuse harrowing and meaningful volume dynamics in a piece. The sharp shifts in volume kept me deeply engaged. “As Dancing is to Architecture” was a thrilling piece played beautifully by the group.

The second composition, “Czech Suite, op. 39,” (1879) by Antonín Dvořák was perhaps the most well-known piece played during the concert. Much longer than the previous selection, this composition showcased the group’s stamina and concentration. I enjoyed each of the five movements of the suite and further appreciated the large stylistic variation between them. In particular, I especially loved the dynamic second movement “Polka: Allegretto giousto.” This movement combines smooth and traditional polka cadences with stark melodic shifts. Moreover, the composition begins somber but ends in an upbeat manner — an unexpected twist. Additionally, the fourth movement “Romance: Andante con moto” displayed the prowess of the flute section as their beautiful melodies were fundamental to the movement.

Following the Dvořák suite, was Johannes Brahms’ “Variations on a Theme of Haydn, op 56a (1873). Despite the title of this piece, this composition does not borrow themes from famed composer Joseph Haydn. Instead, it borrows from a lesser-known composer whose piece, “Chorale St. Antoni” was incorrectly accredited to Haydn. This intense piece was a testament to the orchestras’ musicality as it was infused with deep, palpable emotion. It was performed beautifully.

The final piece “Toccata Festiva” (1960) by Samuel Barber, which featured organist James Kibbie, was my favorite. In order to perform this, chairs were rearranged so that an organ could be raised from beneath the stage. Watching this aspect of the setup process only made me more eager to hear the organ. Luckily, Kibbie did not disappoint. Somber yet majestic, I was captivated for the entire duration of the piece. It was truly incredible to watch Kibbie traverse both the foot pedals and the keyboards of the organ. Everyone around me, myself included, stared at him and leaned forward in their seats — desperate to get a closer view. I have never been more in awe during a performance than while watching Kibbie’s organ solo that occurs about halfway into the piece. The ominous and rich low organ notes reverberated throughout the entire room. I was further amazed that Kibbie seemingly performed the quick and difficult solo section with ease and grace. It was an amazing performance by Kibbie and the rest of the orchestra.

I would recommend that anyone who has the opportunity to see the University Philharmonic Orchestra perform most definitely should.