REVIEW: Intergalactic Pops

This concert was not your typical concert. With hilariously-poorly-designed videos, a planet diss showdown, a lightsaber fight, and a game show, Michigan Pops definitely brought the pops to Michigan.

Before the main event, the early-arriving audience was entertained by Dicks and Janes, an a cappella group on campus.


Their singing was lovely, and I enjoyed listening to them as I relaxed and took in the beautiful venue, waiting for the Michigan Pops Orchestra to take the stage. I will definitely be on the lookout for acapella concerts after this!

After over 100 students and Music Director Rotem Weinberg filled the stage, there was lift off.

Opening with Also Sprach Zarathustra: Sonnenaufgang (which you may not recognize the name of, but you will definitely recognize the tune when you hear it) was iconic and set the stage perfectly for the rest of the concert. Some songs were very familiar, while some I never heard before. The program consisted of classical music, movie soundtracks, and video game theme songs, all centered around the theme of “space”. It featured soloists Benjamin Walker and Megumi Nakamura from SMTD, and their voices complemented the orchestra perfectly. “Sun and Moon” was captivating, and the bit from Pinocchio was such a childhood throwback — I wasn’t prepared for all the feels that night. But, the orchestra and voices were so powerful and beautiful that all I felt was the feels throughout the entire evening.

Music was not all there was in store, however. Before Jupiter, there was a battle for the title of best planet, ending with Assistant Music Director Tal Benatar claiming that “every planet is special in their own way.” Awwww.

Videos for Star Wars, E.T., and Mario were created and played.

Sometimes, I felt the videos were too entertaining that it was a bit too distracting from the music. I was too busy laughing at the pasted E.T. face that I forgot the orchestra was playing. However, during the Super Mario Galaxy 2 song, the music brought the video to life. So, I think the presence of the videos depended on the listener and whether that took away from the orchestra or added to it. It was enjoyable nonetheless. Additionally, there was a lightsaber duel that took place between two Pops alumni in a video that found its way into a live-action finale.

In the second half, there was a game show with audience participation called Planet or No Planet.

It was so ridiculous, it was amazing.

Ending with Reflections of Earth, which is from the IllumiNations show at Epcot, the night’s music really caused me to reflect on everything, known and unknown. At certain times, the orchestra was so intense and grand that I couldn’t handle it, and it caused me to realize once again how small and finite we are in the end. The power of their music was literally transcendent.

Finally, Michigan Pops brought it back home with a rendition of Hail to the Victors as an encore, ending with the Michigan pride that makes the stars shine maize and blue.

The time and energy the Pops orchestra put into preparing for this concert, in terms of music and all the entertainment, was as clear as the moon, and it paid off for an amusing night filled with laughter and emotions. As we journeyed through space on this night of wonder, I realized I’m really happy to live on this earth where I had the opportunity to experience all the talent produced by the lovely humans that graced the stage of the Michigan Theater that night. With their music, they filled our minds with universes beyond life. What I listened to was more transformative than a solar eclipse, more brilliant than a shooting star, more powerful than a black hole, more grounding than gravity; I listened to the Michigan Pops Orchestra. And it was certainly out of this world.

REVIEW: Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

There was blood indeed, and it was unmistakably about Andrew Jackson.

In this musical, Jackson was really developed as a character, showing just how nuanced he was as a president and as a person. Through glimpses of his personal history, we see how his past would shape his beliefs and his behaviors. The songs and scenes summarized his life and his decisions in a way that no documentary or textbook could ever do. Full of rock and unsuspected one-liners, it definitely kept the audience engaged, and the constant laughter, heavy hushed silences, and standing ovation at the end proved that.

One of my favorite songs was “Ten Little Indians.” The female soloist and ensemble were fantastically chilling, to say the least, and its grim reality resonated deeply and intensely. “The Corrupt Bargain” was also a personal favorite.  As a nice contrast to “Ten Little Indians”, this silly, upbeat number was the epitome of satire, exaggerating how politicians were mere puppets that could not be taken seriously. I thought this was brilliantly executed and while that song could have ran on the verge of ridiculous and cringe-worthy, the directorial choice in choreography made this an entertaining little history lesson with a larger societal commentary behind it that still rings true in modern politics.

The talented cast was absolutely amazing. The pacing was perfect, their chemistry with each other made me forget they were acting, and their personas and voices filled the room. Jake Smith brought the power into the entire Power Center as Andrew Jackson. The grief, the rage, the anguish, the passion for America were all so evident in his energetic performance as our great yet pained president. Garrett Forrestal provided comedic relief from this harrowing journey through history as the Storyteller who refuses to be silenced. As he shrewdly said in his resurrection at the end, “You can’t shoot history in the neck.” Maddison Rotner’s rendition of “The Great Compromise” beautifully captured the suffering of Rachel Jackson. Finally, the penultimate number, “Second Nature”, performed by Josh Strobl (Black Fox) was a stunning summary of what Jackson’s legacy would be, and Strobl’s soulful singing brought as much justice to the sorrows of the past as possible.

I was a huge fan of the rock and roll energy, even though it was nicely balanced throughout by the sensitive emotional scenes. The edgy attitude modernized this otherwise archaic story. I also really liked the backdrop and the vibe it set for the stage, as well as all the other props, including fabrics dictating all the different chapters of his life and the table that continued to stand despite losing a leg to Smith’s fiercely-flaring temper. The music was everything American rock, and the occasional breaking of the fourth wall between the four-member band and the cast was a nice change of pace as well. Particularly commendable was Erez Levin’s ability to rock out on the guitar while also channeling his inner fool as the laughable Martin Van Buren. Some directorial choices and parts of the musical were questionable, but overall, this production was really nicely performed and enjoyable to watch.

In the end, Andrew Jackson was a human being who wanted what he thought was best for the American people and the nation. His accomplishments remain extraordinary and controversial. Will there always be a debate around his presidency? Of course. And this musical does not serve as a commentary about what side you should take nor does it try to influence your opinion about him. Rather, it simply provides a look at the life of a complicated, flawed man with a great, tarnished legacy through comedy and rock and roll to help us understand American history and this complicated president on a whole new level.

If you didn’t attend on opening night, I highly recommend going to the Power Center to see MUSKET’s excellent production on November 18 at 8pm and November 19 at 2pm as they bring history alive onstage.

PREVIEW: Intergalactic Pops

Fan of the Star Wars movies? Never seen the films but like the iconic music in it? Just a lover of music?

If you’ve ever watched The Planets, E.T., or Star Trek, you’re also in for a treat.

The Michigan Pops Orchestra is putting on a concert that will put you over the moon. Intergalactic Pops will appeal to people of all ages as it explores the music that transcends space and time. And that’s not all! It will feature a unique combination of vocal performers, multimedia, stage antics, and special effects, which will be sure to engage and entertain the audience.

Comprised of students from all fields of study united with a common love for music, the Michigan Pops Orchestra is the country’s oldest collegiate Pops orchestra and is the only student-run, student-directed orchestra on campus.

I can’t wait to hear all the talent the Michigan Pops Orchestra has to offer. Get ready for this out-of-the-world performance on Sunday, November 19 at 7pm in the Michigan Theater. Student tickets are $5 at the door or it is free with a Passport to the Arts Voucher!

REVIEW: Illuminations: A World Showcase

I must admit how much of a relief this show was from my typical attended performances. Don’t get me wrong, fine arts are truly extraordinary experiences that should not be often missed, but the dynamics of a student-run performance are far more different when compared to some of the best performers from around the world. An audience full of overflowing bursts of laughter, oohs-and-ahhs from edge-of-your-seat excitement, and the best part of all — enduring support from one another. Given that we are watching student performers who are not masters of dance or singing or whatever have you, there will be reasonable mishaps that occur on stage. Nonetheless, the support shown by fellow peers in the audience gives a friendly reminder that it is okay to mess up sometimes and those watching will only help encourage you to keep going. I always feel a sense of inspiration when watching my fellow classmates illicit such bravery in front of an audience to showcase their hard work that occurs outside of the classroom. It also makes me so happy to witness the enthusiasm of those in the audience whose friends are performing on stage.

I am extremely appreciative of the efforts made by the Central Student Government to hold this initiative of showcasing its diverse student clubs on campus. We were able to not only see respective dance moves but also respective clothing/costumes and hear distinct music as well. The lineup was as follows: Michigan Izzat, Rxn, Cangaco Capoeira, Maize Mirchi, Hipnotics, Revolution, Alpha Phi Alpha, Leim, Female Gayo, Michigan Ballroom, and Photonix. To point out some of my favorites, I was particularly engaged during the Cangaco Capoeira performance, mainly due to their moves being so intense that I was in fear of someone getting hurt…that’s how action-filled their performance was! Another favorite was by Maize Mirchi, a South Asian a cappella group. They even sang one of my favorite songs by Ellie Goulding! Lastly, I was fairly intrigued by the Irish dancing women of Leim.

Now, of course, I cannot fail to mention the campus-favorites who tend to usually appear at plenty of events — Revolution and Photonix! If you still have yet to see even a snippet of one of their performances, you are undoubtedly missing out. After seeing both of their performances on different occasions, I am convinced that there is something about seeing so many different colors flying around at once and objects pivoting across the stage that eludes to happiness. Perhaps it is though, seeing these activities bring back the best childhood memories of fun out of us. Thanks to this showcase, I am highly looking forward to seeing all of these groups in a full performance of their own.

PREVIEW: Shift Talent Showcase

Art is a powerful tool for community awareness and social change, which is why Redefine, a student organization that connects social justice and the arts, has coordinated Shift, an event intended to highlight the immigrant experiences of students on campus, as well as to champion diversity within the Michigan community.

Shift will feature artists from the Middle East, India, Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Brazil, as well as from many more areas. There will be narratives that center around the experiences of immigrants, refugees, and international students. The event will feature multicultural performances, a two-hour art exhibition, and FREE FOOD.

I am a member of Redefine, and I know that the e-board has been working tirelessly for the past few weeks in preparation for this upcoming event, partnered with the student organizations Zeta Omega Eta, Refugees to College, Iraqi Student Association, Students Organize for Syria, and The Call for Humanity. Please check it out! This event promises to be a spectacular night.

Event details:
When: Thursday November 16, 7-9PM
Where: The Pendleton Room at the Michigan Union
Cost: FREE!!!

PREVIEW: Illuminations: A World Showcase

With the University of Michigan’s Bicentennial Year coming to a close, our beloved Central Student Government will be hosting its very own Illuminations World Showcase (not to be confused with the spectacular IllumiNations performance at the World’s Happiest Place on Earth!). However, with a similar approach to that of Disney’s Epcot World Showcase, CSG’s intent is on celebrating the diversity of its student communities here at the University. Although the Bicentennial Year comes with celebrating the University’s history and milestones achieved, the Illuminations Showcase is intended to foster a vision of the legacy we strive to see the University uphold for its many years to come.

This event is comprised of two parts: a food fair of numerous authentic, international cuisines followed by a performance exemplifying our students’ talents from across the globe. Some of the groups you can expect to see are the African Students Association and Arab Students Association along with many others.

The food fair will be held at Ingalls Mall at 5 PM and the culture show at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre in the Michigan League at 7 PM. Both events are entirely free with no tickets necessary.