PREVIEW: Lost in Wonderland

There’s an extraordinary amount of talent on this campus, from singers to actors and dancers to speakers. Now, get ready for the best Chinese Yo-yo-ing and glowsticking you’ve ever seen! Photonix and Revolution present Lost in Wonderland, featuring many talented guests from around campus, including Groove, G-Men, Flowdom, and Funktion.

The Mendelssohn Theater at the Michigan League is about to be filled with wonder. If you want in on the action, get your tickets at the door for $7 on April 1. The performance starts at 7pm, so arrive early to get your tickets before they sell out!

PREVIEW: Bloom

Have you ever loved to write, compose, direct, produce, and perform musicals but just didn’t have the time to be involved with major productions or declare an acting major? Well there’s a group on campus filled with talent and passion — just not necessarily that time. However, that doesn’t make them any less amazing.

Not Even Really Drama Students, or N.E.R.D.S. is dedicated to exactly that, and they’re bringing an exciting never-before-seen treat to the Union this weekend. This semester’s original musical is called Bloom, and it explores underrepresented sexualities in a world where impromptu love-song duets are of the utmost importance.

Showtimes are Friday, March 30 at 6pm and Saturday, March 31 at 1pm and 7pm in the Anderson room in the Union. And did I mention they’re all FREE? So there’s nothing stopping you from coming out and supporting some of the biggest theatre lovers with their hard work and commitment toward bringing original works for you!

REVIEW: In the Heights

It’s been some time since I’ve studied art history, but I remember one of the first things I learned about looking at a composition is the way the eye is directed to move around the piece of art. During nearly every musical number of In the Heights, I found my eyes moving around it in a way that felt deliberate – and I was unstoppably stunned the entire time.

From its very first scene with Graffiti Pete dancing, spray-paint can in hand and somehow defying all sorts of gravity, I don’t think my jaw left the floor. It was an excellent primer for the choreography of the rest of the show. During intermission, I flipped through the program and was equally stunned to learn that this show had two debuting choreographers in its cohort. Needless to say, those involved in the show radiated their talent into one of the best MUSKET shows that I’ve seen. The main cast and ensemble had near-perfect unison in their group movements while keeping their voices strong and smooth. A hallmark of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musicals, I enjoyed the incorporation of rap and hip hop and loved that the actors also seemed to enjoy it.

The cast, primarily actors of color, seemed made for the roles — especially Usnavi. While this was my first introduction to the musical itself, I felt that his casting could not have been more perfect as the bodega owner close-knit with those around him. Additionally, his character was such a centrally driving factor of the show’s main themes: community and the familial support that comes of it, and sense of identity in terms of the idea of “home” as an immigrant. The show also explored themes of being a first-generation college student, gentrification, cultural identity, and past versus future with the turbulent present that lies in between.

Cast and director Bruna d’Avila answering audience questions following the Saturday performance.

Following the show — which made me laugh, cry, and be completely astounded — I stuck around for the talkback with the cast and director Bruna d’Avila. As a senior and having seen 6/8 of the MUSKET shows put on during my undergrad career, I hadn’t experienced an addition like this and was excited to hear their insights. Several other impressed viewers (from high schoolers in a theatre group to adults who have emigrated from Latin American countries) sat around me and praised the crew for doing incredible work to highlight a story to which they expressed their personal relations to and respective admiration for the show. Stories such as these are beyond what I personally have experienced, though I felt grateful that a show such as this one exists for those whose stories it mirrors as well as a method for others to better understand these complicated notions of home and new life in America.

When asked about her favorite musical number of In the Heights, d’Avila excitedly spoke about “Carnaval del Barrio” and the importance of waving your flag proudly. This was a number with which I was also enamored both because of the cast displaying flags of specific Latin American countries and because it was one of those numbers full of complexity. Several lines of verse from its main characters worked into and beside one another as the song concluded, and I found my attention moving from one to the next in a circular pattern before realizing just how inimitable this scene was as a climactic moment.

The ending scene of musical number “Carnaval del Barrio”

There was not one part of this show that I disliked — every cast member appeared devoted to their roles and it showed. Each named character had their own arcs, even the piragua vendor/comic relief, Piragüero. Similar to the works of authorial genius Victor Hugo, the characters were interconnected with one another in a way that made the show feel well-rounded, as opposed to restricting certain characters to certain storylines. Everybody knew each other, which made the sense of community and family (which are not mutually exclusive) especially strong.

MUSKET has kept my attention all four years that I have been here, and I have made it a point to see as many of their shows as possible. Each of those shows have left me feeling impressed and grateful that such a talented group of people can become a familial community over a short span of time for a weekend of performance that blows us all away. If you also love musical theatre and are interested in getting involved with the team, the MUSKET family is always welcoming of new members.

REVIEW: That Brown Show

I was immensely pleased to find that when I walked into the theater, they were playing Tamil music. And not just any Tamil music, Tamil music from two 90s movies, probably on an album I’ve loved for years. Such a serendipitous alignment with my music taste is extremely rare.

I thought a lot about how connected the Indian community is to its home country. It was more visible to me than usual, perhaps because I haven’t been back there for four years and a visit is long overdue. As usual, there was much more enthusiastic singing for the Indian national anthem than the American one. Sahana Music, the first group to perform, then chose to give a rendition of “Vande Mataram”, which is India’s national song, stoking the sense of community in the room. Similarly, other performances also presented themes of unity and friendship.

I was on the main floor this time, which afforded me less of a view of the geometry of the choreography than I get from the balcony. Because of this, I think I missed out on part of the bhangra team’s usual visual spectacle, unfortunately. They do an amazing job usually and the performance didn’t come off as well when the choreography was obscured. Sahana Dance presented three different types of Indian classical dance. Choreographing all three to work in harmony is a feat, but they did it. I was confused and then very pleasantly intrigued by the fact that they didn’t dance to traditional Indian music. Instead, it was fusion music, and I loved it. I do wish it had been softer, though, because hearing the footwork in Indian classical dance is essential. (On that note, they could use some work on their sound mixing, as well as their video editing, which I realize is not the emphasis of the performance but would like to mention anyway). I was especially impressed by Izzat’s performance. Normally, the all-male Indian fusion dance team performs with a very angular movement style, but this performance showcased a versatility I didn’t know they had. They danced to multiple genres of music, from hip-hop to Bollywood to “Bare Necessities” (their performance was themed on The Jungle Book). Of all their dances I’ve seen, this was in my opinion the best one. And incidentally, their performance gave the story a peaceful ending too.

Every performance was vibrant, both in color and in character, as it should be because that’s what India is too. I always leave such shows longing for India’s exuberance; it is unashamedly itself, and ready to declare its presence to the world. Note for example the difference in audience. In most Western performances I attend, the audience murmurs quietly until the lights dim, and remains silent from then on. Not so here: the audience has no problem calling out people’s names and cheering them on. Two of the performances used strobe lights; you couldn’t fall asleep to the music if you tried; and all had bright costumes, no pastels in sight. And everyone was just having so much fun.

One last note: There was also a small art exhibition in the hallway, showcasing work by Indian artists. I really liked looking at the work: the thought process is so evident and meticulous, and stylistically the pieces were all beautifully executed.

PREVIEW: That Brown Show

That Brown Show is an annual performance hosted by Michigan Sahānā featuring many UM Indian American performance groups, including Michigan Manzil, Maize Mirchi, Michigan Bhangra Team, Michigan Raas Team, Michigan Izzat, and Michigan Sahānā. Some groups are vocal or instrumental ensembles, and others are dance groups.

The show is Saturday, March 10 (today) at 7:30pm at the Michigan Theater. Doors open at 7pm. Student tickets are $12 at the door and non-student tickets are $15.

I have been to the show twice before, and the performances never fail to impress. I expect today’s show will be equally arresting.

REVIEW: Porgy and Bess

The UMS production of Porgy and Bess was hyped up to be a surefire showstopper of a production.  It did not disappoint.  The University Symphony Orchestra, directed by Professor Kenneth Kiesler, sounded great and did a particularly good job of playing well in relation to the singers.  They had a unique assortment of instruments for this performance, incorporating banjo, saxophone, and a lot of percussion into the standard orchestral instrumentation.  In addition, there were a lot of cool sound effects coming from the back left corner of the stage including, police whistle, hurricane bell, siren, and an alarm.  Despite the mental and physical challenges that come with a four hour performance of music for any group, I thought that the orchestra finished the night even better than they started.  It was clear that they had put a lot of hard work into learning this music.  The chorus sounded fantastic as well and provided a powerful force at the back of the concert hall that added a multitude of different elements to the performance.  The spots where everyone sang as the orchestra played their hearts out made for some truly special moments.  All of the student actors and singers who had singing and speaking roles were exceptional.  Even if they only had a few lines or a few bars of song, they really shined and made the most of their opportunity to perform on a stage of that caliber.  As great as the student performers were, the professional singers that UMS brought in to play the principal roles really put the production over the top.  Chauncey Packer, the cast member who played “Sportin’ Life” gave a flamboyant and incredibly entertaining interpretation of the song, “It Ain’t Necessarily So” and it suited his portrayal perfectly.  It seemed more like a Broadway number than an opera aria with his slick dance moves and high kicks.  Talise Trevigne and Karen Slack, who played Bess and Serena, were sensational on their arias and duets.  “Summertime” started the show off on a high note an it only got better from there with the performances of “My Man’s Gone Now” and “What You Want Wid’ Bess” amongst other songs.  The man who really stole the show was none other than Porgy, played by Morris Robinson.  His voice sounded so rich in such a low register.  It was perfect for the role.  He brought the type of dramatic power that many think of as stereotypical for opera that other characters in this work just lack the capability of bringing.  The way he sang “Oh Lawd, I’m On My Way” allowed the show to end in a triumphant manner musically, even if the storyline doesn’t match up.  As incredible as the performance was, there are some negatives that have to be noted.  The opera was about as interesting as a 4 hour opera can be, but at the end of the day 4 hours is a long time to focus whether one is watching or performing.  In spite of this, the performance was fantastic and I would love to see UMS put on more productions like Porgy and Bess that can put student musicians from SMTD on stage with world renowned talent.