REVIEW: Sweeney Todd

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street took the stage of the Power Center, and everything about it was absolutely thrilling and spectacular in the grandest sense. Comparable to a Broadway production, SMTD has outdone themselves again.

Jamie Colburn was an impeccable Sweeney Todd, capturing his rage and thirst for vengeance with every scowl and word. Allie Re’s performance of Mrs. Lovett exceeds words, as she embodied her quirky character just perfectly. Her facial expressions were extraordinary, showing the complexities and intricacies within her. The classic number “A Little Priest” ended the first act with a humorous, witty delight as Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney Todd come up with their genius and delicious plan. Together, Re and Colburn stole the show.

The supporting cast and ensemble were splendid as well. Blake Roman as Anthony in “Johanna” and Emma Ashford as Johanna in “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” brought powerful vocals to the stage, matching each other beautifully later in “Kiss Me.” Aaron Robinson pulled off Pirelli’s difficult part with ease, and Spencer LaRue played the precious, innocent Tobias, performing one of my favorite numbers, “Not While I’m Around,” beautifully. The Beggar Woman, played by Cydney Clark, fully captured the craze and hysteria of the streets of London. Sondheim’s score is creativity at its peak, but the entire cast and pit nailed this challenging musical.

Aside from the phenomenal acting and singing, everything about this production was stellar. The props were amusing and delightful, from Mrs. Lovett’s delectable meat pies to Todd’s barber chair that disposes of his victims in a humorous fashion. The choreography of this production was particularly stunning. You normally don’t think about Sweeney Todd as a choreography-heavy musical, but the ensemble quickly changed that notion as they came out during the opening “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” and established the ominous nature of this musical with an intensely choreographed number. In “By the Sea,” the pairs of dancers in their outfits and umbrellas evoked Mrs. Lovett’s dream in a very visually pleasing way.

Probably what was most notable about the performance I saw on Sunday was the fact that at the beginning of the second act, Colburn got his hand caught in the barber chair and his pinky fingernail got ripped off. However, like a true actor, he kept singing in that moment, went offstage to wrap it and apply makeup, and then he continued the rest of the show like a champ. Colburn took this bloody and gruesome musical to new levels with his personal experience, and that is certainly to be applauded.

Sweeney Todd was spectacular on every single level, from the lighting to the musical to the costumes to the choreography to the props to the singing to the acting. This was a wonderful performance to finish the year off with, since everything was perfectly executed.

REVIEW: FLINT, a play

Award-winning playwright, Jose Casas, wrote FLINT in order to raise awareness about issues residents of Flint, MI still face today. Other plays and movies have been produced about the water crisis, but the timeline of this play extends to present day and the personal stories within it are unique.

One element of FLINT I admire is that the transcript was written from real-life interviews of Flint residents. The narrative included communities within Flint who have been marginalized and rendered invisible; such as undocumented immigrants and people in the deaf/Deaf community. Undocumented immigrants feared/fear going to relief events to obtain donations like bottled water, because the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would target and deport them (even though ICE claims not to target individuals during humanitarian relief events). On the other hand, people in the deaf/Deaf community were not notified about the water crisis until 2016, two years after the fact.

Numerous stories and perspectives were featured within the play: the Mother, Father, Fighter, Pediatrician, Sociologist, Gardener, Professor, Demolitionist, etc. The play began with the Father’s story and ended with the Mother’s. The intentionally-elliptical narrative conveyed that there are no clear solutions to the water crisis—within the play itself and in real life.

The Flint water crisis started in 2014 when the city’s drinking water source was changed from Lake Huron and the Detroit River to the Flint River. Residents knew for decades that the Flint River is toxic due to pollution from General Motors. They knew not to swim in it, let alone drink it. But the switch for their source of drinking water still went through in order to lower costs for the city. After the switch, lead from the pipes leached into the water, which exposed thousands of people to high lead levels. In some places, the water that came out of the faucet was brown and undrinkable. Paradoxically, people still had/have to pay their water bills for water they can not drink.  

Frustratingly, America has known the detrimental effects of lead for decades now. Lead is an insidious neurological toxin that can cause cognitive damage. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that lead is stored in the teeth and bones. During pregnancy, lead in the bone is released into the blood and can harm the fetus. Over time, lead can decrease a person’s IQ. No amount of lead exposure is considered safe. That is why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has spent thousands—and even millions—of dollars in the past few decades to renovate houses with lead paint for families with low incomes.

Ironically, while houses are renovated for lead content, millions of people in the U.S. still drink water with lead in it. A shocking fact I learned from the play is that there are two-thousand cities in America with more lead in their water than Flint. I am dumbfounded by this fact. This is a nation-wide issue.

But the problem isn’t just with the water. One must think about how things got this bad in Flint even before the water source was switched and lead leached into the drinking water: Why was the Flint River polluted to begin with? Why was it not filtered properly before redirected to people’s faucets? Why was the water source switched to the Flint river when people knew it was polluted? Why is the Flint economy so poor?

The water crisis is not an isolated problem. A culmination of factors led to this. Minorities and people who are in poverty traditionally suffer the most from systematic injustice. Our government has failed communities it has pledged to serve and protect. People have fought for their rights for generations, and they are tired.

But despite all the tragedies that Flint has experienced, the play reminds us that Flint is more than the challenges it has overcome and the ones it still faces today. Happy memories are made there. People live there. Some grew up there. The community hosts film festivals and concerts, visual arts events and cultural shows. And there are other wonderful stories about its residents still waiting to be shared.

 

REVIEW: FLINT

It’s not just about the water. It’s about the food, it’s about the health, it’s about the children, it’s about the disabled, it’s about the racism. It’s about human lives.

Five years later, the Flint Water Crisis is still very much ongoing. However, in reality, the Flint crisis has been ongoing long before the news media caught wind of the lead pipes. In José Casas’s newest play FLINT, he chronicles the tales of anger, fear, and betrayal that the people of Flint have endured, and continue to endure. With poignant and powerful vignettes of all types of people who have a connection to Flint, this play honors the community that’s been holding onto their strength and fighting against the system, even when the system is stacked against them.

The play starts with the story of the Father and ends with the Mother, the love of parents and the sense of community permeating every corner of the city. They feel the brunt of the Water Crisis as they watch their children drink contaminated water and watch them leave the city, where the Auntie cares for her nieces who, at such a young age, have developed an alarming distrust of the water and of life. There’s the stories of University of Michigan students in Ann Arbor who come from Flint, reflecting on the reasons why they left and how they felt when they did, and how the city never really leaves them. There’s the old Man and Woman who find love, despite the stigma associated with interracial marriages. There’s the Prom King, keeping the legacy of his high school alive while appreciating the moments of everyday joy that the media glances over while glorifying the crisis. There’s the Catholic who organizes unified relief efforts with people of all skin color, genders, and religions, only to be turned away. There’s the Boxer who fights, both physically and mentally, in his community.

There’s the optimistic Photographer, la aspiring Poeta, and the dreamer Actress, who find solace and hope in their art forms. There’s the Cashier, the Demolition Worker, the Autoworker, the Barber, and the Delivery Guy, who reflect on what makes a place a place, who see the different sides of failure, who wonder what can be made of destruction. There’s the Professor, the Commissioner, the Attorney, the Nurse, the Pediatrician, and the Sociologist, who understand how systematic and intentional the racism is, who see how the government systems in place work to oppress the ones who are already oppressed.

Flint is the home of children, parents, and old couples. It’s the home of the Black and Latinx and Deaf communities. But the government has turned that home into a place of fear and distrust. Governor Snyder failed his constituents. So did President Obama. General Motors never actually considered the city and its workers, while Nestle exploited the city to turn a profit on clean water. There are people and corporations and structures to blame, but the ones answering for these problems and shouldering the weight of it all is the community.

However, Flint and its people is not the water crisis. They are not helpless and they are not weak. They are not defined by this crisis because there is more to this place than the selfish act of the government and corporations. FLINT is the powerful compilation of the tales that have not been told, and Casas and the SMTD cast did a phenomenal job telling these real stories and giving them all a voice. As the ensemble switched between different characters, they weaved together these seemingly-separate narratives into one empowering story about one powerful community. The arch made from empty plastic water bottles was a stunning visual representation, along with the rusted lead pipes that hung from the ceiling and the graphics in the background that played clips of the Flint River, rippling waters, and much more. From the interviewing process all the way to the production, the resilient community has been at the heart of this play, not to exploit or glorify it, but to honor it and to make sure change happens.

Water is a human right. There is nothing more essential to our health and growth. The story of Flint is not an isolated one, as many cities and communities around the world are fighting for clean water, something we — the privileged — often take for granted, and as a result, often forget. Now, it is our job to never forget and always keep fighting for what is right so that our neighbors don’t have to fight alone.

REVIEW: A Streetcar Named Desire

A masterpiece of Southern Gothic at its best, Rude Mechanicals put on Tennessee Williams’s iconic play “A Streetcar Named Desire” and executed it with intensity and emotional fervor. Proper and aristocratic-at-heart Blanche DuBois, portrayed wonderfully by Juliana Tassos, travels to New Orleans to stay with her sister after she lost their family plantation, and her lighthearted yet grand arrival soon takes an ominous turn. Stella, played by the talented Stella Kowalski, welcomes her with open arms, yet it is clear that Blanche does not belong in this dilapidated apartment, nor in the life of Stanley, her husband. Jack Alberts executes this intense character with scary yet admirable fortitude, his sudden outbursts captivating our attention with a breathtaking startle. Though Stella and Stanley have an animalistic love and desire for each other, Stanley’s propensity toward violence drives a permanent wedge between him and Blanche while driving the play forward toward its imminent end. Blanche’s Southern mannerism and charms and denouncement of realism directly contrast Stanley’s aggression and manhood and pragmaticism, and this dance between their personalities and views of life lead to an inevitable clash between the two, with Stella caught trying to mediate it in the middle.

The physical and emotional abuse of Stella by Stanley, followed directly by their subsequent embrace, is mirrored by Eunice and Steve, portrayed by Jillian Lee Garner and Jackson Verolini, which shows this unfortunate commonality of brutal marriages within the Southern lifestyle. Though Stella occasionally tries to stand up to Stanley, his loud strength always overpowers her, and she always goes back to him when he calls for her. In the very end, Stella’s fearful and morose isolation in her bedroom and Eunice’s somber reflection on the doorstep while Stanley returns to the next room to play poker shows the distinct separation between the emotionally-scarred women of the play and the misogynistic yet dominant men.

Blanche’s doomed relationship with Mitch, played by Austin D’Ambrosio, reflects her inability to confront her past and face the light. As Blanche’s past is revealed, from her dead husband to her stay in hotels to her forbidden relationship with a student, she slowly withdraws into her fantasies. Stanley’s role in her hysterical breakdown is more than direct, revealing her past to others and furthermore, sexually assaulting her. Blanche’s gradual mental deterioration was painful to watch, yet there was a beauty in Tassos’s performance of it. Her thoughtful and regretful soliloquies throughout the play solidified her tenderness and her talent, even through the pain.

The Southern dialects of the characters, combined with the rapid speed of their delivery, sometimes made it tough to understand their words, but it captured the setting of the place and their frenzy. The lighting and scenery set the mood, as did the foreboding tones that often sounded in between scene transitions. Every character in this play is complex and hypocritical to an extent, and this cast did a phenomenal job bringing these flaws to life and making these characters seem human, however flawed. With Blanche’s unacceptable sexual behavior and Stanley’s abhorrent violence, these characters bring out the best of the Southern Gothic genre, and Tassos, Alberts, and Avnet excelled in putting on this phenomenal production.

REVIEW: BEES the Musical

Once again, NERDS has delivered a wonderfully poignant and hilarious musical with this semester’s performance of BEES the Musical.

Avery Fessenden played Charlotte “Charlie” Peppers, the daughter of big-time bee farmers in Honeyville. Her wonderful number “Buzzing On By” shows how she looks forward to moving on with her life by pursuing her dreams of being a detective. Though everyone questions and doubts these dreams, she becomes the newest recruit in the police department, and she’s instantly put on the big case of the missing bees. Her partner, Penelope Wright (Sam Dunlap), is abrasive and direct, a great contrast to Charlie’s gentle and optimistic demeanor. They butt heads when it comes to interrogation techniques, and their different backgrounds — Charlie from the successful agricultural side and Sam from the poorer industrial district — also act as a source of difference and tension.

However, as they are stumped from this crime, they realize that something must change in their partnership. The duets between Dunlap and Fessenden were particularly beautiful, their voices complementing each other’s wonderfully. From their first song together, “My Way or the Highway” to their song closing the first act, “Moving”, the two detectives evolve a long way, recognizing that teamwork and compromise is important when they share the same goal.

From the very beginning, the audience learns that Frank B. Napper (Perry Fiero) is the obvious criminal bee napper, an enjoyable twist of dramatic irony that made Fiero’s blatant panics when he is interrogated or suspects he’s close to being caught that much better. His “Bee Burglin’” song was catchy and amusing, as he scooped yellow ping pong balls with black stripes into a jar. His motives for stealing all the bees was simply to find his only friend, a black bee with yellow stripes, who ran away. This elicits sympathy from the audience, as well as Charlie and Penelope, who decide to not arrest him, which is unfortunate for womanizer Dustin (Sean Moore), who was framed for the crime.

This musical displayed compassion and friendship in the most humorous ways, from Chief Montana’s incompetence to Mr. Peppers’ fatherly figure. Probably the highlight of the musical was when Frank’s Bee (Dylan Beasley) emerged during “Bee-F-F (The Ballad of Frank B. Napper),” a lovely and heartwarming song that featured a beautiful fluttering and dancing human bee.

The ending romance of Charlie and Penelope was a beautiful cherry on top of overcoming differences and finding companionship. As Frank inherits Peppers Farms and is constantly surrounded by bees, and the two detectives continue to solve crime alongside each other, there’s a happy ending in Honeyville (except for Dustin, who is forgotten behind bars).

PREVIEW: BEES the Musical

For NERDS’s winter semester musical, we enter the town of Honeyville, where everything revolves around bees and honey. When the town’s bees disappear, it is up to Charlotte Peppers and Penelope Wright to work together and find out who the bee napper is. BEES the Musical is a story about finding friends, finding similarities in differences, and, of course, finding the bees. The musical is this weekend, April 5 at 6pm and April 6 at 1pm and 6pm, in the Palmer Commons Forum Hall. Bee there or bee square.