REVIEW: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Six children with distinct personalities battle to become the champion of the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Griffin Silva, Lolly Duus, Diego Roberts Buceta, Chan Yu Hin Bryan, Camille Mancuso, and Emily Goodrich embodied these children in their goofy and youthful portrayal of Chip Tolentino, Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre, Leaf Coneybear, William Barfee, Marcy Park, and Olive Ostrovsky respectively. Four audience members were also brought onstage to participate along with the Bee, an aspect of every production of this musical that truly makes every single show ever unique. As the audience members were gradually eliminated near the beginning, the final participant was serenaded off the stage by the comfort counselor Mitch Mahoney. Additionally, the show took its course as a pure Ann Arbor/University of Michigan production. During “Pandemonium,” a Bird appeared, and references to mumps were made as well.

Everyone had their own insecurities and anxieties that displayed onstage in a theatrical yet realistic way. As they struggled with those anxieties, losing the Bee meant something different for everyone. From Leaf Coneybear’s acceptance that he is smart to Marcy Park’s realization that it’s okay to not be perfect and the best at everything, all the kids leave the Putnam County Spelling Bee stronger and better.

Familial relationships was a large part of the character development. Logainne SchwartzandGrubenierre’s two dads put so much pressure and expectations on her, and Olive’s yearning for her parents came out during Olive’s “The I Love You Song”, where her mother and father appear telling Olive how much they love her. This moment is heartbreaking, especially in the context of the word “chimerical”, meaning “existing only as the product of unchecked imagination,” but Olive’s own love remained undeterred, and she she encourages William Barfee to win the Bee after she misspells her word in the finals.

Throughout the course of the musical, the audience got highly invested in every single participant and every one of his or her special quirks. Whenever a bell rang signaling the elimination of a student, people gasped and murmured “oh no,” because even though we all knew this was a scripted show that had a single winner, we were still rooting for every single one of the children.

Probably the star of the show was Amelia Dahmer, playing the official word pronouncer Douglas Panch in the most humorous and enjoyable way, eliciting thunderous laughter from the crowd with her bluntness and ridiculousness. Overall, this entire show is ridiculous, yes, but it contains the perfect balance of nonsensical silliness and touching self-discovery to make The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee a J-O-Y to watch.

PREVIEW: Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night is a comedy written by Shakespeare and it is being performed by the University of Michigan’s Department of Theatre and Drama. It is taking place at the Power Center and you can see the show at the following times:

Dec. 6 at 7:30 PM
Dec. 7 &8 at 8 PM
Dec. 9 at 2 PM

The Themes: One of the most “modern” of Shakespeare’s plays, Twelfth Night’s themes are about the fickleness of love, the arbitrary nature of relationships, and the re-thinking of sexuality. Twelfth Night explores the nature of desire and how perception is clouded by desire. What is disguise and what is truth is never absolutely certain; they are often in the eye of the beholder when we fall in love.

The Plot: It is a romantic comedy about twins Viola and Sebastian, who are separated during a shipwreck. Believing her brother dead, Viola disguises herself as a man and enters the service of Duke Orsino. The Duke believes himself to be in love with Olivia, a beautiful countess. Olivia, however, is swiftly falling for the disguised Viola. In the meantime, Viola is developing feelings for the Duke. When Sebastian, who is not dead after all, arrives in town, confusion reigns supreme. Unrequited love and mistaken identities abound as the foursome journeys towards a joyous discovery.

PREVIEW: The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee

Get ready for the most ridiculous and entertaining spelling bee yet! Putnam County has some interesting characters in it, and its 25th annual spelling bee follows the lives of 6 special contestants who, while trying to spell long hard words, struggle with their personal lives in finding love and connections. Watch these quirky kids try to win The Bee, and in life, in this wonderfully hilarious musical at the Arthur Miller Theatre December 7 at 8pm and December 8 at 1pm and 8pm. Tickets are only $3 and are available at the door or online.

REVIEW: Here Be Sirens

Before tonight, I had never been to an opera. The idea of attending one has always felt like a faraway dream; so alien to me is the concept of high society, or even adulthood, that I could never really picture myself amongst Opera-Goers. Not sure how to dress, I assumed a hyper-formal ensemble: a blazer and starched white blouse, dress slacks and sensible kitten heels I’d bought for a funeral last year.

I was shocked to find that the Kerrytown Concert House is an actual house. The place wasn’t the cathedral-like, built-in-the-1800s monster of a building with an elaborately painted ceiling that I was for some reason expecting. I’ve probably seen Phantom of the Opera too many times to realize opera can be performed on a stage of any size. The room was shining though, with a beautiful Steinway front and center and a smooth hardwood floors. Though I was definitely the youngest attendee, I felt at home in the audience, if a bit overdressed for the occasion. Again, I have not so much as dipped a toe into the opera world, so I had no idea what to expect.

This opera was not at all what I expected.

Much of the tone was humorous, even whimsically off-beat. While singing, melodic and haunting in its trio harmony, comprised much of the performance, there was far more dialouge than I had thought there would be. This is refreshing; many musicals I’ve been in and attended have been overpowered by song, which despite its vocal quality is typically incomprehensible. The speaking sections add the dimension sirens are denied in literature.

Kate Soper (writer of the opera as well as the actress playing Polyxo) relates her characters to links in an evoluntionary lineage. Polyxo needs escape, from the literal island but also the prison of the stereotypes of her kind; Peitho is younger and more naive, full of love for sailors that pass her way, but beginning to question how she’s viewed; Phiano is the cavewoman of the group, incapable of thinking beyond the island and what she’s been made out to be. Led by Polyxo, the opera investigates what it means to be so severely misunderstood that those around you begin to internalize the message they hear repeated over and over.

This idea does not end with Greek mythology. Its meaning extends out through the larger world: just as the sirens have been framed in a negative light, so do we draw caricatures based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation. And those whose faces are drawn with exaggerated features might begin to think like Polyxo, or maybe Peitho, and some, sadly, like Phiano.

If you are interested in upcoming performances at the Kerrytown Concert House, check out their website

PREVIEW: Here Be Sirens

Were you the weird kid in middle school who was obsessed with Greek mythology? Can’t believe that anyone hasn’t seen the Percy Jackson movies? Love listening to people scream-singing while wearing large wigs and formal clothing?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you’ll just love Here Be Sirens, an opera telling the tale of the lives of a trio of sirens. Oftentimes, these creatures are made out to be one-dimensional monsters, evilness being their only characteristic. Composer, performer, and playwright Kate Soper approaches her main characters with a more open mind, giving them internal desires and dreams that conflict with the caricature that outsiders typically see.

Come on down to the Kerrytown Concert House this Thursday, November 29 at 8 PM to experience Soper’s masterpiece. Tickets are absolutely FREE with your passport to the arts ticket, or $10-35 if you are PTTA-less.

REVIEW: Thus Spoke AnnArbor Fall 2018 Performance

I had been made extremely curious about this semester’s performance by “安娜说 / Thus spoke Ann Arbor” from viewing the gorgeously illustrated posters brightening up campus in the weeks leading up to the show.  While I had been aware of the group for several years now, I finally decided to attend their performance for the first time, and after seeing it I can confidently say that I couldn’t have made a better decision.  After arriving early to make sure to get seats near the front of Lydia Mendelssohn Theater, we were informed that it would be a full house, which hardly came as a surprise at that point due to the fact there was only a few empty seats in sight and the noise level had grown to a nonstop roar.

One of the elements I appreciated the most about the show was the choice to divide the performance up into three shorter plays. It gave many more of the club’s members time to shine in a leading role than if they had just done one play, and the group was also able to challenge themselves to perform three distinctly different styles of play, suiting different members individual strengths.

The first play was a comedic romp titled “黑暗中的喜剧 / Comedy in the Dark.”  The play used physical and situational comedy as characters unveiled hidden secrets in a darkened apartment after a freak power outage. The second play, “人质 / Hostage“ was the shortest of the three, and featured a very limited cast and set. Instead it was more figurative dark comedy to the first play’s quite literal one, with two thieves mistakenly taking a suicidal girl hostage in an attempt to escape the police hot on their trail, and the intense interplay that followed.  The third and last play was “立秋 / The Start of Autumn” set around a century ago in China.  This was by far the most serious of the lot, and told the story of several families internal drama as well a competition between tradition and newly adopted Western ideals.  

The transitions from play to play were quick and painless, with crew members scurrying about to clear the relatively complex set up of the first play for the instead very minimal one of the second.  Considering how long the night was already, nearly reaching a full three hours, I appreciate the brevity in these areas.

The one drawback to the set up was that by the time the third play began most of the audience, myself included, seemed to be getting restless.  With no intermission, the last play with its distinct five chapters and several scenes basically revolving around intense discussions about banking and finance, I’m not proud to say that I was more than a little glazed over myself.  But the fact that the group did manage to hold the audience in rapt attention for the nearly two and a half hour run of the show is impressive in and of itself. 

Additionally, while there were undoubtedly a few intentionally humorous moments in the second two plays, especially the second one, because the audience had been primed to laugh in the over-the-top comedy of the first play, I noticed that the audience, myself included, began to burst into laughter even in otherwise inappropriate moments.  

While the group could have easily put on the play without adding subtitles on projections on either side of the stage for the very small percentage of the audience with less than fluent Mandarin, I appreciated the extra effort put in to make the performances accessible. As a member of that small percentage myself, I definitely found myself referring to to the subtitles frequently throughout the night, especially if a character was talking quietly and I was struggling to hear what they were saying in the first place.

That being said, with so much physical comedy getting the most laughs in the first play, and the more subtle acting in the second two, the experience was definitely better when ignoring the subtitles and instead focusing on all that activity on stage. The actors and actresses couldn’t have done a finer job, and I didn’t catch a single slip up as they all seemed to have prepared their lines to perfection. There was one humorous moment in the first play, however, when one of the sofas being used as props collapsed to the floor.  But like true professionals the actors and actresses continued undeterred, even finding time to prop the sofa back up, resulting in another wave of laughter. I was impressed by the professionalism of cast and crew alike, with the obvious hard work preparing for the show paying off.  I definitely plan on keeping an eye out for their performances in the future, and attending all that I can.