REVIEW: Art Outta Town – Evita

This past Saturday, Arts at Michigan sponsored a trip to the Stranahan Theater in Toledo, Ohio to see the musical Evita, which tells the life story of beloved Argentinian First Lady Eva Perón.

The music, which was composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber (of The Phantom of the Opera and The Wizard of Oz fame), is a blend of rock and traditional musical theater-type styles, with Latin American influences. I had never seen the musical before, but I knew the musical’s most famous song, “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” However, I also recognized some of the other songs!

Oddly enough, the musical begins with death – the first scene is Eva Perón’s death being announced over the radio, followed by her funeral, and the first song is “Requiem.” From there, the plot flashes back to her girlhood, and then moves through her life, to when she met her husband, Juan Perón, to his election as president of Argentina, to her time as first lady, and then back to her death. In other words, the plot is ultimately a circle. Separately, it is impossible to capture an entire (albeit short) life in a two-hour musical, and at times it felt like the “Spark Notes” version of a much more nuanced story, which left me wanting more.

Furthermore, the musical’s ending was probably the most abrupt conclusion to any musical I have ever seen. Eva Perón’s death was essentially the end, and there were no bows or loud applause, as is the usual for the end of a performance. Rather, a single spotlight illuminated the main characters one by one, in complete silence, and the audience applauded lightly. It was surprising, and I didn’t expect it to be the end of the musical, but in some ways, it made sense. It would not have made sense for the musical to end with exuberant bows music, right after its main character died. Additionally, the show’s abrupt ending mirrors the abrupt ending to Eva Perón’s life – she died of cervical cancer at age thirty-three.

One disappointment of the show was that the theater was suffering technical difficulties. The show did not start on time because of these issues, and it was extremely difficult, particularly during the first act, to understand the dialogue. Because of this, I had trouble following the storyline at times. Also, the set incorporated a large screen that displayed images of the actual Eva Perón throughout the musical, which provided a constant reminder that the events depicted occurred in real life. However, due to poor set design, from my seat in the upper part of the balcony, the top half of the screen was obscured by the top of the stage, and so I was unable to see Eva Perón’s face in most of the projected images.

Aside from some technical issues, though, Evita was a fascinating show that left me wanting to learn more about the complex woman whose life it illustrates.

 

PREVIEW: Art Outta Town – Evita

This Saturday, February 2, Arts at Michigan will be taking a group of students on a trip to the Stranahan Theater in Toledo, Ohio to see a matinee performance of the Broadway musical Evita for just $20!

Centered around the life story of beloved Argentinian First Lady Eva Perón, the musical features a Grammy Award-winning sound track by Andrew Lloyd Webber with songs like “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina.” The musical itself was awarded several Tony Awards, including Best Musical and Best Original Soundtrack.

For more information on Evita at the Stranahan theater, click here.

To learn more about Arts at Michigan’s Art Outta Town program, visit their website at http://artsatmichigan.umich.edu/programs/outta/.

REVIEW: NT Live: Hamlet

“Hamlet,” written almost 400 years ago, is a timeless piece of work by Shakespeare, performed thousands of times with hundreds of different Hamlets. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the lead character in the National Theatre Live 2015 production of this play, and the Michigan Theater played two showings of this performance. I didn’t know I needed Benedict Cumberbatch to be Hamlet until I saw this production. Cumberbatch nailed Hamlet’s anguished soliloquies and acts of madness with great humor and delivered his lines with great position. When he pretends to be mad when confronted by Polonius and dresses up at a giant toy soldier, he humorously tiptoes across the line of sanity, something he seems to cross by the end of the play.

Horatio, dressed in a simple flannel and a simple backpack, offered a simple alternative to Hamlet and the life in the palace, just as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern returned from his childhood as colorful characters. Polonius, the ever-verbose lord, rattled off his lines with such breathlessness that makes his pompous character memorable. Ophelia’s presence onstage seemed brief and disjointed, just as the constant presence of her camera and her love for photography was a detail seemingly overplayed with little significance.

The stunning of the visuals of the blue-lit stage set the mood beautifully, providing a foreboding edge to this great tragedy. The bursts of intense sounds and quick scene changes adds to the disorienting sense from the scene. Though the play ran for 3 hours and 20 minutes, the performance honestly flew by. No one seemed bored or restless, completely captivated by this once-live performance that grandly executed one of Shakespeare’s greats.

PREVIEW: NT Live: Hamlet

“To be, or not to be, that is the question.” These iconic lines from the classic Shakespeare play are going to echo through the Michigan Theater as it shows the National Theatre 2015 broadcast of Hamlet. Catch the stunning Benedict Cumberbatch as the title prince struggling to keep his sanity while protecting his country. The production plays on Sunday, January 27 at 7pm, and tickets can be bought at the League Ticket Office for $12 with a student ID.

PREVIEW: VSA’s Annual Đêm Việt Nam Culture Show 2019

On Saturday, the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) is hosting their annual Vietnamese Culture Show. The event is called Đêm Việt Nam (A Night in Vietnam) and is entirely student run. The show features guest performances, as well as 120 students performing eight different dances. This year’s theme is “Write Your Story.” The show will tell a story about an aspiring, young Vietnamese-American writer as Tết, the Vietnamese New Year, approaches. Along the way, he learns that a person’s story is alive in their culture, themselves, and those who are willing to listen.

All the proceeds from the show will be donated to Children of Vietnam, an organization that assists children, families, and communities in breaking the cycle of poverty, disease, and homelessness. The organization also provides immediate aid to children and families in crisis.

Tickets are selling out fast. Come support VSA!

Location: Lydia Mendelssohn Theater

Date, Time: Saturday, 7-9pm

Tickets: $5 presale, $8 at the door for UM students, and $10 for general admission. Tickets will be on sale at the Posting Wall in Mason Hall from Tuesday, January 22nd to Friday, January 25th from 10AM – 4PM.

Facebook Event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1033862943468313/

REVIEW: The Great Tamer

As I approached the Power Center, I was surprised that its glass windows were not completely tinted black after all. As the color of the sky darkened well past the setting of the sun, I could see the golden glow of the inside of the auditorium’s atrium from the outside, my destination. I rushed inside to escape the cold and to arrive at what would become the entire experience of The Great Tamer, from the very beginning to the very end.

The Great Tamer drew people of all ages and from numerous backgrounds; some you could tell were university students who chose to live their Saturday nights in a unique way, some were elder folk who were likely experienced attendees of artistic productions like this one. In essence, this production attracted the appropriate crowd as it consisted of artistic elements, universal morals, and common humor that would appeal to the different sides of many people.

The production began before everyone was seated. Even after calmly rushing up the concrete stairs to the balcony and being one of the first people in the auditorium to take their seat, I noticed that there was already a man lying on stage with his shoes off next to him, presumably dead. As people continued to enter, he stood up, put on his shoes, and stood facing the crowd, expressionless yet observant. When the production began, his character came to life in an intricate storyline.

The entire performance consisted of humans using simple props, strong body language without direct gestures, color and the lack thereof in their clothing and in the setting, and panels that made up the stage floor to communicate various vignettes in what seemed to be a metaphorical way. It was probably not entirely correct of me to think of every action that occurred as a metaphor, but I felt that it was easiest to understand the purpose of a specific scene as an analogy to what occurs in real life, such as death and grasping onto life, letting go of a loved one, being overthrown by one’s own kind, the equity or lack thereof between man and woman.

The ten performers were masters of sleight of hand and melodramatic theatre; I would follow the movement of one particular character in a scene and suddenly witness him or her consistently pull an item out of the air that they couldn’t possibly have carried behind them or in their shadow. They carried a sporadic and vibrant essence throughout the performance, using the black floor panels to disappear and reappear in an instant, to portray the absence of a physical object in space, and to reconstruct different settings.

The final scene resonated with me the most; after some commotion, one man remained. He had a square of gold and silver foil, tossed it in the air, and kept it suspended by constantly blowing air up from beneath it. The stage was dimming, you could see him moving impossibly to keep the foil floating, and as the stage darkened completely, he gave one final breath and it was over. In this moment, I was stunned by the caliber of the performance I had just witnessed and almost felt that there would be no way to explain or justify it in the words I would write for this post. Even so, I am ecstatic that I was able to give even a glimpse of this performance to the public with this post and hope that Dimitris Papaioannou will continue to touch the psyche of many with performances like this.