PREVIEW: Big Fish

Alternating between two timelines of the present-day real world and the storybook past, Big Fish is the story of Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman, and his son Will as they grapple with mortality and their faltering father-son relationship that has been riddled with tall tales. Based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions and the 2003 film Big Fish written by John August and directed by Tim Burton, Andrew Lippa has merged the two with music and lyrics to create a musical as mystical as its plot.

Celebrate the end of finals week, the 2017-2018 school year, and the coming of summer with a musical that will stretch your imagination and warm your heart. From April 26 to May 20, The Encore Musical Theatre Company will be performing Big Fish from April 26 to May 20, so there are many chances to see the amazing talent The Encore has to bring! Tickets can be bought at https://www.theencoretheatre.org/tickets/.

REVIEW Angels in America Part 1

On Saturday night, two housemates and myself journeyed to the Arthur Miller Theater on north campus to see Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. Sitting down in our general admission seats we were a little wary and a little intimidated by the supposed run-time of the play: 3 hours and 30 minutes, plus two 15 minute intermissions— for a total of 4 hours. Despite our apprehensions, it was an energetic, moving, and thoroughly engaging 4 hours. What seemed daunting actually never had a dull moment, and left us wishing for Part 2— just maybe not that same night.

An example of the minimalist set of Angels in America. (Photo Credit: So Jung)

Staying true to Kushner’s wishes and the play’s stage directions, the set was minimalist and scenes transitioned without blackouts. Instead the Music, Theater, and Dance cast had drums beating in the background and furniture whirled around. Projections stated the dates but with the changing of scenes happening with actors pushing, twirling, and wheeling the set around, we saw the time pass before our eyes. The whole performance used the space and lighting very well. Two places could be represented at once on the stage by their expert use of lightening, allowing key scenes with both couples arguing to be powerful moments. If actors weren’t in scenes, they watched in chairs lined along the back of the stage, so the presence and intensity of the scenes was never lost.

The physical presence of all the actors was amazing to watch. While Sam Dubin embodied a spitting-with-rage Roy Cohn, and the show lacked nothing in passion, the cast didn’t shy away from moments of silence. The silence after Harper Pitt’s line to her husband, “You should want to be married to me”, gave me goosebumps. It seemed like a long silence but I was on the edge of my seat wondering what the response would be through every suspenseful moment. Savanna Crosby’s performance of Harper Amaty Pitt through the whole show was riveting; her first scene saw her shaking and shivering as one with the character. It must have been a tiring action but was just as an amazing work of physicality.

The entire cast fit together, creating intimate and meaningful relationships seemingly from the air. Together they crafted a great adaptation of this award winning play. Angels in America deals with important but difficult issues and they tackled it’s complicated themes, ultimately creating a memorable theater going experience.

REVIEW: Bloom

NERDS can lift any sad or sick spirit. After a couple days of feeling under the weather, involving little movement and work, I made my way to the Union to watch this semester’s production of Bloom. And that was certainly the highlight of an otherwise bad weekend.

As a purely student-run theater group, this original production was amazing in terms of its talent in acting, singing, composing, and writing, as well as the powerful message it conveyed. Despite some curtain technical difficulties (handled with poise and laughter) and an extended intermission due to the game (GO BLUE), the cast carried on and performed this important work filled with heartfelt, heavy content that is not represented in media enough. The importance of the opportunity NERDS provides students cannot be emphasized enough. Diana Yassin, part of the ensemble, said, “It was a really good experience because I’ve never done anything theater-based in high school because it was always really intense and stressful and scary. But then I came here…and it was really fun and there’s not a lot of pressure on it and everyone’s really nice.” You heard it here folks: NERDS makes dreams come true.

Leah King and Asritha Vinnakota’s portrayal of best friends Margot and Aggie, each struggling to make sense of their own sexualities, was very real and authentic. Their misguided intentions and projected insecurities are problems all too common in friendships and the community. The fact that this Austen-era world highly resembles today’s world still is disconcerting. But it is works like this that is changing the narrative.

This musical had many intricate layers that complicated the lives of the characters. Playwrite Sarah Costello did an amazing job highlighting the difficulties of being understood, even among close friends and people who might understand you better than you might think. The tension between Margot and Aggie was heartbreaking, as their struggles were more similar than they knew, showing how one’s identity may obscure the understanding of another’s.

Taking place in a world where impromptu love duets determine your fate, Margot’s inability to romantically duet led to many raw solos that Leah absolutely killed. Asritha’s gut-wrenching performance of “Right In Front Of Your Eyes” showed everyone the silent struggles Aggie also deals with as she grapples with her own feelings of bisexuality. Toby Jaroslaw’s well-intentioned Ollie complicated the situation but despite his embarrassment, his continued support at the end is a perfect example of how one should treat someone who comes out as asexual and aromantic — exactly how you treated them before (and his proposal number “Next To You” was stuck in my head for the rest of the night). As the town’s outcast, Ellen Paquet’s song as Aunt Clarabel was so beautiful, it was exactly what Margot needed to hear. And the platonic duet between Margot and Aggie at the end was truly heartwearming as each character began to accept that they are exactly who they are meant to be.

The costumes were beautifully designed and symbolically important. Margot’s stunning dress — purple, white, and black — was the color of the flag for asexuality, and Aggie’s was the color of bisexuality — pink, lavender, and blue. The subtle symbols may seem small, but they are huge for raising awareness, as well as being an integral part of each character.

Bloom was truly groundbreaking in terms of representation for invisible and misunderstood minorities. Castmember Fareah Fysudeen commented on the significance of this musical, saying, “I think it’s really important for representation…and I’m sure it meant a lot to people in the crowd and onstage. Overall, it was just a really enriching experience.” Just as Sarah wrote the change she wanted to see, every member of NERDS believed in the power of this musical and dedicated three months of their time to this production, being the change they also wanted to see onstage.

Championing platonic love over romantic love, a concept foreign to many heteronormative people, is not weird or abnormal. Being aromantic or asexual does not mean something is wrong with you. Just as Margot was a beautiful character that gradually found her way to happiness and acceptance, if you are struggling to find your place with your sexuality, Bloom shows that there is a community that cares. You are wanted, you are accepted, you are loved, and you are supported. You, too, will bloom.

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: In The Heights

America is the land of opportunity. Many people from many countries immigrated to the United States in search of a better life, of a better future for their kids. And as this new generation grows up in the land they call home, they must grapple with what home truly means.

MUSKET’s performance of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s baby, the predecessor to Hamilton, embraced this culture that seems lost in the face of white America. With an extremely diverse, and truly phenomenal, cast, you could see in everyone’s eyes that they were proud and thankful for their heritage as they sang and danced their hearts out onstage at this sold out show. With flags proudly waved and memories preciously cherished, this production of In The Heights was filled with overwhelming talent and pride.

It touches on the sacrifices that parents make for the sake of the children they love and wish to provide for. The selfless hardships they endured are appreciated, not lost, on the continuing road of struggles as we all try to reach a higher pinnacle of greatness and hope. Kevin’s desire to escape the life of farming led him to leave his father’s footsteps and to pave the perfect path for Nina that he always envisioned, despite the difficulties that proves to be.

It touches on the struggles of Latinx minorities to succeed as first-generation college students. The pressure for Nina to make it out and make something of herself, and the reality of how difficult that is with financial burdens, is something that universities must take into account as they provide more assistance for more opportunities for better education.

It touches on the importance of family and community. Abuela Claudia’s presence and legacy roots Usnavi in Washington Heights and the Dominican Republic simultaneously. Benny may not be Latino, but he is among family in the Heights as well.

It touches on the dreams of leaving only to be pulled back by the weight of home.

It touches on a Latino community with no power — singing repeatedly “We are powerless” in the midst of a blackout — still powering through such adversity.

MUSKET brings all these aspects of life to the surface through powerful vocals and classic Miranda lyrics and savvy Salsa moves that exposed these struggles and difficulties — and the strength and perseverance of immigrant families.

I left the Power Center speechless, pretending I didn’t just cry after basically every number. I witnessed some of the best choreography I’ve ever seen and heard some of the best music I’ve ever laid ears on. The band’s power just enhanced the vocals and power displayed onstage, providing an amazing backdrop that set the tone for every note sung and fit with every move made. There was excitement in the air and celebratory joy and stunning sadness. It was real.

This musical forced me into a position of intense self-reflection. It made me appreciate my parents — immigrants from Taiwan — even more, and it’s given me a lot to think about in terms of my own story and my privilege and the life I’m going to make for myself here at Michigan.

However, it also brought my attention to the greater world around me, and the journey of everyone here. The diversity represented onstage was truly groundbreaking, and having such an inclusive show at the University of Michigan right now is so important. The chemistry among the cast is only natural as they share a common piece of history and understanding. The uniting factor for everyone on the cast, crew, and band was a pride in the past and a vision for the future, and that power and passion made this performance resonate beyond the stage and into the real world.

Tl; dr: The vocals: WOW. The choreography: WOOWWWW. The passion: WOWOWOW. And the message? Just *wow*.