PREVIEW: The Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess

The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess can be considered the quintessential American opera of the 20th century. This particular performance is special, however, because it would be showcasing the fruits of the SMTD’s Gershwin Initiative for the first time. George Gershwin died prematurely at 38 and left a trail of hard-to-read handwritten scores that often led to inconsistent musical interpretation. The Gershwin Initiative is a conservation project that aims to analyze and reproduce Gershwin’s work in the way he would’ve wanted it to be shown. Porgy and Bess will be including classics such as “I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’,” “My Man’s Gone Now,” “Summertime” (listen to an amazing Al Jarreau cover here)  and “It Ain’t Necessarily So” (I played this for an ABRSM piano exam).

Porgy and Bess will be performed on Saturday February 17 in the historic Hill Auditorium.


College is a time for doing stupid things, they say. And having done more than my fair share of them myself, I can attest to the highs and lows of adulting. But at least I learned a little about myself in the process.

That’s the feeling Pacek and Paul — Michigan students themselves when they wrote the show — knew all too well. And it’s the feeling Edges hits right on the head.

Edges is more a song cycle than a full musical with a plot and fleshed-out characters, a show that feels more like an intimate confessional than a Broadway spectacle. Penny Seats’ staging did justice to that. Kerrytown Concert House is literally a converted house, adding to the idea that these characters were more than just written constructs — they could have been any of us.

The first half of the show was set up almost like a group therapy session. The only sets were a pair of stools, and when it was each character’s turn to sing, they would take a stool and tell their story as the other actors watched from the audience. This worked with the material of the show, but at the same time, some of the actors sat on the right side of the stage, where there were no audience members and where the majority of the audience couldn’t see. I don’t want to fault the company for working within the confines of their space, but this setup annoyed me slightly throughout, as the actors would be turned to the side at times singing to the other characters, making them hard to hear.

Edges operates in two halves — essentially, falling in love and falling out of love. After the opening number (a quintessential “I want” song about being afraid to be who you really are), various characters took their turn singing about all of love’s messy parts. The songs themselves were intensely relatable, but adding to that was the fact that the characters are not given names, adding to the idea that they could be any of us.

One highlight was “I Hmm You” — one of the few songs in the first half sung by two characters — which was equal parts awkward and delightful. The actors executed perfectly what it was like to be a 20-something in love.

But Edges had its share of emotional numbers as well, my favorite of which was “Lying There.” The song, about lying next to the person you love, unable to sleep wondering if they feel the same way, was resonant and heartfelt.

The show’s shift happened at “The Facebook Song,” the first ensemble number since the opener. “The Facebook Song” was hilarious (even if slightly outdated — the number one way you can tell this show was written in 2005 is that Facebook was not only the go-to social network for college-aged kids, it was still called “the Facebook”) and the choreography — where each character held up a cardboard Facebook icon and turned it over to reveal certain postings — only added to the song’s comedy. However, I also felt that the song almost didn’t belong in the show. The other numbers, while not necessarily connected, showed a clear arc, but “The Facebook Song” seemed to not fit in with that arc. It seemed almost as if it were in the show as a marker of sorts between the first half and second half. However, “The Facebook Song” brought down the house and for good reason, so I’m loathe to say it didn’t belong.

In the second half, the audience learns that the relationships set up in the first half haven’t been going well, as the various characters come back onstage and sing an array of breakup songs that are at times hilarious and heartfelt. Actor Emily Manuell — who nailed the emotionally-resonant “Lying There” in the first half — was given a complete change of pace in “In Short,” a number about all the ways she wished the person that once kept her awake would just die. She nailed the comedic timing of the piece, another showstopper that left me laughing out loud.

The show wrapped up with another ensemble number where the characters come together saying they’re ready to be loved again. They’ll likely go through all the same feelings again, but at least they’ll be better for it. And that’s where the show packs its real punch.

At times, Edges was almost painfully relatable, eliciting uncomfortable laughter and the kind of awkwardness that’s funny because it’s real.

That’s how you know they nailed it.

PREVIEW: You For Me For You

You For Me For You is renowned playwright Mia Chung’s debut play, which details the story of two sisters from North Korea who are separated upon attempting to escape. The one who manages to escape flees to New York City, while the remaining sister is left behind. Praised by The Independent as “an exhilarating, surreal roll through both North Korea and American society… a brilliantly imaginative journey not to be missed,” You For Me For You is a play that I am excited to attend. The play is directed by Priscilla Lindsay and presented in collaboration with the Nam Center for Korean Studies.

You For Me For You will be shown at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre; the last two available showtimes are February 17 at 8PM and February 18 at 2 PM. Tickets for students are $12 with ID, and can be purchased at the League Ticket Office (this play is also included in the previous Passport to the Arts!).

Image credits: Scott Suchman

PREVIEW: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Anyone familiar with the Bible, and even those who aren’t, know the tale of Judas Iscariot, or are at least familiar with this name that has gone down in infamy. The Great Traitor. The ultimate betrayal. Beware of a Judas kiss.

But what if his story isn’t as simple as we thought? What if there’s a lot more to it? What if he’s not the sinner the Bible paints him to be?

Stephen Adly Guirgis unravels the life behind this character — this person — who is so commonly villainized and possibly misunderstood. With special appearances from St. Matthew, Mother Teresa, Sigmund Freud, Pontius Pilate, and, of course, Satan himself, the story of this court case questions exactly what it means to be guilty and what it means to achieve redemption.

SMTD is putting on a student production of this play that delves deep into the flaws of humanity and the decisions that are made. Come to the Arthur Miller Theatre on February 15-18 to watch Judas’s ultimate fate be determined. Showtimes are at 7:30pm, 8pm, or 2pm with tickets at $12 with a student ID or $20 for general admission that can be purchased at or at the Michigan League Ticket Office.


REVIEW: Constellations at Theatre Nova.

The observable universe is 13.77 billion years old, holding a galaxy spilt like light-year milk. And if there’s 7.6 billion people in the world, eras before us, great geological epochs – what do the astronomical numbers mean for the chances of two people meeting each other at a barbecue? What are the chances that they might even like each other?

Constellations is a kind of terribly neurotic, self-indulgent exposition for anyone who’s wondered what if? I think about how many times I’ve wished things were different. At any point where we must choose, decisions seem irreversible; we cannot go back. But Constellations allows us and its characters to explore the paths of the multitude of realities.

It’s ambitious – a play of multiverses and the grand loftiness of higher physics, but grounded by the two characters who are full of familiar, earthy things: of frustration, of anger, of loss, love and heartbreak. They talk through touch and intonation, just as they talk through timelines and quarks and other intangibles. Concepts of cosmology and bee-keeping are made into very beautiful, personal lines.

The story of Roland and Marianne ends depending on where you start. Maybe it’s at the ballroom dancing class, maybe it’s at the barbecue – each time they cross paths, a garden of possibilities bloom forth. Scenes are replayed with altered decisions, new futures, and there’s even moments where the same dialogue is given, word-for-word, the short lines repeated like a tape re-wound. But the mood is different. The words are spoken with different inflection, in a different setting, and the slight adjustments tip the whole reality into another.

Their story can start and end at the very place they meet. Or, it can continue, go towards somewhere sweet or somewhere devastating. And yet there’s the idea that they could’ve also had no story at all.

What their relationship ultimately is depends on the coincidence of choices, not only in that moment, but in all the previous seconds not shown to us, in all the ways they were brought here to each other. Conceptually, the play seems like a marvel, but it is actually much more down to earth. For every alternate universe, the actors are earnest, giving equal life to each reality and picking at the subtleties of a reset scene. Meghan VanArsdalen and Forrest Hejkal do a tremendous job of playing the funny, dynamic Marianne and the much more subdued, introverted Roland respectively, a universe of possibility resting on the shoulders of only two people.

It’s a study of a relationship in all its forms, intimate as a two-person play, without any great theatrics of set or costume, and the themes are universal and touching. At the very end – no matter how the story of Roland and Marianne concludes, no matter which of all the realities we might take to be true – there is no right one. Every decision, every cosmic happening is just as right as another.

Constellations runs until Feb 18th at Theatre Nova.


Thirteen years ago, two 19-year-old Michigan students had a problem. They were being shunned from their school musicals.

Well, that’s not exactly true. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul were still cast, but were given background roles. That’s not out of the ordinary for underclassmen. But, well, theatre kids and college students can be cocky — I should know, I’ve been both — and Pasek and Paul weren’t satisfied. So they decided to write their own show, Edges, about their experience. After all, when you write the show yourself, you can have whatever role you want.

Ask most people today, and they’ve never heard of Edges. And it’s mostly theatre buffs who know the names Pasek and Paul. But their other works are a different story.

La La Land. Dear Evan Hansen. The Greatest Showman.

The accolades are piling up for the pair. They’ve won Golden Globes, Oscars, Grammys and Tonys — a meteoric rise for two guys who graduated only a decade ago.

And while Pasek and Paul are more known for their recent work, Edges — a coming-of-age song cycle written about our generation — is still a cult classic among a certain subset of college students. Edges is no slouch, either, as it won the pair a Jonathan Larson Award (named after the late Rent composer) at the age of 19 — the youngest to ever win.

This week, we, too, can return to Pasek and Paul’s roots and be transported into a world not so different from our own.

I wonder what Pasek and Paul, the 19-year-old theatre “rejects,” would think if you told them that in 2018, their story would almost seem like one right out of a musical — the cocky youth, the show-within-a-show, their rise to the top.

And I don’t know about you, but I want to see where it all began.

Edges, presented by the Penny Seats Theatre Company, runs at the Kerrytown Concert House February 8-9 and 14-16 at 8 PM and February 11 at 4 PM. Tickets are $15 general admission online or at the door, or free with a Passport to the Arts.