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*.

 

PREVIEW: In The Heights

This 2008 Broadway classic has found its way to University of Michigan’s campus! Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical In The Heights follows the lives of a Hispanic-American neighborhood of Washington Heights in New York City over the course of three days. MUSKET is bringing UM student talent to this masterpiece this weekend!

Catch this production at the Power Center on March 16 and 17 at 8pm and March 19 at 2pm. Tickets ($7 for students and $13 for adults) can be purchased at https://www.ummusket.org/ or at MUTO.

REVIEW: First Date

“The One.” Everyone is on the lookout for their soulmate to settle down with. That special someone may not be who you are expecting or are used to however. First Date was a light, funny, and awkward musical exploring a blind date that has the potential to go somewhere.

Aaron’s (Drew Benson) nervousness and Casey’s (Sarah Mazurek) hostility were apparent in their initial interactions — and if first impressions were bought, that would’ve been the end of this first date. However, the date lives on as Casey ignores her hilariously flamboyant best friend Reggie’s bailout calls, and they gradually move past the small talk and delve into talks about religion, passion, and the future.

At each and every turn, they each imagine their own voice of reason and doubt in the form of best friend Gabe and sister Lauren. From imaginary (or real?) babies to bad boy exes, every aspect of the future and the past is brought to the present throughout this first date. The dangers of the world wide web were brought alive through the manifestation of Google and every single post that can never be erased. There was sass and attitude in their conversations, and this first date was truly a journey of blunders and embarrassment.

Through the laughter, there were still scenes of sensitive topics among the musical numbers. Aaron remembers the tragic love of his passed mother and seeks closure with his ex-fiance through a rocking cathartic song. Casey engages in an honest introspective reflection about her personality and the inner walls she’s put up in order to protect herself. The vulnerability they express brings them closer as they reveal more of their true selves, despite the initial odds of their personalities clicking being against them.

Sarah Mazurek and Drew Benson’s vocals were beautiful and complemented each other perfectly, and everyone else provided great backup or solo numbers about, for instance, food. This nine person cast fully embodied every quirky character they turned into, and the dynamics between everyone were truly entertaining.

As Casey and Aaron ignored the voices that followed them throughout the entire night and decided to take the leap, the last scene is one that is highly predictable, but heartwarming nonetheless (in addition to a surprise potential relationship forming right before the end). A2CT’s production of First Date was a feel-good play riddled with amusing quirks, brutal honesty, and enlightening humor.

PREVIEW: First Date

We’ve all been there — first dates. The first date that brings dread or butterflies to your stomach. The first date that is either endless torture or an instant click. The first date that has you already setting up your next blind date or planning your wedding. And then there’s the first date that is perfectly average and leaves the future completely uncertain.

Meet Aaron and Casey, chronic singles meeting for their arranged blind date. Featuring characters such as Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, Google, Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter, this original comedy musical set in the modern technological age explores the possibilities of love and chemistry at a certain point in life between two people and all the doubting voices carried along the way. Do the sparks fly? Is love in the air?

A2CT is putting this production on at the Arthur Miller Theatre March 8-11 with showtimes at 7:30pm on Thursday, 8pm on Friday and Saturday, and 2pm on Sunday. Student tickets are $14 and can be bought online at www.a2ct.org or at the door. This event is also FREE with a Passport to the Arts voucher!

REVIEW: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

The play begins with a distraught mother’s monologue about her son, dead now, presumably in Hell, and hated by the world. She states that if her son is in Hell then God cannot exist. Needless to say, the monologue is full of despair and unease, an uncertainty about certain fate–it is a mother refusing to accept what she knows to be true, with such force and emotion, that the audience also doubts what they know to be true. This is, in part, the beauty of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot–the certainties you come in with must be tossed aside, here, nothing is certain and everything is up for debate.

Then it all shifts. The stage goes dark. When the lights come back on, we are being introduced to Purgatory, the place people go where their fates have not yet been decided, quite literally, in a courtroom. The mood is no longer dramatic, but funny, even bubbly, as a vivacious angel shows us around. Deathly silence has been replaced by laughter as we are introduced to the real characters of this show: a judge and two lawyers, one fighting for Judas, the other for Heaven. This is now a courtroom drama, albeit one ruled by the dead.

As the play goes on (and it does go on–it has a runtime of 2.5 hours), many different characters, primarily historical figures or religious icons, make appearances in the courtroom, called on as witnesses. These range from Mother Teresa to Sigmund Freud to Pontius Pilate, and when I say characters, I mean characters. These are not mild-mannered, historically-researched portrayals, but updated, bawdy versions, almost cartoonish. Mother Teresa is practically deaf and prone to talking about “handsome boys.” Sigmund Freud is a braggart, egotistical and cocky, beyond what even his worse critics would claim. Pontius Pilate dresses and acts like a rapper from the 90s, basketball jersey and goldchains, talking about his bros. They are caricatures, in a way, and easy humor, but somehow, they still manage a deadly seriousness. They have, after all, come here to decide a man’s eternal fate, and though sometimes that thought is not at the forefront, it is never fully forgotten, and the tone of play flips between with ease. Further, though many of these characters clearly side with either the prosecution or defense, their testimonies never fully condemn or exonerate. Viewers do not get a clear answer on Judas and what he deserves, only waters further muddled by questions personal, philosophical, and political. The play demonstrates that even if we can construct the events exactly as they happened, we will never fully understand the why behind them or how to proceed.

If you want answers and certainties, this is not the play for you. Even at the end, after the verdict has been passed, the final scene leaves the audience not knowing what they hope, what it even is they could hope for. Though often a comedy, this play is, at its core a tragedy.

SMTD’s production of The Last Days of Judas Iscariot was excellent. The acting was phenomenal, managing the twists in tone deftly and with heart, and the Arthur Miller made for a particularly perfect stage.

REVIEW: You For Me For You

You For Me For You is a title that accurately conveys the general theme within the play: the juxtapositions that result in a dizzying, even disorienting perception of time, space, and what it means to inhabit both dreams and reality. Sacrifice also plays a large role in the play; what we give up in the name of love and hope.

Sisters Minhee and Junhee live in North Korea, which is, of course, an incredibly oppressive and frightening place to live in. Citizens live their lives in fear and under constant surveillance, and after an altercation with a local doctor, Junhee decides to flee across the border. While the two attempt to escape, Minhee trips and falls down a well, where she is left behind. Junhee leaves for New York City, where she experiences what it means to be an American. After time passes and the two sisters discover truths about themselves, they are finally reunited, a happy affair that nonetheless has its own elements of sacrifice.

This play, written by Mia Chung and directed by Priscilla Lindsay, was the first Department of Theater and Drama production I have ever seen. I thought that the performers played their parts very well; they showed the audience a spectrum of emotions, ranging from humor to anguish. Without spoiling it, I thought that the end of the play was a very interesting one; sober, but also a stark contrast to the ideas of hope and risk-reward that were explored earlier in the play.

However, I was admittedly left quite confused by the play itself, though perhaps that disorientation was the point. Without spoiling the plot of the play, I will say that there were certain ideas that felt disconnected or unthreaded, and characters whom I was uncertain of it they were alive or dead. I was also confused about the giant walking teddy bear (???) and the actual fates and natures of Minhee’s husband and son. You For Me For You is advertised as being a play about magical-realism, and I thought that that was an interesting take on such a topic. There was definitely a discernible element of fantasy in the play; the problem for me, at least, was understanding where fantasy ended and reality began; this issue is only something I point out because it complicated my understanding of the plot, simply for logistical reasons.

Nonetheless, there were certain decisions in the play’s execution that I believe were exclusive to this production, though I cannot be sure. (Again, I am not very knowledgeable about the field of acting and theater). For one, the decision to give Minhee an accompanying voice actor to narrate her parts in the script was one that sparked a lot of interest. The voice actress sat at the edge of the stage; when Minhee ‘spoke,’ her lips moved silently. Her ‘voice’ came from the actress sitting in the corner. I found myself talking to the girl next to me about what she thought about this decision, and we actually had two very different opinions about the ideas behind the decision to not give Minhee ‘her own voice’ (her sister, Junhee, voiced her own parts.)

You For Me For You was a play that was enjoyable to watch, yes, but it also sparked a lot of ideas and topics for potential discussion for me. As we exited the theater, my fellow audience members were discussing possible interpretations of several of the more confusing scenes of the play. If you are ever able to view this production in the future, I would highly encourage it. I would also suggest watching with a group of friends, with whom you can discuss the ambiguous scenes and ideas with afterwards.

Image credits: Happening @ Michigan