REVIEW: Violet

Looking for something to do to help you forget about the stress of exams and assignments this weekend?  Violet is the perfect musical to do just that!  The University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, & Dance brought to life this story that has hilarious, beautiful, and heartbreaking moments interwoven in.  Even on a Thursday night, the audience was completely standing at the end after being left speechless.

Violet is about a young woman (Natalie Duncan) whose face was disfigured when her dad (Jamie Colburn) accidentally hit her with an axe.  She grew up her whole life with people staring at her scar, or even worse, refusing to look her in the face.  She finally decides to travel to meet a television preacher (Ben Ahlers) who she hopes will heal her scar.  Along the way she meets Flick (Justin Showell) and Monty (Charlie Patterson), two soldiers on the road.

Natalie’s voice couldn’t have been any more fitting for the role of Violet.  One must have a decent Southern accent and some killer vocal chords to captivate the audience; and she did just that.  The audience was laughing while she was singing “All to Pieces”, about how she wants her physical features changed up like those of celebrities.  They got chills during the strong performance of “On My Way” done by the cast.  And they sobbed during Violet’s solo of “Look at Me”.

I typically recommend shows here and there to see, but this one cannot be missed.  It is such a beautiful story with a cast who did not disappoint.  The expected, but still shocking, amount of talent in this show blew the audience away.

There are still three shows left at the Arthur Miller Theatre: 12/9 at 2pm and 8pm, and 12/10 at 2pm.  Tickets are $20 for General Admission and $12 for Students with ID.  More information can be found at http://tickets.smtd.umich.edu/single/EventDetail.aspx?p=3355.

REVIEW: Loving Vincent

A painting in motion — Loving Vincent. Brushstrokes that mimicked the iconic artistry of Vincent van Gogh’s own paintings moved to tell the biography of Vincent in a never-before-seen feature film. An hour and thirty-four minutes of animated paint, in the style of Vincent van Gogh, was an exquisite film that I felt honored to behold with my own two eyes.

It was a rainy Sunday night, with the typical wind chills of early November in Ann Arbor, when I went to see the film with some of my colleagues. We had just come from a fantastic dinner of pizza, including margherita pizza — my favorite kind of pizza — and joined the ranks of Loving Vincent moviegoers lined up outside of Michigan Theater.

Luckily, we had arrived just in time not to miss the beginning of the film itself. The whole lot of us settled upstairs in the balcony, appreciating the extravagance of the Michigan Theater’s classic theater setting and ambience. As soon as we settled into our seats, the lights dimmed and the screen flitted between trailers of upcoming indie films and the like. And then, at long last, Loving Vincent painted itself across the screen.

In a word, Loving Vincent was…divine. Artistic. Exquisite. Every second of it, quite literally the epitome of a painting in motion, enraptured the audience with its imagery.

Honestly, the second the movie opened, I was already mesmerized by the names rolling on the screen through their careful and immaculate brushstrokes. I was watching the lines of colors, imitating Vincent’s illustrious and iconic style, move across the screen in unison to depict movement. It was enrapturing.

I felt chills go down my spine.

The movie opens with the most renowned and perhaps most well-known work by the artist: Starry Night — hooking every audience member with its fine brush work and celebrated imagery as one of the most historically reputable works of art. It was so meaningful to see that be the opening scene to a film revolving around the artist, to whom the film is dedicated for, I was just captivated and touched by it. And then, when that Starry Night picture began to actually move, animated brushstrokes depicting the scene, my heart melted. Such an extraordinary picture transformed into a setting for a narrative to take place. It was the most fitting way to tell the biography of Vincent van Gogh.

As for the narrative itself — the story follows Armand Roulin, who is to hand-deliver a letter from Vincent to Theo van Gogh, Vincent’s brother. In this narrative, Armand learns more and more about the late artist Vincent, who had been a new artistic sensation in Paris at 28 but took his life while at the verge of his own impending success as an artist. Although skeptical and critical of Vincent in the beginning, Armand slowly grows wistful and fond of him. In fact, Armand even comes to Vincent’s defense when bad gossip arises and surrounds his death and reputation.

I’ll spare you all the details, but basically — the film follows Armand, a man who seems far detached from having any relation or kinship with Vincent van Gogh, and Armand’s journey to find the truth behind Vincent’s death — whether it was a suicide or a murder, what his motives were, who Vincent van Gogh truly was.

Ultimately the film really is a biography of Vincent van Gogh, which doesn’t lend itself to having that much opportunity to deviate from reality and express creativity and imagination as wildly as possible, as one might expect from an animated film. I have heard criticisms of the writing in Loving Vincent that claim the story is hard to follow, but they heralded the artistry of the film itself. Animation is a breathtaking craft, and it’s painfully difficult, and being able to dedicate an entire feature film of animated oil paintings for Vincent van Gogh is truly the only way to express his biography, I’d say. I personally don’t have a bad opinion of this film, having been so mesmerized by the immaculate craft of the moving pictures.

Now, my colleagues and myself hail from the art and design school at the University of Michigan, and inevitably we were drawn by the uniquely beautiful craft of the film, especially because we all express an interest in the art of animation. Safe to say we were all very moved and absolutely amazed by the sheer amount of work and effort required to make Loving Vincent and transform his most distinguished and impactful works of art into moving pictures.

If you have not seen Loving Vincent, I hope you at least consider it! If not for the story or biography of the great artist Vincent van Gogh, then for the beautiful craft of the film and its hundreds of artists who carefully painted and animated each frame of the film.

Go and love Vincent!

 

REVIEW: Cabaret

“Leave your troubles outside.  So… life is disappointing?  Forget it!  We have no troubles here!  Here life is beautiful…”  And that’s just what the show of Cabaret was.  The second the Emcee (Trish Fountain) walked onstage, the audience was captivated.  Captivated by the orchestra, captivated by the talented Kit Kat Club boys and girls, and captivated by the hauntingly beautiful storyline.

Cabaret, done by the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre, is a musical that captures a time in Berlin when Nazis were coming into power.  The story revolves around American writer Cliff Bradshaw (Chris Grimm) who travels to Germany to find inspiration for his novel.  That’s where he meets “mysterious and fascinating” cabaret performer Sally Bowles (Laura Dysarczyk) from England.  Along the way, we meet lovable characters such as Fraulein Schneider (Jessica Ryder) and Herr Schultz (Edmond Reynolds).

The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre did this show justice.  So many emotions were felt throughout.  Love for newly formed relationships, uncomfortableness for moments that left the audience in silence, and pain for the decline of characters and political situations.  Moments left the audience with their mouths wide open, shocked.  And at the end, the Emcee reminds them of the troubles that they have left behind… Is it because the troubles have actually disappeared?  Or is it because they realized that their troubles are so small compared to the one’s of the characters’ onstage?  Just something to think about while leaving the theatre, not knowing what emotions to feel.

This sold out show was performed beautifully.  Unfortunately it is over now, but I highly recommend seeing more shows done by the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre.  Information and tickets can be found at: http://www.a2ct.org/.

PREVIEW: The Milk Carton Kids

I used to think I didn’t like folk music, but that was before I went to The Ark. From my first show, I was hooked. Folk is usually centered around simple instrumentation and exquisite harmonies, which combined with the venue’s exceptional acoustics is a match made in heaven. The Ark only seats 400, so even the introduction to a song can feel like an intimate conversation with the band. After the show, you can often meet them.

This Halloween, if costumes and haunted houses aren’t your thing, here’s an alternative: come to The Ark to see The Milk Carton Kids! They’re an indie folk duo that has been nominated for a Grammy, toured with The Lumineers, and been praised by Sara Bareilles, and they even have a song called Michigan. The Ark’s website sums them up using the phrase “haunting vocal harmonies” and that alone is enough to make me want to drop everything and come to The Ark Tuesday night.

The Milk Carton Kids with opening act Sammy Miller and the Congregation come to The Ark Tuesday, October 31 at 8:00 PM. You can buy general admission tickets for $35 at The Ark, at the Michigan Union Ticket Office, or online at theark.org.

REVIEW: Daniil Trifonov, piano “An Homage to Chopin”

What’s better than a night of Chopin?

A night of Chopin performed by Daniil Trifonov.

There was everything a piano concert should have: the loud and the soft; the fast and the slow; the touch and the feel. There are things many piano concerts lack: the emotion, the excitement, the energy, the presence. Trifonov was very much emotional and exciting and energetic and present. He managed to accomplish everything a musician hopes to achieve in their lifetime in just two hours of wondrous harmonies and melodies.

The first half of his program was all works inspired by Chopin. My favorite from this section was the excerpt from Carnaval, Op. 9 by Schumann. It was fun and lighthearted, and Grieg’s Moods that followed afterwards created a stark contrast that really captured the range of music and style that Chopin influenced, as well as the musicianship talent of Trifonov.

My view of Trifonov from the balcony

While all the music was masterful and amazing, my favorite pieces would still have to be the Chopin works in the second half. His Variations on “La ci darem la mano” from Don Giovanni, Op. 2 were full of energy and attitude. I’m a sucker for variations, and this one was no exception.

Sonata No. 2 in b-flat minor, Op. 35 started out with a bang and it ended with a bang, and everything in between was just as grand. Trifonov showed off all the technique he has mastered, but the best moment came during Marche funèbre: Lento, when the entire room was silent, and the soft, somber notes from the piano filled the room in a way no fortissimo ever could. There were chills, and I was left speechless.

The music finished sooner than I wanted, and the entire auditorium was on its feet, cheering and clapping and whistling for more—and more is what we got. Trifonov came back out and played a slower piece, which I thought was unusual for an encore, but he pulled it off, treating the audience to this heartfelt piece. Again, it ended, but we wanted more.

And this is the point where I literally gasped and the entire night became more perfect than it already was.

For his second encore, Trifonov performed FantaisieImpromptu in C-sharp minor, Op. 66, which I myself played four years ago, and it’s been one of my favorite songs ever since I heard my older sister play it. Hearing Trifonov play it, however, was a whole new experience. The notes I knew by heart suddenly came alive in a way that’s never been played before, and I really felt this song in a whole new light.

Again, we hoped for more, but sadly, time had passed and it was officially over. However, his music has found its place into my memory and into my heart. The night came to an end, but his music lives on in me and everyone that attended this concert.

Daniil Trifonov has been called the greatest pianist of our generation, and after hearing him grace the stage with Chopin and many more at Hill Auditorium, I could not agree more.

PREVIEW: Cabaret

The Ann Arbor Civic Theatre is bringing the classic show of Cabaret to the stage!  If you’ve never seen this show before, I would highly recommend it!  And I haven’t even seen the performance yet!  But the story itself is so beautifully heartbreaking.  I had the honor of assistant directing it at a different theatre last year, so I am super interested in seeing how they transform the story through different eyes.

I won’t spoil much of the story right now, but as the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre posted in their website, “Set against the crumbling decadence of the [Kit Kat Club], with darkly witty, bawdy, and sometimes scathing songs, Cabaret is a reminder of what the winds of political change, particularly when ignored, can bring.”  Like I said, you have to see this show at least once in your lifetime!  So might as well make it now!  And I suggest bringing some tissues 🙂

Cabaret runs at the Arthur Miller Theatre, October 26-29.  The Thursday show is sold out, but Friday through Sunday still have tickets!  Tickets are $14-16.  Buy them online now at http://www.a2ct.org/tickets/buytickets.

Photo Credit: found on their website at http://www.a2ct.org/.