REVIEW: Sweeney Todd

The Demon Barber of Fleet Street took the stage of the Power Center, and everything about it was absolutely thrilling and spectacular in the grandest sense. Comparable to a Broadway production, SMTD has outdone themselves again.

Jamie Colburn was an impeccable Sweeney Todd, capturing his rage and thirst for vengeance with every scowl and word. Allie Re’s performance of Mrs. Lovett exceeds words, as she embodied her quirky character just perfectly. Her facial expressions were extraordinary, showing the complexities and intricacies within her. The classic number “A Little Priest” ended the first act with a humorous, witty delight as Mrs. Lovett and Sweeney Todd come up with their genius and delicious plan. Together, Re and Colburn stole the show.

The supporting cast and ensemble were splendid as well. Blake Roman as Anthony in “Johanna” and Emma Ashford as Johanna in “Green Finch and Linnet Bird” brought powerful vocals to the stage, matching each other beautifully later in “Kiss Me.” Aaron Robinson pulled off Pirelli’s difficult part with ease, and Spencer LaRue played the precious, innocent Tobias, performing one of my favorite numbers, “Not While I’m Around,” beautifully. The Beggar Woman, played by Cydney Clark, fully captured the craze and hysteria of the streets of London. Sondheim’s score is creativity at its peak, but the entire cast and pit nailed this challenging musical.

Aside from the phenomenal acting and singing, everything about this production was stellar. The props were amusing and delightful, from Mrs. Lovett’s delectable meat pies to Todd’s barber chair that disposes of his victims in a humorous fashion. The choreography of this production was particularly stunning. You normally don’t think about Sweeney Todd as a choreography-heavy musical, but the ensemble quickly changed that notion as they came out during the opening “Ballad of Sweeney Todd” and established the ominous nature of this musical with an intensely choreographed number. In “By the Sea,” the pairs of dancers in their outfits and umbrellas evoked Mrs. Lovett’s dream in a very visually pleasing way.

Probably what was most notable about the performance I saw on Sunday was the fact that at the beginning of the second act, Colburn got his hand caught in the barber chair and his pinky fingernail got ripped off. However, like a true actor, he kept singing in that moment, went offstage to wrap it and apply makeup, and then he continued the rest of the show like a champ. Colburn took this bloody and gruesome musical to new levels with his personal experience, and that is certainly to be applauded.

Sweeney Todd was spectacular on every single level, from the lighting to the musical to the costumes to the choreography to the props to the singing to the acting. This was a wonderful performance to finish the year off with, since everything was perfectly executed.

REVIEW: Legally Blonde

Legally Blonde is the story of positivity, hard work, and feminism, embodied by the great and legendary Elle Woods. MUSKET’s performance elevated this musical to stunning heights, full of laughter and empowerment and the best talent on campus.

The musical started out with squealing sorority girls excited about Elle and Warner’s potential engagement. When the fabulous Mika Secada emerged as Elle Woods, she instantly dominated the stage with her pink attire and commanding presence, even after Warner breaks Elle’s heart with his egoistic dreams. Dominic Dorset portrays him as a suave man fit right into Harvard, and Elle studies hard to get in to chase after him, even performing a lovely cheerleading routine sprinkled with law jargon to convince the Harvard men of her capabilities.

Once in Harvard, preppy girl Vivienne Kensington (Mackenzie Mollison) is out for Elle’s blood, but soft and geeky Emmett (Michael Dietz) is there to show her she belongs. Nevada Riley, Kaitlyn Tom, and Ryan Moore made the perfect Greek Chorus, giving Elle the strength and encouragement to be the Elle Woods we all admire.

In the hair salon, we meet Paulette, and Emma Cook’s dialect and hairstyle and outfit rivaled the Paulette in the original movie. Her positivity and energy was contagious, and she dominated the stage as well. One of the biggest stars of the show was Reggie the Campus Corgi, the crowd erupting into applause and cheers as he waddled his way across the stage after Elle helped Paulette win her dog back.

Sydney C. Shepherd played Brooke Wyndham, the accused fitness guru with style and moves. The extraordinary choreography of “Whipped Into Shape” involving synchronized jump roping was really impressive as the cast did a thorough workout to this extremely catchy song. Probably the best part of this number was when Ryan Moore’s jump rope flew out of his hands, and he started jumping up and down with his own unique flair that made it super entertaining to watch.

The vocal power of this cast was extraordinary, especially Secada’s performances. As she danced and marched around in stilettos, she proved how powerful and confident women could be. From fashion icon to winning lawyer, her positive and outgoing mindset helped her succeed, and Secada grabbed this narrative we’re all familiar with and turned it into her own. Vivienne’s unwavering support for Elle after Callahan assaulted her was even more poignant as Mollison sang “legally blonde”, nailing that run over and over again.

The set was simple and beautiful, yet it screamed Elle Woods. The revolving walls brought us between the bright pink walls, the blue salon, and Harvard with effective ease. Once again, the pit’s brilliantly-played music matched Elle Wood’s spirit and gave her an upbeat soundtrack to her life. This all-star cast, from Cook to Mollison to Reggie to Secada, turned this story about a sorority girl turned lawyer into a moving tale about self-empowerment and the importance of believing women. Bruna D’Avila and MUSKET exceeded expectations again with this very pink, very enjoyable, and very powerful musical.

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.

PREVIEW: The Great Tamer

In the spring of 2017, Dimitris Papaioannou and his ten performers premiered their first display of the breathtaking visual production, The Great Tamer, at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens, Greece. Since then, this production has travelled to a multitude of countries in Central Europe and Asia, leaving its viewers in tremendous awe and feeling gravely inspired to exhaust our lives and to give everything we can before leaving this world.

The production encompasses the human condition, revealing the small tragedies and great absurdities of our modern lives through classic theatrical conventions. Papaioannou has chosen to use unique techniques to manipulate simple props, ultimately creating illusions that engage with the material and the metaphysical of life on our current world.

With Ann Arbor, Michigan being one of only two locations that this production is being performed at in the United States, I am anticipating this event highly. I am excited to feel the tragedy and the frivolity that other reviews have promised and to feel enlightened by an orchestrated presentation of the universal emotions common among all of us.


REVIEW: Cabaret

Life is a cabaret. And MUSKET delivered a show set in Nazi Germany that made stark connections to America today. It was hard to walk away from the Power Center without realizing the many parallels that are still present, almost a century later, and it was certainly unsettling, which means these artists succeeded in delivering their message through an exceptional performance.

Wilson Plonk was a wonderful Emcee, setting the stage with the Kit Kat Klub girls and boys with many dance moves. The Emcee and Sally Bowles provided insightful commentaries as they performed at the club, the most striking number for me being “Money.” The Emcee started out as purely entertaining, being humorously risqué and joyously but as he became more distressed and terrified throughout the show, that unsettling fear about the actions underlying the show became more stark and drastic. When the Emcee held up the phonograph that played the recording of “Tomorrow Belongs to Me”, with a solemnly grim and pained look on his face, my stomach dropped, but that was only the beginning. As Fräulein Kost and Ernst Ludwig sang the reprise with a haunting pride, Clifford Bradshaw’s horrified face explained it all. Later, the scene with the Gorilla in “If You Could See Her” was shocking and impactful in how ridiculous it appears and how implicit we all are in its perceived ridiculousness.

Caroline Glazier delivered stunning performances as Sally Bowles, not just in the Kit Kat Klub with the rest of her girls, but particularly “Maybe This Time” and the iconic “Cabaret,” where she was shaking with anguish as she belted out these words. Samantha Buyers and Aaron Robinson portrayed Fräulein Schneider and Herr Schultz very realistically, and their duets, “It Couldn’t Please Me More” and “Married” were very moving. I think their performances were the most exceptional and compelling, since these college students brought the pains of old age and young hopes very much alive.

The director Isabel K. Olson made an interesting choice with the ending, having the characters step forward and say the line that embodies their way of approaching and handling and going through life. In the program, she said it beautifully: “are we the audience to injustice or active participants working against it?” As Sally Bowles shrugs aside politics and chooses to live in ignorant bliss, Herr Schultz desperately claims that everything will be okay because he is a German and Fräulein Schneider laments that she has no other choice. As the Emcee reveals his concentration camp outfit, strobe lights go off and all the actors jolt in a horrifying final moment before the ghost light is brought onstage and the actors take a single bow, leaving the light, and its impact, behind.

PREVIEW: Cabaret

Cabaret is the 1966 musical that focuses on the Kit Kat Klub in 1931 Berlin. Young American writer Cliff Bradshaw and English cabaret performer Sally Bowles navigate a relationship during this tumultuous time. Meanwhile, German boarding house owner Fräulein Schneider and her elderly suitor Herr Schultz, a Jewish fruit vendor, come to grips with their doomed romance.

Even though it takes place during the rise of the Nazi Party, this musical is timeless, so come out in 2018 and watch MUSKET put on a performance that remains powerful today. Tickets are on sale at MUTO (in the Michigan League Underground) or can be purchased online. Shows are November 16 and 17 at 8pm and November 18 at 2pm at the Power Center.