PREVIEW: Home

Come see the interesting and ambitious idea to build a house on stage. The advertisement that this play will feature the making of a real house on stage was enough to make me get the ticket. However, there’s a deeper intention behind why this is being done: the play is supposed to be a question about what makes our home.
A home is an interesting place: it’s people’s most intimate place to rest, yet it doesn’t have to be a fixated area – remember the strange feeling you felt when you haven’t been to a place long but felt so relaxed and comfortable when you’re there. It’s also a reflection of taste-imagine the diversity of dorm rooms. Also, it can be threatened as well, because of social, political reasons, gentrification, or various reasons. Musing about the idea of home shows that it’s an interesting concept with lots of debates to be done on it- come see it done on the stage this Friday and Saturday(April 22th, 23th), at the Power center.

More information about the tickets can be found here.

REVIEW: Hair

I love the musicals where the ensemble comes out to perform multiple numbers. ‘Hair’ was one of the musicals where they made fantastic use of the whole cast. Colorful, wild, and energetic, ‘Hair’ was an exciting and dramatic performance. The actors’ wide-ranged, fast movements that filled the stage throughout the whole performance created the vibrant, dizzy, and youthful vibe that the hippie community (“tribe”) was sharing.

I also want to applaud the stage design and the set. While the actor’s vibrant moves were supposed to be the main part of the show, the set was there to back the actors up and make their moves even more dramatic. The colorful lighting design and stage set design served different purposes depending on the scenes. The orange/green colored one with squiggly patterns added to the vibrant energy of the show, while the skeleton concrete building which was the main structure of the stage design shifted from imaginary homes to a spotlighted platform for people that needed emphasis by the spotlight during Claude’s hallucination where George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Scarlett O’Hara were introduced. The concrete-looking structure was designed neutrally enough to be perceived as a different location in each scene. It was a marker of space separation, which was highly necessary for this musical where the focus had to shift from one actor to another in a quick beat, and imagination and real-life interacted in the same space.

The most interesting moment for me was when Claude expressed his dilemma between his hippie identity and the call of the military after his hallucination. After he went through the hallucination passively, he, for the first time in the performance, got rid of the confidence of his hippie self and showed his vulnerability by being torn between his faith and duty. The change was most dramatic when he listed all the ‘practical’ and ‘proper’ job names such as lawyers and dentists. This is the part where he connected to being a real person in the performance, not a single-sided hippie-persona who is mercifully away from all the worries and woes of living. The actor playing this part made the change very clear.

Another interesting feature was how every actor nailed the expression of excitement and jolliness but added so much diversity to it. The people on stage felt like real people, not just people pretending to be constantly happy, which is impossible. If I ever get to see this performance again, I’ll be focusing on the actor’s expressions to catch the details of their actions.

Lastly, about the message: I think this musical spoke about how the ‘normality’ appraised by society could be dangerous. Through the dramatic contrast between the Hippie “tribe” ’s life and the ‘normal’ life of the audience, ‘Hair’ is speaking about how the dangerous concepts and urges could be appraised by being framed as ‘normal’.

REVIEW: Hair

 

The Department of Musical Theatre’s production of Hair was two and a half hours of some of the highest-caliber performance I have ever seen. The revolutionary “tribal love-rock musical” Hair is a powerhouse of a musical, anti-war and counterculture sentiment in its bones, filled with unapologetic depictions of drug use, sexuality, and even nudity. 

As an audience member, I was enthralled from the first moment all the way until the end. Every moment of the performance was perfectly crafted, the movement on the stage always dynamic and exciting. Each vocal performance was special in its own right, and I found myself with chills from the power of the cast’s collective voices multiple times, especially in the compelling final reprise, “Let the Sunshine In.” It’s hard to pick a favorite moment, but one fun visual that stood out to me was the song “Air,” performed flawlessly by Maggie Kuntz as Jeanie, while members of the Hair Tribe surrounded her with a cloud of bubbles from bubble guns. The majority of the second act, which centers on the visions of Claude’s hallucinogenic trip, was a stunning showcase of choreography, costuming, and striking lighting design. 

A flyer for the in-show Be-In, handed out during the performance

Hair, in my opinion, is an important musical. The director’s note at the beginning of the program asks audience members to consider, in response to questions about the “shocking” nature of the show, why the language and brief nudity on stage draws more attention and challenge than the thought of sending young people to war. Hair asks us to reconsider what we are told is “normal.” The Department of Musical Theatre worked in collaboration with a cultural sensitivity specialist, an intimacy director, and other experts to create this show, building an understanding of the musical and the topics it tackles, connecting it to today’s context and conversations.

My only wish is that I could have seen this more than once. This was an incredible last musical to see at the University of Michigan as a student supporting my peers. I could not be filled with more love for live theatre and the incredible talent and energy in the student productions here at this university.

 

Read more about SMTD’s production process for Hair in this Michigan Muse article.

REVIEW: Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower

Concisely told a non-cliche, non-overdramatic tale of the apocalypse with a real and rich cultural background.

Parable of the Sower was a visually and sonically satisfying opera. Based on the Science fiction novel written by Octavia Butler, Toshi Reagon had created an apocalypse opera that tells the story concisely with limitedly-selected stage designs. The story follows a young teenager, Lauren, who questions the belief of her father, who is a professor and a figure in Baptist, while she lives in a protected community in her neighborhood and later set out on an uncertain journey to find a new home after an attack that destroys her community. Even though the story has quite a drama in it, it is not reflected in the stage design. Instead of visualizing the dramatic events in the plot on stage, the stage focused on three designs: a bench and a structure covered in white cloth to symbolize the peaceful, secure, closed area where Lauren and her community are staying, blackout with the spotlight only on Lauren’s face, drawing all attention on her and her tragic expression, when she sings that her father had not returned after going to work, and later on, an empty stage where people wondered all around it to emphasize the people’s wandering after they lost their community with an abstract painting that changed the shades according to the beat of the scene.

My main interest in viewing this production was 1) how the traditional genre of opera had connected with the new modern theme of Apocalypse and 2) how the musical heritage of African-Americans was integrated into the performance. For the first question, the production team has proven that operas do not have to be combined with traditional themes and with dresses with ruffles. Moreover, the emphasis on the songs was made clear with the limited stage designs. If the production team had tried to bring too much of what was going on stage to stage design, that would have diffused the audience’s attention, not to mention that those explosions and violence would have been hard to create satisfactorily. Instead, the production team went beyond by pointing out the resemblance between the Apocalyptic world and the current society – during the part where Toshi broke the fourth wall and invited the audience to sing along, the mention of some real and very familiar companies’ names made the connection clear. For the second part, some music definitely made clear the reference to Gospel and Rap. However, they went beyond to integrate different formats of music – rock, folk, and R&B, making this performance a culturally interesting work.

In all, this performance tosses an interesting food of thoughts and was visually and sonically satisfying in itself. I hope more performances like these will fill our stages.

PREVIEW: Octavia E. Butler’s Parable of the Sower

Parable of the Sower hits the Power center from March 25th to 27th.

This performance is an opera consisting of 30 original anthems which originate from 200 years history of African-American music. The storyline is from the novels Parable of the Sower’ and ‘Parable of the Talents’ by the late Afro-futurist and science fiction author Octavia E. Butler. These novels are Post-Apocalyptic novels-the story will follow young Lauren Olamina’s spiritual awakening in a dystopian America destroyed by greed and systemic injustice. I’m excited to check out how Opera could be set in a Post-Apocalyptic setting and can be combined with activism, ethnic and humane messages as the background of the numbers suggests. March 25th performance will also feature a brief Q&A with artists hosted by Dr. Toni Pressley-Sanon, the Eastern Michigan University’s Associate Professor of Africology and African American Studies. Tickets could be purchased at UMS website.

 

REVIEW: Once On This Island

The highlight of my weekend, by far, was seeing Musket’s Once on This Island performed at the Power Center this Saturday night. I can easily say that this was one of the most fantastic performances I’ve ever seen on a stage—there was so much incredible talent on the stage and in the seams of this show, and the cast brought so much energy and love to this story.

Once on This Island is a story set in the modern day French Antilles. An orphan girl, spared by the gods from a storm that swept her village, is taken in by an older couple and lovingly nicknamed Ti Moune. One day, a car crashes with a wealthy boy from the other side of the island, Daniel, inside. Ti Moune saves his life and falls in love with him, but when she pursues him back to the city, she is shunned by him and his people. The gods make a deal betting which is stronger, love or death, and Ti Moune, full with love and forgiveness for Daniel, loses her life. The gods transform her into a beautiful and strong tree, a tree so large it breaks open the city’s gates and provides shade to all people of the island. 

Simone Clotile, a University of Michigan junior, led the cast as a stunning Ti Moune. Clotile’s vocals are unmatched: clear, strong, and full of heart. My lungs were knocked clean of air during Ti Moune’s introductory song, “Waiting for Life.” Other standout performances included Tonton Julian, played by Nile Andah, and the gods: Abigail Aziz as Erzulie with a stunning solo “The Human Heart,” Mama Euralie played by Sarah Oguntumilade, and a sly and (wonderfully) terrifying portrayal of Pape Ge, the death god, by Jackson Kanawha Perry. Everything from costumes to choreography shined. The band, which was on the stage, blended into the set and story seamlessly, contributing to the masterful collaboration of music, dance, and acting on stage.

Musket does a fantastic job with their productions, and this was no exception. Congrats to the cast and crew for an amazing performance!