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.

REVIEW: Blue moon over Memphis

The Power Center is one of my favorite venues on campus, With the steep incline of it’s auditorium, floor to ceiling windows, and grey concrete staircases lifting off of the lobby floor I always feel like I’m stepping into the Senate Rotunda from Star Wars when attending an event there. The uniquely sci-fi setting proved to be yet another simultaneously clashing and complementary element in the night’s unique performance, a hybrid of American pop culture featuring the myth around “the king” himself, and Japanese traditional Noh theater, the most ancient theater practice in the world that is still being regularly performed today.  

After spotting flyers for the performance scattered across practically every free space on campus, I was curious as to how many people would actually show for the unique event.  When I first arrived a half and hour early I was surprised and slightly disheartened to see only a scattering of people in the section of the audience left open for the show, to say nothing of the empty seats above and to either side. Thankfully, as the show’s start time drew nearer more and more people trickled in until before I knew it, the crowd was sizably filled out.  Before the performance we had several esteemed guests including the head of UM’s Center for Japanese Studies warmly introduce the nights performance as well as acknowledge the Toyota Visiting Professor program that made the entire event possible.

As someone with little-to-no experience in… well… noh, I only had a vague idea of what we were about to witness.  I knew that noh involved slow methodic movement, painstakingly crafted masks, and very little else. Thankfully Theater Ongaku, the troupe that would be treating us to the performance that night first showed off two segments of other performances that they do, to give the audience a sort of “warm up.”  I also found it fascinating when they explained that the troupe had members flying in from quite literally all across the world to be there in person, and had done most of their rehearsing in the last few days leading up to the performance, although their polished performance certainly didn’t give the impression of being rushed.

 

Much to my expectation, the performance was very purposeful and deliberate, which some might also describe as painstakingly slow if they are used to the high energy plays and musicals so popular these days.  Additionally, there is no other way to word it, but several of the moments in the performance seemed to be unintentionally comical, with the dissonance between the subject matter and the art itself feeling slightly awkward and the intense acting on the part of the actors far from what most Americans are used to. I certainly spotted a few other audience members in the crowd trying to stifle their laugher as I was myself out of respect for the performers and the art form itself.  However it wasn’t until near the end of the performance when the groundskeeper character launched into his lengthy monologue that easily made up a quarter of the script that I realized that many of these moments were intentionally meant to be funny, as the groundskeeper himself acted like a jester, dancing around stage whirling about a pair of women’s panties as a prop.

My personal favorite element of the performance was not even the performance itself, but the beautiful and uniquely crafted garments made for it.  The main character of Judy was wearing what appeared to be a traditional Japanese garment sewn out of patched-together denim scraps, combining the American and Japanese elements quite literally.  The costumes worn by Elvis were striking as well, especially the enormous gilded cream outfit that he wore, subtly decorated by an elegant feather motif. The photo below, while not taken at the local performance, shows the interesting design of these two garments, especially in contrast with the plain black clothes most of the other performers were wearing.

While I can’t exactly ascertain how faithful the play was to traditional noh theater, it was evident that the troupe had a deep love and appreciation of noh theater, as well as extensive knowledge and training in the subject, so I can only assume that they did it justice.  

PREVIEW: Blue Moon over Memphis

Friday the 12th of October, the Univeristy of Michigan will be treated to to a unique take on Japanese Noh Theater, with a performance of Blue Moon over Memphis by the English speaking noh-drama troupe THEATER NOHGAKU.  It will be at the Power Center located right off central campus and completely free to the public. This unique east-meets-west theater experience explores one of the most revered and influential figures in American pop-culture history, through the unexpected lens of a several century-old form of Japanese theater.

This event is a part of the Toyota Visiting Professor 30th Anniversary Special Lecture Series and made possible by the Japanese Studies Department. The play itself  will explore one woman’s haunting loneliness as she makes a pilgrimage to Graceland on the anniversary of Elvis’s death, where she has an otherworldly encounter with the spirit world .

If you plan on attending, please head over to Eventbrite and RSVP for Blue Moon Over Memphis here.   The event is entirely free, but space is limited so don’t forget to RSVP and check for an email confirmation.

Additionally, if your interest has been thoroughly piqued as mine has, definitely check out the play’s brief promotional video bellow to get an idea what’s in store!

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: Dancing Globally

A beautifully put together four number show, Dancing Globally made me feel connected to the raw emotions that its dancers put out on the stage. I have never seen a modern dance performance before, but now know I will be attending many in the future. I loved the show, from its choreography to costumes to lighting to music.

The first number, ‘Excerpts from KYR (1990), Anaphase (1993), and Mabul (1992)’, was an impactful piece in which the dancers began wearing business attire, and they gradually tore off those garments – all but one dancer, who appeared to be stuck in some way. This dance was very intimate throughout, and especially towards the end as it had only two dancers left on stage. I thought this was an ideal introduction to the show because it was not hectic on stage, so I was able to take in the beginning of the show at calm pace.

The second number, ‘Vox (2018)’, was the number I enjoyed the most. I think this was because while there there was a lot going on with many dancers on-stage, the staging and choreography was well done so that you watch the intricate parts performance without being too overwhelmed.

‘fall(s) (2018)’ was the third number, one in which the dancers wore outfits with large pieces of vibrant fabric that hung off of their bodies, complementing the black backdrop that had huge, colorful flowers spread across it. The many colors and overload of movement was something that made this dance very hard to follow. While it was still aesthetically very pleasing, it seemed a bit more unkempt next to the other numbers.

The fourth number, ‘Minûtus Luminous (2018)’, was an interesting piece inspired by Jóse León Sánchez, who was sentenced to 30 years in prison for a crime that he didn’t commit. The number is intended to be “a song to those families and communities who have had to live with misfortune.”* With complex staging and large structures that mimicked the inside of a dreary building, likely a jail, it was a finishing number with palpable heart and storytelling.

While I still remain undereducated on modern dance, seeing this performance sparked an interest in me that I didn’t know existed. The dancers’ hard work and pure emotions were pulsating off of the stage, and I found myself caught up in their brilliant performance. Another major kudos would be the lighting: each number had different lighting that highlighted and intensified the emotion. I’m sure anyone who saw Dancing Globally can attest that it was bursting with talent and passion.

*from the playbook of Dancing Globally, said by choreographer Sandra Torijano

Photos by Kirk Donaldson