REVIEW: Somebody’s Children

Somebody’s Children, a tale of children who lives just next door to the land of the fairy tale, Disney land, but whose life isn’t so fairy-tale-like, asks the audience whether it’s really ok that some people are actually living in sucn unstable homes and clearly provides the answer-it’s not Ok. The play is written by José Casas, assistant professor at the University of Michigan, and the actors were consisted of students in SMTD. The setting takes place in a run-down motel just outside Disneyland, and while their personal stories are told in beautifully and powerfully written vignettes, the sorrows in characeters’ lives expands into a problem of social structure by the contrast of their unsafe living place and children who laughs happily in Disneyland, which is so close to where they are living. The stage design made this interesting setting even more clear – there was a huge and gorgeous sign that spells out ‘Disneyland’ on the right side of the stage. Glowing white, the sign had an aura that made sure that the audience was not missing it, but the actual shape of Disneyland was not shown; as if symbolizing that the real Disneyland did not existed to children living in the motel. With this direct contrast, the deprived feeling and anger that the characters are feeling is strongly delivered while raising the point that they could have also been the careless children who have a great time in Disneyland, and highlighting the brutallity of reality in which the children were pushed into. They were somebody’s ‘Children’. Their sorrow is valid and raw, but they are children, who should be kept away from those things. Who are to protect them? the play asks.

I want to highlight the actor’s amazing performances – as mentioned before, the play mainly consited of vignettes, so the lines were symbolic and poetic, rather than straight to the point. The actors expressed out the emotion that the children is reciting the vignette so well; the sad but happy, nostelgic look of a girl who danced with her imaginary quinceañera dress, how two boys exchanged roles to between a police man that stopped them on a night’s walk to get some ice and the boys who got pinned down even though they did nothing wrong swiftly was just awestrucking. Production was amazing as well – using sitting actors as poles to put up police line was not only visually intersting but also symbolized that the children in the motel were deeply embedded in all the tragedy happening in the place.

In all, Somebody’s Children was a beautiful and socially-conscious play that used experimental lines-vignettes-to deliver the theme and did it, not over-dramatically but emotionally affluently. Highly recommend to anyone looking for performances that speaks about the modern world.

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’.

PREVIEW: Hair

Musical ‘Hair’, the classic rock musical, is being presented by the School of Music, Theatre&Dance’s Department of Musical Theater until this Sunday! This musical has history: based on a novel by Gerome Ragni and James Rado, the original performance opened on Broadway in April 1968 after its off-broadway debut in 1967. It did a revival in 2009 and won the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Best Revival of a Musical. The musical will take place in New York City as it follows the Bohemian lifestyle/politically active group. Several of its songs were used in the anti-Vietnam War peace movement.

As its history suggests, this musical will explore concepts of “identity, community, global responsibility, and peace”. I am really excited to find out how university students’ youthful energy will make synergy with this classic discussing the ideas that never got outdated. It’s also amazing that we can see a revival of the Tony Award-winning musical on campus. Don’t miss your chance to check this out!

+) Content warning – contains references to sexuality, war, racism, and drug use, may contain nudity. Recommended for Ages 17+

REVIEW: Fiddler on the Roof in Concert

Confession: I had never seen Fiddler on the Roof prior to attending what UMS called a “lightly-staged concert performance” of the iconic Broadway-musical-made film over the weekend. 

However, I quickly wished I did–the production was so clearly made with a communal love and passion that I felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of easter eggs and small artistic decisions that I felt I was missing out on. Even from a newcomer’s perspective, I found the story to be easily relatable, the music heart-pumping and familiar, and the actors and dancers to be absolutely phenomenal.

As a violinist, I was immediately drawn in by the opening scene: a solo violinist leisurely traveling across the stage, a single dancer with outstretched arms following along with disjunct flowy movements, the Grand Rapids Symphony Orchestra nestled comfortably in the background. John Williams’ opening cadenza is plucky, sweet, and edgy, with an almost improvised quality. The violinist played it with the practiced ease of both a street performer and virtuoso, leaning into the music’s gratuitous slides and stringy texture.

Additionally, it was a pleasure to see SMTD students share the stage with Broadway singers Chuck Cooper and Loretta Ables Sayre. Ella Olesen, Kate Cummings, and Kelly Lomonte as Tzeitel, Hodel, and Chava were charming and relatable as we got to watch them grow as characters. Chuck Cooper/Tevye’s interactions with his daughters were precious and sincere, while other times he easily commanded the stage with his character’s charisma and humorous asides. Furthermore, Diego Rodriguez and Christopher Tamayo as Motel Kamzoil and Perchik gave memorable performances as we were prompted to celebrate and sympathize with them throughout the story.

A highlight of the show I didn’t anticipate was the dancing. Only working with the sliver of stage available in front of the orchestra, the dancers launched themselves in tight spins and sharp, electrifying moves. A particular moment that stood out to me was the bottle dance during the wedding scene where the dancers linked arms and slid forward on their knees in giant, synchronized lunges whilst balancing bottles on their hats. It was ridiculously exciting. 

A beautiful collaboration between UM students and decorated professionals, Fiddler on the Roof in Concert was the production I didn’t know I needed to see. After this, I definitely plan to keep my eye out for future student theater productions!

REVIEW: Antigone

I had the pleasure of seeing the Department of Theatre & Drama’s Antigone this Thursday. While written by Sophocles in 441 BCE, Antigone has themes that can relate to today, delving into death, grief, and control. 

Antigone is the story of Antigone’s rebellion against Creon, the new king of Thebes, who forbids Polyneices (Antigone’s brother, who died in battle) to be buried. Antigone commits civil disobedience by honoring her brother’s body before the gods, but she is punished by Creon who sees her act as a disobedience against him, the country, and… masculinity.

The cast brought life, passion, and sometimes humor to the roles. The chorus was beautifully-costumed, a task headed by SMTD production students. The choreography was imaginative and modern, well juxtaposed with the classical setting of the play. There were striking and dynamic individual performances by named characters at every turn, but a constant throughout the play was the impressive effort of the chorus, moving in coordination, many times speaking in unison. 

A story of action motivated by grief is somewhat fitting for our current times, as we continue to navigate the pandemic and what it has left in its wake. Antigone defies cruel laws and the threat of death to bury her brother, which she sees as right in the eyes of the gods. Her act sends out a ripple effect, long after her tragic punishment.

Antigone is playing at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre February 17-20. Get tickets here.

REVIEW: Candlelight Concert

One perk of living on campus that I’ve often taken for granted is its sheer proximity to so many great music events. As a freshman living in the dorms, this proximity was made especially apparent when I was able to simply hop over next door to the Michigan Union last Saturday evening to check out the Candelight Concert—which to me, felt like a nice personal win. 

The concert featured 15 SMTD undergraduate piano students in what was a charming blend between a professional studio recital and a laid-back show-and-tell among friends. Each piece was prefaced with a quick blurb by the performer, introducing themselves with a hand-held mic and highlighting what bits of contextualization they felt were most pertinent to experiencing the music. To add to this casual intimacy, candles piled on top of the grand piano cast a warm glow on the performers’ faces as they played while even more candles lined the rows of chairs. Warm lighting typically helps to shrink the size of a room, but in combination with the extra tall ceilings of the Rogel Ballroom, created a stripped-back bubble of space. There was also a sizeable turnout—the majority of which was notably fellow students (something you don’t often see at classical concerts), which added to the welcoming atmosphere.

The program itself was designed to feel accessible to the general public, showcasing iconic classical pieces while mixing in a few less familiar ones. From a musician’s perspective, playing these widely recognized pieces is definitely a double-edged sword—they are much easier to scrutinize, and so many interpretations already exist that it is a daunting task to bring something new up to the table. However, I was pleasantly delighted by the performances of the night. Lesley Sung’s Moonlight Sonata opening was thoughtful and breathtaking, keeping the right hand triplets solid but not overpowering and leaning into the phrasing of the top melody line. Additionally, Aleks Shameti’s Chopin Nocturne Op. 9 no 2 exuded a graceful effortlessness—his dynamic control allowed for a pillow-soft left hand and a beautiful push and pull throughout the piece. Jacob Wang’s Tchaikovsky Andante Maestoso was complex and majestic, concluding the concert with huge waves of sound. 

Out of the pieces I wasn’t already familiar with, I truly enjoyed Sua Lee’s Schumann-Liszt Widmung. Her playing was bold and emotional with audible breaths between phrases, distinctly echoing the snippet of her personality I got through her introduction to the piece. Moving over to the jazz pieces, I felt that Eric Yu’s The Man I Love fit nicely into the atmosphere with rolling chords that filled the room like a warm bubble. I also loved Robert Yan’s Somewhere Over the Rainbow arrangement, which incorporated wispy, delicate Debussy-esque passages.

Overall, I thought the concert was a lovely experience. I’d like to congratulate all the performers and thank them for sharing their music!