REVIEW: In the Heights

It’s been some time since I’ve studied art history, but I remember one of the first things I learned about looking at a composition is the way the eye is directed to move around the piece of art. During nearly every musical number of In the Heights, I found my eyes moving around it in a way that felt deliberate – and I was unstoppably stunned the entire time.

From its very first scene with Graffiti Pete dancing, spray-paint can in hand and somehow defying all sorts of gravity, I don’t think my jaw left the floor. It was an excellent primer for the choreography of the rest of the show. During intermission, I flipped through the program and was equally stunned to learn that this show had two debuting choreographers in its cohort. Needless to say, those involved in the show radiated their talent into one of the best MUSKET shows that I’ve seen. The main cast and ensemble had near-perfect unison in their group movements while keeping their voices strong and smooth. A hallmark of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musicals, I enjoyed the incorporation of rap and hip hop and loved that the actors also seemed to enjoy it.

The cast, primarily actors of color, seemed made for the roles — especially Usnavi. While this was my first introduction to the musical itself, I felt that his casting could not have been more perfect as the bodega owner close-knit with those around him. Additionally, his character was such a centrally driving factor of the show’s main themes: community and the familial support that comes of it, and sense of identity in terms of the idea of “home” as an immigrant. The show also explored themes of being a first-generation college student, gentrification, cultural identity, and past versus future with the turbulent present that lies in between.

Cast and director Bruna d’Avila answering audience questions following the Saturday performance.

Following the show — which made me laugh, cry, and be completely astounded — I stuck around for the talkback with the cast and director Bruna d’Avila. As a senior and having seen 6/8 of the MUSKET shows put on during my undergrad career, I hadn’t experienced an addition like this and was excited to hear their insights. Several other impressed viewers (from high schoolers in a theatre group to adults who have emigrated from Latin American countries) sat around me and praised the crew for doing incredible work to highlight a story to which they expressed their personal relations to and respective admiration for the show. Stories such as these are beyond what I personally have experienced, though I felt grateful that a show such as this one exists for those whose stories it mirrors as well as a method for others to better understand these complicated notions of home and new life in America.

When asked about her favorite musical number of In the Heights, d’Avila excitedly spoke about “Carnaval del Barrio” and the importance of waving your flag proudly. This was a number with which I was also enamored both because of the cast displaying flags of specific Latin American countries and because it was one of those numbers full of complexity. Several lines of verse from its main characters worked into and beside one another as the song concluded, and I found my attention moving from one to the next in a circular pattern before realizing just how inimitable this scene was as a climactic moment.

The ending scene of musical number “Carnaval del Barrio”

There was not one part of this show that I disliked — every cast member appeared devoted to their roles and it showed. Each named character had their own arcs, even the piragua vendor/comic relief, Piragüero. Similar to the works of authorial genius Victor Hugo, the characters were interconnected with one another in a way that made the show feel well-rounded, as opposed to restricting certain characters to certain storylines. Everybody knew each other, which made the sense of community and family (which are not mutually exclusive) especially strong.

MUSKET has kept my attention all four years that I have been here, and I have made it a point to see as many of their shows as possible. Each of those shows have left me feeling impressed and grateful that such a talented group of people can become a familial community over a short span of time for a weekend of performance that blows us all away. If you also love musical theatre and are interested in getting involved with the team, the MUSKET family is always welcoming of new members.

REVIEW: First Date

“The One.” Everyone is on the lookout for their soulmate to settle down with. That special someone may not be who you are expecting or are used to however. First Date was a light, funny, and awkward musical exploring a blind date that has the potential to go somewhere.

Aaron’s (Drew Benson) nervousness and Casey’s (Sarah Mazurek) hostility were apparent in their initial interactions — and if first impressions were bought, that would’ve been the end of this first date. However, the date lives on as Casey ignores her hilariously flamboyant best friend Reggie’s bailout calls, and they gradually move past the small talk and delve into talks about religion, passion, and the future.

At each and every turn, they each imagine their own voice of reason and doubt in the form of best friend Gabe and sister Lauren. From imaginary (or real?) babies to bad boy exes, every aspect of the future and the past is brought to the present throughout this first date. The dangers of the world wide web were brought alive through the manifestation of Google and every single post that can never be erased. There was sass and attitude in their conversations, and this first date was truly a journey of blunders and embarrassment.

Through the laughter, there were still scenes of sensitive topics among the musical numbers. Aaron remembers the tragic love of his passed mother and seeks closure with his ex-fiance through a rocking cathartic song. Casey engages in an honest introspective reflection about her personality and the inner walls she’s put up in order to protect herself. The vulnerability they express brings them closer as they reveal more of their true selves, despite the initial odds of their personalities clicking being against them.

Sarah Mazurek and Drew Benson’s vocals were beautiful and complemented each other perfectly, and everyone else provided great backup or solo numbers about, for instance, food. This nine person cast fully embodied every quirky character they turned into, and the dynamics between everyone were truly entertaining.

As Casey and Aaron ignored the voices that followed them throughout the entire night and decided to take the leap, the last scene is one that is highly predictable, but heartwarming nonetheless (in addition to a surprise potential relationship forming right before the end). A2CT’s production of First Date was a feel-good play riddled with amusing quirks, brutal honesty, and enlightening humor.

REVIEW: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Have you ever had your stomach hurt from laughing so hard one second and then holding your breath, trying not to cry the next second? That was me Friday night as I sat in the Arthur Miller Theatre, a room completely tense and enraptured as it awaited the judgment on Judas Iscariot — a traitor, a follower, a son, an enemy, a friend, a betrayer, a human.

I read The Last Days of Judas Iscariot in my creative writing class last semester, so I already knew how good this play was. Stephen Adly Guirgis’s ability to craft a work that is simultaneously light and heavy is a marvel in of itself, and one I greatly appreciated when I studied it.

However, I was not prepared for SMTD’s production of this play. This 18-person cast found itself waddling through a script as dense as osmium and managed to give the theater a collective headache that was frequently alleviated with the hearty laughter that this play relies on to carry its extremely deep message.

As a contemporary play, the updated references from 2005 in the script, as well as the wardrobe and music choices, brought a fresh take on this still-relevant work that is religious in every aspect and completely more than religion at the same time.

Everyone put their heart, mind, and soul into their character, and their dominant presence on the stage made the stage disappear and brought these characters to life. They nailed every monologue (and boy, were those some monologues!) and beat and intricate detail of a personality that made each character unique.

In purgatory, we catch glimpses of complex souls and the competing narratives of stories and the duality of humanity. The dynamic between the short-tempered judge struggling to find his truth and the incompetent and innocent bailiff struggling to find an acceptable case for the judge was hilariously captured by Ben Ahlers and Josh Strobl as Strobl ran around trying to appease the demands being barked at him.

The courtroom atmosphere was enhanced by the questioning that the condescending, flirtatious El-Fayoumy and the cold, determined Cunningham intensely fired back and forth. Alexander Sherwin made me comically uncomfortable with his over-the-top approach to law and flattery, and Kat Ward’s command of the courtroom in his presence was a victory for all women. Speaking of women — Mikaela Secada completely dominated the fierce and sassy Saint Monica, and her scene is a beautiful example of the complexity of the nature of emotions an individual can harbor, her nagging attitude and honest compassion making her monologue surprisingly and ultimately human.

The penultimate scene with Judas and Jesus is heartwrenching. As Liam Allen and Mason Reeves explored the depths of despair in a plea just imploring for love and forgiveness, I felt my heart stop and time froze as the pure emotions being displayed on the stage was too much and too real. Allen and Reeves completely nailed this powerful moment, and their sincerity and intensity made this play that much harder to watch and grapple with — which is a testimony to the entire cast’s talent and ability.

We make our own choices. And those choices inherently include sins. What we do with those sins — the emotional acceptance necessary of our actions — is also up to us. If anything is to come afterward, we must first be able to forgive ourselves and believe in ourselves before we can look around for forgiveness from others and believe in others.

I could go on and on about this production and the cast and crew, but I recommend you go see it for yourself. This authentically raw performance by SMTD is one that will forever be stuck in my heart as I continue to wrestle with the moral, philosophical, theological, and psychological problems this humorous and dramatic masterpiece poses and this cast so wonderfully performed .

PREVIEW: The Last Days of Judas Iscariot

Anyone familiar with the Bible, and even those who aren’t, know the tale of Judas Iscariot, or are at least familiar with this name that has gone down in infamy. The Great Traitor. The ultimate betrayal. Beware of a Judas kiss.

But what if his story isn’t as simple as we thought? What if there’s a lot more to it? What if he’s not the sinner the Bible paints him to be?

Stephen Adly Guirgis unravels the life behind this character — this person — who is so commonly villainized and possibly misunderstood. With special appearances from St. Matthew, Mother Teresa, Sigmund Freud, Pontius Pilate, and, of course, Satan himself, the story of this court case questions exactly what it means to be guilty and what it means to achieve redemption.

SMTD is putting on a student production of this play that delves deep into the flaws of humanity and the decisions that are made. Come to the Arthur Miller Theatre on February 15-18 to watch Judas’s ultimate fate be determined. Showtimes are at 7:30pm, 8pm, or 2pm with tickets at $12 with a student ID or $20 for general admission that can be purchased at http://tickets.smtd.umich.edu/ or at the Michigan League Ticket Office.

 

PREVIEW: Violet

The University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre, and Dance is bringing the breathtaking musical Violet to the stage this weekend!  Violet is a beautiful story about the journey to healing for a young woman whose face was disfigured in an accident.  It’s a relatable tale of friendships, hardships, and finding beauty and hope in difficult situations.

On her journey from North Carolina to Oklahoma, Violet meets Monty and Flick, two soldiers heading to Arkansas.  Throughout the musical there are some of the most beautiful musical numbers that help tie the story together.  When Violet finally makes it to Oklahoma, she meets the preacher that she hopes will heal her disfigured face.  Will she return home healed by the preacher, or as the same person as before?

Violet will be performed at the Arthur Miller Theatre on Thursday 12/7 at 7:30pm, Friday 12/8 at 8pm, Saturday 12/9 at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday 12/10 at 2pm.  Tickets are $20 for General Admission and $12 for Students with a valid ID.

More information can be found at: http://tickets.smtd.umich.edu/single/EventDetail.aspx?p=3355

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/.