Although Pioneer’s Fame was a high school production, neither the subject matter nor the incredible performances that I was witness to were elementary. The maturity of these students to tackle such complex issues such as addiction, body image, racial bias, and more was impressive. They handled each of these scenarios with care and honesty- you could tell that they had done the research and done the work to portray these with as much delicacy and respect as they possibly could. In addition to the challenges that embodying these roles with these issues presented, they were also singing, dancing, acting, and performing complicated lifts. The sheer array of art forms that I saw during this performance was almost enough to make me feel like I was at a variety show. Isa Grofsorean as Iris Kelly brought such grace and poised strength every time that she began a ballet sequence. I was simply entranced by the choreography and its execution, especially on the small stage with which she had to perform it. Kenyatta Campbell was easy to love as a character. He brought a fire and drive to Tyrone Jackson and not only that, he had a contagious energy when dancing, singing, rapping, and just in his interactions with other characters. We, as a collective audience, rooted for him through and through. Bridget Roberts as Serene Katz was remarkable. Her voice is the kind of perfect that you stop everything to listen to and could listen to on end without ever ceasing. The way in which she switches with great dexterity from her belt to her head voice, while all the while making it seem effortless, is incredible. Bravo to her. Mia Galbraith as Carmen Diaz, is a true triple threat. Not only does she absolutely annihilate (in the best way) potentially the most complex, impressive, and most fun numbers in the first act and potentially whole show but she also comes out in the second act to wow the audience again with her dance skill in a flamenco-style piece while simultaneously juggling perhaps the most complex and tragic storyline. I applaud her immensely, for closing out her senior year with this truly beautiful performance. Francisco Fiori as Joe Vegas was wildly hilarious. His number, “can’t keep it down”, whilst a bit inappropriate, almost had me in tears. It speaks to his versatility as a performer, as this role departs majorly from previous parts he has had as the grandpa in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the dad in In the Heights. Seeing him play a youthful and comical class clown, who also has some pretty great dancing chops, was a refreshing change of pace and truly made me appreciate this actor for all he has to offer. Ella Manning as Mabel Washington brought the house down with her vocals, as she sang about changing her major. Her story was as engaging to watch as it was to listen to her fill the auditorium with her powerful, beautiful voice. The entire ensemble and rest of the cast, who I couldn’t possibly have time to name one by one, but who all deserve recognition were phenomenal. I don’t think I have ever seen a show that more perfectly showcased the talents of each of its students while also maintaining the integrity of what truly was an ensemble show. I truly felt that this show could have been performed at a performing arts high school, that’s how impressive it all was. This show had me wanting to give a standing ovation by the end of the first number, and if that doesn’t sum up the experience, then I don’t know what does. Overall, this show rocked me in every was that a person can be. Between wanting to laugh and cry and throw roses at the actors feet, I can’t give enough props to the incredible cast and crew who made this show look and sound great from start to finish.
RUN to see Pioneer High School’s production of FAME!
Based off the classic movie and set in the iconic New York High School of the Performing Arts, Fame showcases the many talents of its performers. The lives of the students that the show follows couldn’t be more different. Some are trying to break out of the shadow of their family’s legacy, some are a little too obsessed with finding fame, and some are trying to hack it at a prestigious school that couldn’t be any more different than the neighborhood they grew up in. But they all have something in common: they are willing to put in the hard work to make it as a professional artist. Within the walls of these schools, we see these students grow up over four years: find love, experience struggles, and bust out some serious acting, singing, and dancing chops.
You don’t want to miss this production in its last weekend of shows: May 3rd and 4th at 7:30 pm and May 5th at 2 pm. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for students/seniors, available at a2tix.com or at the door. Go fall in love with these characters, be awed by their talent, and feel all the feels before it’s too late!
This was my first time seeing a dance show. I was blown away. I thought I knew what to expect walking into this event but the incredible variety and creativity that I was witness to was truly remarkable. The title and central theme of the performance, Becoming Untethered, was presented in a myriad of ways throughout the piece. From what I could tell, the seniors representing the work each performed a solo piece and then choreographed a longer dance for a larger group of performers of which they were not one. The performance opened with one of these solo works which showcased the struggle of a dancer, slowly breaking away from the strict confines of her ballet shoes into a freer form of expressive movement. There were many other notable parts of the performance. One included a solo that was, quite frankly, a bit unsettling to watch, but I felt that this was the dancer’s goal, as she moved with an almost primal persona, twisting and contorting, and ultimately, rushing toward the audience as the lights blacked out. I almost took a message of disturbed body image from this performance, as the girl seemed almost to be eating her own arm, may have represented a dialogue on eating disorders. I’m not sure I would have been wanting to sit in the front row for that performance but it was certainly evocative, that’s for sure. I was also incredibly intrigued by the group performance where a girl seemed tethered to both her chair and her a static screen projected against the back wall. I can’t be sure, but I took from this piece a statement on our society’s obsession with things like television and drugs and the need to be liked by others. The dancers did a wonderful job of conveying this message, the identically-dressed dancers somehow always excluding the sole dancer in different clothes. Overall, the performance was incredibly well-developed, exploring complicated themes through choice of music, costumes, and of course, movement. Seeing one girl unable to escape the clutches of repetitive, compulsive movement, even as her fellow dancers attempted and slowly stopped trying over time to cease her actions was difficult to watch. But this later become resolved as, in a following piece, she was finally able to be led off-stage by a fellow performer. It was so interesting to me, how complex, how emotional, how varied these stories could be that are told only through one’s body. Each dancer and choreographer clearly had a vision that was brought to life through their own creativity and the incredible skill of those that embodied their work. These seniors and all those other dancers involved should be incredibly proud of the work that they presented. I doubt if anyone in the audience could have left without still thinking about what they had just witnessed.
Last weekend, I had the pleasure of being witness to Rude Mechanicals’ Production of “Streetcar Named Desire” by Tennessee Williams.
What I really enjoyed about this show overall was the emotional vulnerability and raw honesty, that everyone on stage brought to the production. Being unfamiliar with the story, I was blown away by how much justice that this group of performers brought to such a powerful, complicated, and difficult portrayal of human life. This wasn’t the type of show that you leave thinking “wow what a splendid show”, although it was remarkable. It’s the type of show you leave and it sticks to you, weighs on you, keeps you thinking about it long after the bows have been taken.
Juliana Tassos as Blanche Dubois. There never was more perfect casting, from her entrancing voice that transported you to another time and place to her stature that could simultaneously portray proud regality and a desperation as her façade came crumbling down. Quite simply, she shone. You could feel the almost magnetic pull between Mallory Avnet and Jack Alberts as Stella and Stanley Kowalski. You could see Mallory’s distress not only on her face but in the embodiment of her struggle between loyalty and responsibility to her husband and her sister. And Jack. I mean it in the best way when I say that he literally terrified me. As the “villain” of the show, he kept the audience captivated- trying to figure out who was good and who was evil and finally sticking the landing as a master manipulator. You could just love to hate him. Austin D’Ambrosio as Mitch as brought forth a wonderful performance. Making us love him as the one genuine nice guy in the whole show, he was a refreshing breath of fresh air in an otherwise dark plot. That is, of course, until the twist at the end. But in either case, he was wonderful to watch as the angel to so many other devils in the show. The supporting players rounded out the cast beautifully, from the haunting matron carrying flowers, to the Eunice the loud but well-meaning landlady, and the rest of the poker players making a ruckus.
Altogether, this show was a poignant but painful exploration into the lives of these characters. At the same time that you felt that you could know them intimately, you also felt that it was impossible to understand them. The cast and crew was clearly under excellent direction, keeping the audience on their toes through the ebbs and flows of the tempo of this piece. Set against the stark background of a nearly-empty apartment, you could feel the resonance of the events with full effect, bouncing bleakly off the empty walls and leaving us all dumb-founded in their wake.
Let me just say: I was not expecting to walk out of Cabaret as effected by it as I was. Now, I’ve been known to be dramatic, but I don’t lie when I say that an hour after the show had ended, my heart was still racing. Director Isabel Olson’s vision for this production was realized at its absolute full potential for this show. I have to be honest- I didn’t understand or even really like this show when I saw the Liza Minelli movie a few years ago. But seeing it today, I can’t shake its lingering message and its incredible presentation.
As the show started, Wilson Plonk as the Emcee, a colorful character lingering somewhere between masculine and feminine merely had to walk on stage for the crowd to go wild. He continued to entrance the audience, lingering like a ghost throughout the plot, always stepping in for an amusing song. As the show progresses, these numbers never become less shocking, but do become more poignant in their messages. It’s comical to watch the character dance around the stage with a Gorilla and sing about the world not understanding their love, until he says, “if you could see her the way I do, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all”.
The whole cast put forward an incredible performance. The minute Caroline Glazier started singing as Sally Bowles, I was reminded of Sutton Foster, in her easily poised stage presence and her confident voice. Samantha Buyers as Fraulein Schneider brought to the stage her gentle energy, loveable spirit and one of those classy, brassy voices reminiscent of the smoothest old-timey jazz. Casey Board as Clifford Bradshaw was extremely charismatic- you could really see him as the American golden-boy novelist caught in the middle of what quickly becomes a sort of nightmare. Aaron Robinson as Herr Schultz was so loveable and the most adorable old man. And let’s not forget the Kit Kat Boys and Girls- who carried us through the show with their sultry and superb song and dance- their talent was tantalizing. The band, also, struck literal chords, beautifully bringing this story to life from their perch above the action.
The chemistry between characters was electric in this show, undeniable. From the tender, tentative love turned bittersweet between the older Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz to the chaotic and heartbreaking affair of Sally and Cliff, these couples pulled at our heartstrings in ways any audience member could understand.
The progression of the show was sneaky as the whole first act had the air of something fun (but not for the faint of heart). The new-ness of Berlin and budding romances abounded, surrounded by some Kit Kat Klub numbers, just for good measure. It wasn’t until the closing number of Act I that we hit the first dissonant chord that would grow to become cacophonous after intermission. Act II brought with it sad scenes that you couldn’t clap after and sad scenes that you couldn’t not clap after, as the cast portrayed beautifully their characters’ growing unease about the political and personal climate surrounding them. And the cabaret really turns out to be an act, a distraction from the storm brewing in the background. And it creeps up on you until the comedy and the callous tone turn sour in your mouth.
This unease reached its chilling climax throughout the last few minutes of the show, as each and every character stood on stage, speaking words that defined them in their tumultuous time- words of complacency, of denial, of resignation- portraying the traits that we all so often are guilty of enacting in our own time of unrest. It was striking when the band disappeared at the end of the show, a group of people that had set the tone for the whole production- suddenly gone in a way that highlighted the fact that we hadn’t even noticed their departure. And the fantastic work of the set, lights, and costume crew played into the wow factor as the shedding of the Emcee’s coat revealed the striped pajamas reminiscent of those worn in concentration camps and the bright flashes of light mimicking gunfire, electric shock, or some other horror elicited literal gasps from the audience. And then, from the darkness, the ghost light flickered on. And it was haunting. In her director’s note, Olson mentioned this light- it’s tradition as a light for ghosts to play upon the stage after a show has ended and a safe beacon for the actors to return. It left me wondering- what should I take from this? I cannot know what I was supposed to take from it- I only know what I did.
As the show ends, we know as audience members that in history, one of the world’s darkest times comes next. Despite the hopeless feeling that this knowledge imparts upon us, the light of these performers and the light of the performer’s they were portraying, is left behind- and it matters. It lingers, it lights the way for whatever comes next. After this show closes, the light will continue just as it would beyond where the writer ends this story. It is used to rebuild, it is taken up by the next to inhabit the stage, it continues to be a safe space, despite whatever else goes on in the world outside the theatre. The light remains in the darkest of times. Each and every member of this production brought that light to life today- and this reviewer was honored and moved to bear witness to this piece of art because of it. Bravo.
As the opening chords to the ever-ethereal “Pure Imagination” sang out from the pit orchestra and the lights dimmed, the audience hushed with anticipation. Some in the audience may have been surprised to hear a female voice float out from the stage- I, for one, was excited.
Pioneer High School’s Willy Wonka challenged a lot of my prior notions of what the show should be. With the two leads, Mia Galbraith as Wonka and Bridget Roberts as Charlie, gender bent to become female characters, the fun and frothy children’s tale became a story of women dreaming big and accomplishing even bigger things. These two phenomenal young women blew away the audience with their crystal-clear vocals and undeniable charm in their respective roles. You would never have guessed that it was originally any other way.
Some other highlights of the show included the witty banter between the four Bucket family grandparents stuck in one communal bed in the poor household. Despite their bleak background, they provided an air of comedy and lightness from their mishearings to their unending support of our main character, Charlie. Francisco Fiori, a Pioneer Senior, played Grandpa Joe with a particular level of lovability from the moment he hopped out of bed to wobble hilariously across the stage. The show was riddled with hidden technical gems such as the inflation of Violet Beauregarde into a real-life blueberry and funny moments such as the “Burping Song” where Charlie and her Grandfather literally burp themselves down from flying.
Ethan Steiner as Augustus and Ayla Hoermann as Mrs. Gloop were another delightful surprise, delivering some incredibly realistic German accents and a exaggerated obsession with food that was enough to make anyone smile. I guess no one should be surprised, since Ethan Steiner was recently seen in the stage recording of Disney’s Newsies. No big deal. Of course I couldn’t not mention the Oompa Loompas and the ensemble as a whole, whose strong vocals, choreography during large group numbers, and aptly-timed entrances brought so much to the performance and really took it to the next level. And let me just gush about the set for a minute- an intricate shades-of-grey city backdrop that could turn and fold and move to become the inside of Willy Wonka’s colorful factory really took the audience with the cast on the journey of Charlie’s dismal world turned into endless possibility.
Overall, this show provided some feel-good whimsy and some serious talent not just for high school, but by any standards.