REVIEW: Blind Pig Comedy

This past Monday, I attended the weekly Blind Pig Comedy Night, a stand-up open mic that serves as a consistent place for up-and-coming Michigander comedians to try out material and secure performance time. Located on South 1st Street, The Bling Pig is a popular bar and artistic venue that frequently hosts artists of all mediums. 

While some events only require attendees to be 18+, Bling Pig Comedy Night requires their audience to be 21 years of age or older. As a recent 21-year-old, I was excited to take the opportunity to engage with more stand-up comedy in the Ann Arbor area. Earlier this semester, I attended a somewhat underwhelming and slightly awkward show at Ann Arbor Comedy Showcase, and the Blind Pig piqued my interest by providing a second chance for the downtown comedy scene. 

Upon arriving at the Blind Pig several minutes after the first comedian’s set began, I was surprised to see the minuteness of the crowd, although in hindsight I’m unsure why I anticipated a large crowd at 8:30 p.m. on a Monday. Grouped at high-top tables the audience was small but engaged – I was certainly the youngest attendee, and I predict the majority of audience members were in their thirties and forties. 

Each comedian’s set catered to the generational makeup of the audience. While I understood every pop culture reference and joke about taxes, I didn’t find any of the sets particularly funny or entertaining. I did not attend this event anticipating Second-City-level performances, but I was slightly disappointed by my lack of enjoyment at the Blind Pig. I simply don’t think these comedians are for me; while they did elicit some giggles from older audience members, the energy of the crowd that night was by no means raucous or terribly dynamic. 

My biggest gripe with the performances at this open mic was the heavy reliance on juvenile sexual jokes. While I will not get too specific or graphic in describing these, the frequency with which each comedian, regardless of gender, relied on making highly sexualized comments about women’s bodies was disappointing. It was clear that each comedian was attempting to evoke a shocked reaction from the audience members with these crass and overplayed jokes, but this hardly worked. I was also surprised at the frequency with which the comedians cracked jokes at the expense of the LGBTQ+ community – some tasteful, some not. It appeared as though each performer felt some sort of obligation to lean on jokes about sex or the queer community when all else failed. 

While the content of the stand-up sets was not my favorite, I did really appreciate the environment that The Blind Pig created for both its audience and performers. The energy of the room was very tight-knit and conversational, and it’s clear that the venue succeeded at creating a casual space for comedians to test out material and audiences to unwind after a long day at work. The staff was kind, the drink affordable, and the audience warm, which provided an overall pleasant experience. 

While my quest for laughter on a Monday night following the completion of my finals was not quite fulfilled, I still enjoyed my time at the Blind Pig Comedy Night. Although I may not attend this specific event again, I look forward to attending more artistic happenings at this venue in the future.

REVIEW: A Little Night Music

A Little Night Music, based off of the movie Smiles of a Summer Night, was an exciting and jaw-dropping musical full of plot twists and shocking revelations that uses humor, song, and dance to portray infidelity as a romantic comedy. Set in 1900 Sweden, the story revolves around a messy love web between a lawyer, Fredrik Egerman; Fredrik’s wife, Anne; a famous traveling actress, Desirée Armfeldt; Desirée’s lover, Count Carl-Magnus Malcom; and the Count’s wife, Charlotte.

The drama between the characters shows the darker side of romance in a sarcastically endearing way. The men are ungrateful towards their partners but down bad for Desirée, which is what generates the jealousy that pushes the plot forward in unexpected ways. The entire time I was on the edge of my seat, uncertain where the story was taking me. The ending was bizarre yet satisfying: happy yet bittersweet. Afterwards, I had a lot of fun talking to my friend about all of the twists and turns in A Little Night Music, which for me is what set it apart from the other musicals I’ve watched. It was a story completely different from what I expected when reading the description of the plot online.

The students really brought this show to life; their voices perfectly replicated the classic European noble accent. The wardrobe was gorgeous, particularly Desirée’s deep red dress and Charlotte’s dark blue dress, a contrast that hints at their differences and heavy animosity. I was also very impressed by the live playing of the cello and piano on stage, as it was my first time seeing instruments played on stage by the actors and not by the musicians in the pit orchestra. Especially the student who portrayed Fredrik’s son, Henrik, who played the cello with a very good tone and vibrato. 

My favorite song would be “Send in the Clowns,” sung by Desirée as she discovers that love doesn’t always go as predicted. The lyrics were relatable and the emotion in her voice mirrors lots of the experiences people face in romance today. This is the last musical I’ll see this semester and was a fun one to review. If you’re looking for something to betray your expectations, then A Little Night Music is for you!

REVIEW: Tales from the Realm of Pops

This semester’s Michigan Pops Orchestra concert, Tales from the Realm of Pops, has been my favorite concert of the past six I’ve attended. The theme this semester was fairytale and fantasy, and the repertoire was full of my personal favorites that are both famous in the classical world and familiar with most audiences: from Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet to The Legend of Zelda to Sleeping Beauty, the orchestra certainly took us on a magic carpet ride.

The first piece to capture my heart was Tchaikovsky’s notoriously hard Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 35, performed by this year’s High School Concerto Competition winner Minji Kim, a Junior studying at Skyline High School. The past three High School Concerto Competition winners have all been violinists, but she’s left the biggest impression on me so far. The first movement of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto, the Allegretto, features intense lyrical runs up and down the violin, which Minji nailed each time. What impressed me the most were her double stops. Double stops mean two notes are being played at the same; this requires the bow to be completely evenly balanced on the strings while the fingers are to be a precise distance apart. It’s very easy to be out of tune when playing double stops, especially while shifting, but Minji made it sound incredibly easy with her crystal-clear tone and perfect intonation. This was my first time listening to this concerto live, and it couldn’t have been any better.

Right after came one of the unarguably best orchestral works to ever exist: Scheherazade, Op. 35 by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Pops played the third movement, The Young Prince and the Young PrincessJust like the title suggests, it’s an incredibly romantic movement that passes the melody between the strings and winds, as if they were lovers conversing. The lyrical line evokes so many feelings, such as yearning and passion before turning into playful flirting when the tempo picks up. I highly recommend listening to all of Scheherazade. It’s truly a piece that shows music can weave a colorful story and brings out the violin’s full potential during the many concertmaster solos, which Katie Zhao did an amazing job of.

I’m so glad I got to attend this concert despite being busy with finals and the coming end of the semester. It whisked me away from my stress and worries and was the best refuge I could get. I’m now all the more excited to come back to another Michigan Pops concert next year, and I wonder if they’ll be able to top this semester’s amazing collection.

REVIEW: The Cherry Orchard

Last weekend, I attended the University of Michigan Department of Theatre & Drama’s production of The Cherry Orchard directed by Dan Cantor. As a frequent attendee of this department’s University Productions, I was interested to see the show they selected for their two-weekend Arthur Miller Theatre slot, especially because I have never seen an Anton Chekhov piece staged.

Overall, I was impressed by the actors. While I have found the season selected for the Department of Theatre & Drama’s University Productions season in the 2023-24 school year to be somewhat underwhelming from a personal artistic preference standpoint, the performances of these students never fail to impress me. Generally, I thought the play was fairly well-directed for the thrust (which incorporates audience members on all three sides, a favorite theatrical layout of mine), but I found myself to be somewhat disconnected from the story and the characters.

I’m unsure if it’s the directing or the translation of Chekhov’s work that I didn’t enjoy. I can’t quite place my finger on it, but regardless of the dramatics occurring onstage, I couldn’t help but feel very isolated from the stakes of the show. I am typically a very engaged audience member – however, this two-hour and forty-minute play failed to keep my attention in its entirety. I did feel that some of the lines felt very heavily prescribed to actors, and I’m curious if line readings were a tool frequently utilized by the directing team in rehearsal.

Admittedly, I struggled with the relationships between the characters. This is not the fault of the actors in any respect – when you select a show for your season that exclusively utilizes eighteen to twenty-three-year-olds, there’s bound to be some confusion when it comes to the ages of certain characters. Typically, these University Productions will utilize hair and makeup design to emphasize the intended ages of each character. I’m rarely a fan of this, but I think a large cast show such as Cherry Orchard would’ve benefitted more from the use of physical differences to emphasize older age. While the script roughly explains each character’s relationships and ages, a little would’ve gone a long way with using design elements to display the intended difference in age.

One aspect of the show I enjoyed was the transitions and scenic changes. These were masterfully and beautifully choreographed, incorporating not only the backstage team but also the cast and onstage musicians. These transitions were accompanied by beautiful lighting and sound design – another highlight of the show. The ensemble work during the show, but especially these unscripted moments, was a clear display of the camaraderie the show’s whole company no doubt shared.

I’m looking forward to attending the Department of Theatre & Drama’s next season, and I am eagerly waiting for the season’s announcement. While the school year is coming to a close, I’m certain that the 2024-25 year will bring a new batch of remarkable theatre, both U-M affiliated and not.


REVIEW: “People are Things” – Devised

SMTD students are often encouraged to pursue a senior thesis at the end of their degree to show off the skills they’ve developed in college. On Saturday, I went to see “People are Things”, a directorial thesis by Tiara Partsch. In general, I tend to really love going to senior shows. They’re usually only about an hour long, free, and experimental in one way or another. “People are Things” reminded me why these are the shows I frequent. “People are things” is a one act play, which includes a brief introduction, and covers themes of trauma and class struggle.

When I walked in the Newman studio, where the performance was being held, the space was completely dark except for one fixture on stage. There were no chairs, and the audience was encouraged to circle around the only actress on stage. I remember feeling somewhat uncomfortable, like the audience was being involved in something that was harming the character we were all watching. She seemed freaked out by all of us standing there, and her performance reflected that. She was playing with a pile of dirt and fake plants as the audience surrounded her, shaping the dirt in mounds and placing the plants inside. She would then get upset, smash the dirt piles, and try to run off stage, only to be pulled right back to what she was doing.

The rest of the play centered around a 54 year old woman’s mental breakdown, involving a violent incident with her boss where she held him hostage with a knife. In the play, her identity is split into multiple parts, each one focusing around a different aspect of the act of violence she engaged in. This is something I really loved about the play because it  reminded me of how frantic your thoughts can be after experiencing something upsetting. How you go through the events in your head, fixating on certain details. While the play only covers events that take place over a couple days, it really showed me how intricate traumatic events can be. I feel that performances tend to use violence as a way to keep people engaged with a story, but I really appreciated how “People are Things” also talked about the ramifications of something like that on a persons mental health.

Run time: 1 hour 30 minutes 

Picture from the SMTD events website     

REVIEW: Wall to Wall Theater Festival

Wall to Wall Theater Festival was formerly an annual event in the Walgreen Drama Center before the pandemic. I am thrilled to see its return — back and better than ever. Producers Jeff Wagner, Kate Ivanov, and Tate Zeleznik have revitalized the festival at The School of Theater, featuring five unique works directed by SMTD students.

Wall to Wall is described as an “immersive performance experience [where] five different short-form interactive pieces play throughout the hallways, classrooms, and studios of the Walgreen Drama Center. Each performed several times through the night, giving audiences a chance to curate their own experience traversing through live music, theater, and performance art offered through the festival.” It juxtaposes a normal theatrical experience allowing the audience member full control over their space and consumption of the art.

Juliet Schlefer singing Rachmaninoff’s 6 Romances.

The first piece I wandered into seemed like a mini-haunted house. Instantly, I knew this sinister set-up was the work of senior directing student Mirit Skeen. Through a maze of dark fabric, There was a haunting voice looming inside—singing Rachmaninoff Op. 38 otherwise known as “6 Romances”. This set was performed by the glittering soprano, Juliet Schlefer and lyrical pianist Eric Head.  I loved this creative and eerie presentation of a rather mysterious operatic song cycle.

Drake Zhao and Sarah Hartmus performing a scene from “Hookman”.


Two performances featured scenes from straight plays. Shakespeare’s Corner (dir. Olivia Ray) featured a short scene from The Taming of the Shrew, which follows the marriage of headstrong Katharina to Petruchio, who employs various strategies in an attempt to dominate her. In the hallway upstairs, a part-comedic-part-horror scene from Lauren Yee’s Hookman was being performed (dir. Katy Dawson). The scene revolves around two college girls being followed by a (you guessed it) man with a hook.  It was a totally unassuming and endearing scene, with such a great use of the hallway space.

UMPH Jazz Band and Musical Theater student Sage Taylor.

UMPH is an up-and-coming Ann Arbor jazz band featuring Cole Oswalt, Luke Pisani, Shudane Hendrix, Max Rubin, Max McDermitt, and Alex Lahti-Thiam. This band brought a roster of musical theater students to sing R&B and funk tunes. I loved the concert-like vibe in the room, it was a nice juxtaposition to the theater.

The final piece I watched was downstairs in the basement. The group of eight performed two numbers from Dave Malloy’s chamber choir musical Octet, a musical about internet addiction. This show does not use any musical instruments, only the human voice. The team included Marcus Byers (Choreography) Alex Confino (Music Director), and Kate Ivanov (Director), who masterfully assembled this lesser-known gem with an all-star cast of vocalists.

I do hope Wall to Wall returns again! The creative use behind each space in the Walgreen and the simplistic brilliance of each nugget of theater came out to be a ton of fun. The creativity within the students of SMTD is truly remarkable.



April 7th, 7pm. Images thanks to Jeff Wagner. Title Image: Kate Ivanov’s Octet.