REVIEW: Rent

Thursday, April 13, 2023 • 7:30 pm • Power Center

SMTD’s Rent was an incredible experience! Everything from the artists to the accompaniment to the set and costuming was spot-on, and I’m so grateful I got to see this iconic show live.

Shoutouts for favorite performers go to Alex Humphreys (Joanne Jefferson) and Sevon Askew (Tom Collins). I loved Humphreys’ tightly-wound portrayal of Joanne, holding back until her full voice finally exploded through in “Take Me or Leave Me.” Askew played a perfect Tom Collins, simultaneous dreamer and voice of reason. The duet with Angel (“I’ll Cover You”) was beautiful while somehow still hinting at the tragedy to come, and the reprise was heartbreaking.

As I mentioned earlier, the set for this show was super cool. The structure evoked a corner of the East Village circa 1990, every element of the stage simultaneously a darkened street, a lot, a tent city, a community of apartments. Not that I can exactly vouch for its accuracy, but it matched my generation’s faux-nostalgia for the grungy late-80s, early 90s. The program detailed a little of the dramaturgs’ approach to the historical integrity of the play, including details like following AZT dosage instructions or matching the brands of makeup popular at the time. As far as the set goes, I liked how the lack of borders between elements of the set seemed to reflect the transience of housing in the show–one moment the cast was in Mark and Roger’s apartment, the next they were on the street.

The last time I watched the 2005 screenplay version of Rent was probably 2018 or so, when I was in ninth grade, and I think a lot of it went over my head, especially the historical elements like the HIV/AIDS crisis. I took a course on social movements this year where we spent a long time analyzing the ACT UP movement, which brought me a whole new level of appreciation for Rent‘s relationship to and portrayal of the epidemic.

I’m glad I got to see SMTD’s last show of the season, and I can’t wait to check out some of their 23/24 lineup when I get back after the summer. Access to so many incredible performances is one of the things I love most about living in Ann Arbor, and if you’re a student reading this, I hope you’ll take this opportunity and make the most of the campus art scene while you’re here.

REVIEW: Michigan Pops Orchestra “A Night at the Popscars”

The featured image above was taken from their Instagram: @michiganpops

This semester’s Michigan Pops Concert has been my favorite out of all the concerts I’ve attended! There was a crazy line at the door and the crowd turnout was also the largest I’ve seen, so much so that the start time was postponed to accommodate more audience members. It’s always refreshing to see that both children and the elderly are present in addition to college students; it shows that this student organization is popular among locals too.

They had a large and impressive list of repertoire (most were already familiar to the audience thanks to the theme they chose) and I appreciated how well they balanced the amount and order of classical and contemporary music. My favorite and most anticipated piece was Howl’s Moving Castle, but I wished it was longer. I felt that the arrangement could’ve been better too, though that doesn’t mean the Pops Orchestra didn’t play it well.

It seemed like there were more featured soloists in this concert than in the previous ones, but I think it still showcased the orchestra as a group pretty well without being overshadowed. Unfortunately, there were some balance issues and at times it was hard to hear the soloists.

The winner of this year’s high school concerto competition was a Sophomore from Huron High School, which is so impressive since the winners have historically mostly been Seniors. She played the Lalo Violin Concerto, and she exuded so much power and charisma as she performed. Shoutout to the violist who gave an amazing show of Bohemian Rhapsody and the pianist who shined during La La Land! You can watch them on Youtube, but nothing will beat the live music so pull up next year!

As for the skits, the most memorable part for me was when some students wore paper swans on their heads as they performed swan lake. It impressed me how well-made the swans looked!

It appears lots of members will be graduating, which is a little sad, but I’m looking forward to what changes the remaining and new Pops board and members will bring us next year.

 

PREVIEW: Michigan Pops Orchestra Concert “A Night at the Popscars”

As we approach the end of the semester, the time for the Michigan Pops Orchestra’s concert approaches too! This semester’s theme is “A Night at the Popscars,” meaning they’ve selected a variety of music that’s related to Oscar and other award-winning films.

Many pieces they have selected are teased on their poster (the featured image above) which can be found around campus and on their Instagram @michiganpops. It looks like Howl’s Moving Castle, Star Wars, and West Side Story will be featured, with Howl’s being my most anticipated one!

I’m wondering how the Pops members will have done justice to the Oscar-winning films with their own directing and acting. I’m sure they won’t disappoint though, and I’m looking forward to which movies they’ve chosen to recreate (Star Wars probably being the most likely one).

The concert is at 7:00 PM at the Michigan Theater on Saturday, April 8th. Tickets can be bought online, at the ticket office, and sometimes at Mason Hall, or you can even get a free ticket with a passport of the arts!

REVIEW: The Magic Groove Bus

I first watched Groove perform on my very first day in Ann Arbor. Tired, lost, and fresh off a plane from a small town in South Florida, I stumbled into Artscapade at the Umma, an evening of games, live performances, and crafts meant to introduce scared students to one of the University of Michigan’s artistic centers. Watching Groove perform through the thick crowd of people, I was awed by their incredible show. Having never played an instrument in my own childhood, I was amazed at how intricate, and yet how high-energy, the performance was. 

Flash forward two years, and I finally got to watch Groove again. One of Ann Arbor’s premier entertainment groups, Groove combines traditional instruments – drums, cellos – with non-traditional instruments – steel ladders, construction buckets – to create something truly special. At Friday night’s performance, “The Magic Groove Bus,” they blended together spectacular musical talent with hilarious comedy to wow the audience in a dizzying two-and-a-half hour performance. 

I don’t think there was any sort of cohesive theme for Friday night’s show, but Groove managed to weave together a bit about environmental destruction by evil corporations, a whole bit celebrating France, a bit titled “size doesn’t matter,” and so many more. Considering the amount of ideas compiled into one performance, it was actually incredible that they managed to fit it all in under three hours. However, the performance was so excellent that I could have stayed for the rest of the night. I don’t know how Groove managed to find a group of students all with such a unique stage presence, but the blending together of personalities made the show completely distinctive. Every time I thought the show was over, someone would start singing, or playing the cello, or doing acrobatics on stage, or pulling out a trumpet. There was a mind-boggling amount of talent on stage. 

At only $5 a ticket for students, Groove is an accessible performance for almost everyone. In fact, considering the quality of the show, they could have charged me $20, and I would have willingly forked it over. I now understand why Groove puts on only one show a semester: due to the length and complexity of the performance, I’m sure they needed countless months and hours to prepare. With an almost full audience at the Power center, I know I’m not alone in my opinion. The Magic Groove Bus was truly a sight to behold. 

REVIEW: Don Giovanni

8:00pm • Saturday, March 25, 2023 • Lydia Mendelssohn Theater

I was skeptical of all the articles I read before attending Don Giovanni that said it encapsulated “the full spectrum of human emotion.” I feel that when I attend live performances, I am easily impressed by talent in singing and dancing, but I’m rarely moved. However, this production of Don Giovanni was genuinely movingThe artists onstage deftly wove between moments of comedy and tragedy, creating an emotional journey that was surprisingly engaging.

Some of my favorite examples include Donna Anna’s reaction after the murder of her father and her duet, “Ah, vendicar, se il puoi, giura quel sangue ognor!” with Don Ottavio, which realistically captured her shock and grief and his devotion.  There were also laugh-out-loud moments, such as the opera’s first interaction between Don Giovanni, Leporello, and Donna Elvira and particularly “Madamina, il catalogo è questo” (although I must qualify that I was more entertained by the delivery of that aria than its contents). Throughout the performance, though her character was often used comedically, I was captivated by Donna Elvira’s complicated combination of longing, betrayal, rage and vengefulness, as well as her piety.

Because I love giving shout-outs to my favorite artists, for this production of Don Giovanni, I want to highlight Sitong Liu (Donna Anna) and Joshua Thomas (Il Commendatore), who had, in my opinion, the most beautiful voices of the evening. Liu’s regality and her icy grief were a stark contrast to some of the more comedic elements of the play, and her voice was breathtakingly clear. I regret that the character of the Commendatore has so few arias, because I would have enjoyed hearing quite a bit more of Thomas’s voice. Finally, my favorite all-around performance was probably from the aptly-named Aria Minasian (Donna Elvira) for her ability to embody both the humor and the darker, more painful emotions of the story. She really had the best facial expressions.

There’s so much to talk about with this opera, but I wanted also to note some dramaturgical choices which were made with this production. The program describes how the production crew wanted to be critical and careful of the themes of abuse and violence towards women, a mindset which I feel they executed well. I could see how they emphasized the relationships and support among community members which make accountability possible in the play, as well as realistically and sensitively portraying the impact of the traumas the female characters experience.

In conclusion, this production of Don Giovanni helped me appreciate opera on a new level. Even though the performance was over two and a half hours long, it remained engaging, and as I continue to reflect on the performance I can dive deeper and deeper into my admiration of the story and the art form.

PREVIEW: Don Giovanni

What: Mozart’s legendary opera, considered one of the greatest of all time, produced by the SMTD’s Department of Voice and featuring the University Symphony Orchestra

When: 

  • March 24, 2023 8:00PM
  • March 25, 2023 8:00PM
  • March 26, 2023 2:00PM

Where: Lydia Mendelssohn Theater

Don Giovanni tells the story of “an incorrigible young playboy who blazes a path to his own destruction in a single day” (Opera Atelier). It is based on the story of Don Juan, a fictional Spanish libertine and seducer. The opera is regarded as one of the greatest of all time for its ambiguity between comedy and tragedy, and, of course, its music. This production of Don Giovanni is directed by Mo Zhou, who arrived as an assistant professor of music at the University last fall, and whose directing debut with the Boston Baroque was recently awarded a 2023 Opera Grant for Women Stage Directors and Conductors. The last opera I saw here was Cendrillon in 2021, and that performance gave me goosebumps, so I can’t wait to see how the Department of Voice interprets this famous story.