REVIEW: For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow’s Enuf

Basement Arts presents their first show of the season: For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide / When The Rainbow’s Enuf  by Ntozake Shange. The 1976 piece is presented as a choreopoem, a unique collection of spoken poems that intertwines staging and fluid movement. Director Sarah Oguntomilade works alongside choreographer Gilayah McIntosh to navigate Ntozake’s lyrical prose to create a piece illuminating the complexities of Black womanhood, friendship, and identity with unwavering grace and power.

In the show, each character is depicted as a color of the rainbow with the addition of brown. They perform some poems alone, but in other moments come together to deliver a unified story, creating a mural of emotions. Characters were acutely aware of one another, offering solidarity when some were delivering heavy-hearted monologues and experiencing saturated joy together for others. The performers breathe life into the individuality of their roles, showcasing a kaleidoscope of personalities that are both vivid and distinct, yet reminiscent of Ntozake’s personal experiences and emotions. Oguntomilade clearly holds a deep understanding of theater and poetry, as her direction was fluid and honest, capturing the essence of each moment poetically and dramatically. Accompanied by McIntosh’s seamlessly exciting choreography, the piece was aesthetically magnificent.

The authenticity of the choreopoem form shines through Ntozake’s meticulously crafted words, breathing life into the performance while speaking radiant visions of her experiences to the audience. The ensemble expertly navigated exhilarating highs and heartbreaking lows with unwavering conviction, leaving the audience both beaming with love and holding back a rush of tears. The poems fearlessly take on topics such as abuse, sex, and emotional trauma—it is a show to be emotionally prepared for while inviting audiences to confront the complexities of the African-American experience with unflinching honesty and empathy. The show humbly forms a mosaic of poetic brilliance that lingers long after exiting the theater.

For Colored Girls Who’ve Considered Suicide / When The Rainbow’s Enuf  is a deeply touching piece about the resilience, bravery, friendship, strength, and beauty of African-American women, and went out last week with roaring success. Basement Arts will perform two more shows during the Winter season: Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties directed by Brynn Aaronson and Falsettos directed by Naomi Parr. Auditions and performance dates are posted on @basement_arts on Instagram. 

 

More about Ntozake Shange and her legacy here.

Image thanks to Basement Arts. Performed in the Newman Studio on North Campus. 

REVIEW: BFA Design and Production Portfolios

The Duderstadt Center presents a gallery showcasing the talent of select BFA Design and Production students. Within this immersive exhibition, visitors encounter an array of displays from students from many disciplines in the D&P major. This multifaceted degree program includes stage management, lighting design, set design, prop masters, and costume design, and while many specialize, some students take on multiple facets of theater production.

There are many essential assets to creating theater beyond actors and directors. The D&P students take on an immeasurable amount of creative liberty and manual labor work for theatrical productions and oftentimes will go unnoticed.

Each student brings their own flare to the gallery, creating individualized and quite elaborate portfolio presentations. They feature work from all sorts of productions around campus, including directing student’s senior thesis, University Productions, and work from student theater organizations. If you tend to frequent SMTD performances much of their work has been featured here in real life.

To the left, we have Esther Hwang‘s meticulously curated stage management portfolio. The collection is complete with binders of her stage management work (schedules, daily calls, cues.. and more!) her resume, business cards, and performance photos, all beautifully organized for your viewing convenience. It is clear Hwang’s attention to detail is extraordinary—the exhibit is brilliantly organized and thoughtful while revealing many aspects of stage management I was unaware of!

 

To the right are Ethan Hoffman’s lighting portfolio and Kayti Sanchez’s costume design and construction portfolios. Hoffman presents a comprehensive variety of the many positions he has held at Michigan. In addition to lighting design, he has experience in associate producing and electrician positions. His portfolio presents a keen eye for captivating lighting schemes. With a blend of precision and creativity, Sanchez shares her costuming work along with set designs and a thematic object presentation. Her portfolio was a testament to her original artistic vision and professionalism.

It was inspiring to see the innovative artistry and dedication of those ‘behind the stage’. Each portfolio is truly unique—you must see them for yourself! The gallery will be available to view until February 10th in the Duderstadt Center. More information here.

 

Image thanks to Univeristy of Michigan SMTD.

REVIEW: She Loves Me

This past weekend, I watched the musical She Loves Me (1963), a romantic comedy with a classic enemies-to-lovers trope set in 1934 Budapest, Hungary. The male lead is Georg Nowack, the hardworking manager of Maraczek’s Parfumerie. He’s always at odds with the female lead, Amalia Balash, an employee who’s not the best at her job and believes Georg always has it out for her. There’s a unique array of workers at the parfumerie. There’s the playboy Steven Kodály, the innocent delivery boy Arpad Lazslo, the sexy lady Ilona Ritter, and the cheerful father Ladislav Sipos.

It’s a frustratingly slow-burn romance; most of the first act is unraveling the main character’s mysterious love interests, their “dear friends,” and getting to know the other employees. In the second half, though, the romantic development quickly speeds up and She Loves Me plays, my favorite musical number. I enjoyed watching the usually serious Georg dancing around the stage and singing his heart out, giddy with love.

The show was completely run by the Golden Theatre Company (GTC), a student organization that strives to spread the joy of musical theatre and create opportunities for all students to be part of the production and performance process. When reading the program notes, I was fascinated that quite a few members were freshman or not musical theatre students; one was even a Mathematics and Computer Science major! Furthermore, everything was done well. The stage props for the parfumerie were adorable and intricate, the outfits were gorgeous and elegant, fitting for the era, and the microphones and music were clear.

As suggested by their name, the GTC only performs musicals from the Golden Age of musical theatre (roughly mid-1940s to late 1950s) or musicals sung in the classical style. I look forward to their next semester’s performance because I’m sure they’ll choose a wonderful musical to perform with the highest quality.

REVIEW: Life on Planet Pops

On December 6, 2023, at the Michigan Theater, the Michigan Pops Orchestra presented “Life on Planet Pops.” I’ve been to every Pops concert since my freshman year, and I was especially excited for this one after seeing this semester’s poster that teased The Lion KingStar Wars (which they somehow manage to play every year), Princess and the Frog, and more. As the theme and poster suggest, all of the music they chose was related to animals, though there surprisingly wasn’t much classical repertoire. However, it was my favorite program out of all of the Pops concerts I’ve seen.

They opened with a medley of Beauty and the Beast and they sounded exactly like the soundtrack of it on Spotify. I loved the concertmaster’s solo so much it gave me goosebumps, and once the melody of Tale as Old as Time played, the strings all together really shined. The song they chose from Princess and the Frog was “Almost There” with a guest student singer from SMTD, and she was very talented. I loved how she opened with dialogue that transitioned into song and that she maintained her character’s cheerful flare throughout the performance.

After a brief intermission, they returned with Hoe Down, a piece with a fun syncopated tune. I’ve heard other orchestras play it before, but I loved that Pops included a good “Yeehaw” in the middle. To end the night, they played the William Tell Overture. I feel like it’s a piece everyone knows. Though I didn’t recognize the title, I immediately recognized the tunes, especially the latter half. 

As always, Pops includes movies to play alongside their music. This semester, they chose to film Pokémon and Jaws, and the way the actors portrayed the animals was hilarious. Pikachu was taller than Ash, his trainer, and the shark in Jaws crawled out of the fountain by the Michigan League. 

I highly recommend going to the Michigan Pops Orchestra concerts. They’re always amazing and enjoyable for people who aren’t well-versed in classical music and I always have a lot of fun at their events!

REVIEW: Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

On Sunday Afternoon, I went to the matinee showing of Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. The show was produced by In The Round, an inclusive student theater group on campus. It was in the Arthur Miller Theater, a relatively small venue, but the closeness of the space made all the wonderful performances of the night feel much more personal. Seats were right up against the stage, with some audience members sitting on the edge of the stage itself. Most of the big performances of the night happened in the middle of the room, including the opening number which involved every member of the cast singing and dancing in unison. The actors would sometimes sing directly out into the audience, which made it all the more captivating and engaging. I’ve never seen theater so up close!

The show itself is a self described long and complicated Russian novel, with a laundry list of characters. In The Round provided virtual programs, including a chart (with pictures) of every character in the show and how they’re related. Natasha and Pierre are the two main characters of the play. Natasha is young, in love, and devoted to her fiancé. Pierre, on the other hand, has resigned himself to devoting his life to his studies. A main theme of the play is love, and making the right choices when you’re in the thick of it. Even though the play is based on War and Peace, which was written almost 150 years ago, the things the characters struggle with are similar to a lot of the things young people struggle with today. Falling in love and preserving it, knowing when someone loves you in earnest, and reconciling with people you’ve wronged are all things universal to the human experience, but I found myself relating to the characters way more than I thought I would. Great Comet does a wonderful job of describing these feelings in a way that feels new.

Overall, I’m so glad I went to see Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. The performances of the cast is what stands out to me as one of the most compelling aspects of the show. But the performance by the pit orchestra, the songs sung by the actors, and the inclusion of electronic music in the score, made Great Comet a fun and worthwhile watch, and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

 

Picture from Michigan Union Ticket Office website 

REVIEW: Attempts On Her Life

Rude Mechanicals is a student-run theater organization founded in 1996 specializing in producing plays. This semester’s performance of Attempts on Her Life (1997) by Martin Crimp was bold and thought-provoking, an experimental masterpiece of theater. Director Tiara Partsch crafted this perplexing script into a chaotically constructed gem. 

The most fascinating aspect of this show is how there are no named characters in the script. The dialogue exists on its own and remains completely open to interpretation by the director and the creative team. There are no set characters, and there is no plot. The actors exist as thoughts, people, or concepts that are never truly defined. From what I understood, Crimp was emphasizing the deconstruction of theater, focusing on independent facets of a named ‘Anne’ or ‘Anny’s’ life. It’s important to note that Anne is not just a defined person but also a heroine of a film, a porn star, a conversation piece among friends, a car, or a concept. This piece surely demanded lots of attention and open-mindedness from the audience.

At some points, the drama was difficult to navigate as an audience member who is not as seasoned in experimental theater. Although, the originality of the dialogue was clear through the lack of a storyline. Overall, Crimp’s urge to condemn a coherent identity in society through this text was understood. There are beautifully crafted monologues in this piece that were delivered exceptionally by the troupe of actors. Their attention to small details and their meticulous handling of the material were admired by the audience. 

The design for this show was brilliant. The objects hung over the stage were a perfect implication of the abstract nature of the show. I loved the eclectic colors and textures throughout the costumes, while the minimal set pieces did not wash the actors out of the Mendelssohn stage. William Webster was in charge of the scenic design with Ellie Van Engen cultivating the costume design for the show. 

Attempts on Her Life ran December 1-3 at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. Next semester, Rude Mechanicals will present Diana Son’s Stop Kiss directed by Reese Leif. The show will perform April 19-21st with auditions mid-semester. 

 

 

Images thanks to @UMRUDES on Instagram.