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: KASA Culture Show 2024 — Seoul Shadows

Landing itself at the tail end of the year, the KASA Culture Show presents a grand finale to the year. KASA stands for the Korean American Student Association, a cultural/social organization that seeks to bring together a Korean American community and celebrate Korean culture. The night was full of wonderful performances of music and dance, but the true highlight was the screening of a popular K-drama remake. This year, KASA showcased their remake of the film Door Lock (도어락).

Before I get into the film, I’d like to highlight how amazing the music performances were. Sinaboro started off the night with a bang (of a janggu) performing a traditional Samul Nori (사물놀이) ensemble. Samul Nori is a genre of traditional Korean percussion music that utilizes four instruments: the kkwaenggwari (꽹과리), a small gong, the jing (징), a larger gong, the janggu (장구), an hourglass-shaped drum, and the Buk (북), a barrel bass drum. The precise rhythms and clangorous quality of Sinaboro’s performance brought a part of Korean culture that was unique and very interesting to learn about/experience. Additionally, Seoul Juice gave a stellar performance, although I am not completely familiar with their set list, each song filled the theater with pleasing harmonies that the band is well associated with. Personally, I’ve seen Seoul Juice perform multiple times and they always deliver, by which I mean every single member gave their all.

Seoul Juice Mid-Performance

Now the film was no doubt the highlight of the night, as it captivated the whole audience in its masterly-made production. Door Lock is a horror movie about a woman’s victimization by the hands of a stalker. Carrying heavy themes about sexual assault, stalking, and kidnapping, the film is one that leaves the audience in horrifying suspense about the identity of Kyungmin’s stalker but also woeful concern about her safety. By all means, the most fun part of it was the audience’s reactions as everyone screamed in terror, gasped in shock, and aired their frustration that she would just let that guy in her apartment. The way the film was shown to the audience was also unique and fascinating as it was cut into parts, progressively being shown between performances. It left us in the audience with cliffhangers, red herrings, and terrible suspense.

However, I do note that there was one problem I found to be pervasive: the overrepresentation of Kpop in Korean culture. While I absolutely adored the flawless formations and power of Female Gayo, the baddie energy and captivating visuals of Humi, the stylishness and effortlessness of DB3, the uniqueness and ingenuity of UMTKD, the focus and freshness of K-Motion, it felt like the heavy presence Kpop has overshadowed other important aspects of Korean culture. I would like to emphasize that Korean culture is not just the Kpop that it is often represented with, and a culture show should be a space to celebrate diverse representations of culture, not just a popular facet of it.

Despite this criticism, I found the KASA Culture Show to be a great time. The energy from the audience gave me life, and every time the dancers were only shown through silhouette I audibly gasped by how cool it looked. In summation, I love performances and the multimedia showcase of the KASA Culture Show was exemplary in all counts quality-wise.

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: A Little Night Music

[Title photo: Cole Newburg (left) and Audrey Graves.]

Of all the entangled romantic comedies in musical theater, A Little Night Music is quite the knot. The Department of Musical Theater completes its 2023-2024 season with Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s musical-operetta surrounding a horny mess of bourgeoisie adults at the turn of the century in Sweden. But it gets better—accompanied is a full orchestra with the most waltz-worthy melodies that string you right along with this troupe’s ridiculous antics.

The plot is quite dense. Desirée Armfeldt (Carly Meyer) is a fading actress touring small theaters across the country. She has a young daughter, Fredrika (Mariangeli Collado), who lives with her grandmother, Madam Armfeldt (Kate Louissaint), in the country. Desirée continuously delays seeing her daughter, preferring her life on tour in the theater. On the other side of town, Fredrik (Cole Newburg) and Anne Egerman (Audrey Graves), the newly married couple (with a quite significant age gap) live with Henrik (Michael Fabisch), the teenage son of Fredrik. He is a seminary student, frustrated and often ignored and mocked by the family with contentious feelings for his stepmother, Anne. One evening, Anne and Fredrick go to the theater, where Anne learns of Fredrik’s romantic history with the leading actress, Desirée. The two share an evening together, until interrupted by Desirée’s current affair, Count Carl-Magnus Malcolm (Owen Scales). Thus begins a spiral of jealousy and scandal when Desirée invites both couples Count Malcolm and Countess Charlotte (Gabriella Palminteri) and Anne, Fredrik, and Henrik to her mother’s home in the country.

This production was directed by Telly Leung, a graduate of the University of Michigan Musical Theater Department and an active Broadway performer. Direction choices were thorough and aesthetic for a venue that can leave you uninspired. The choice of an electric lime-green floor often took me away from the glamour of these characters’ lives and exceptional music and performances, but thankfully was recovered by costume design right out of an Edwardian-type 1900s Sweden.

The orchestration of the show is near perfect. A full orchestra accompanied the performance tonight at the Power Center, one of the finest pit orchestras I have heard at this University to date (musical direction by the fabulous Catherine A. Walker). A glimmering orchestra underneath some of the most brilliant voices at the University was a perfect end to the semester.  With leading women Carly Meyer and Audrey Graves, there was not a single pedestrian vocal moment. Their attention to virtuosic vocalism as well as navigating Sondheim’s cheeky text was a thrill. Angeleia Ordoñez (Petra) performed one of my favorite pieces of all time—”The Miller’s Son”, a satisfying and sweet song from the audacious maid, Petra. She performed with utmost perfection, providing the most insight into the character of Petra throughout the whole show. The Quintet (expanded to ten for this production), enriched the musical score, serving as an ironic reflection of the two couples’ extravagant lifestyles. A personal favorite performance was Fabisch, accessing spot-on character physicality, brilliantly luscious vocals, and honest comedy—Henrik has never been so adored before.

A weekend in the country with this outstanding cast would be my pleasure, anytime at all.

[Mariangeli Collado (left), Carly Meyer, and Kate Louissaint]


April 19th, 2024, 8pm. Power Center for the Performing Arts. Images thanks to The University of Michigan Department of Musical Theater.

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: Falsettos

[Title photo: Sam O’Neill (left), Caleb McArthur and James Parascandola.]

It’s not often that I see a show that leaves me as moved as Basement Art’s production of Falsettos did.

Basement Arts is an organization whose mission is to create “inclusive student-produced theatre by allowing students from across campus to execute all aspects of the theatrical production process”. They perform three shows a semester, as well as produce the annual Late Night events such as the Mx. Walgreen Pageant and 24-Hour Theater. This semester already featured some emotional heavy hitters —Collective Rage: A Play in 5 Betties by Jen Silverman and For Colored Girls/When The Rainbow is Enuf by Ntozake Shange.

Falsettos is a culmination of merging two one-act musicals, March of the Falsettos and Falsettoland, produced individually in 1981 and 1990. A fully sung-through musical— there are few moments without song. However, much of the show reads as a play, with heightened drama in every moment and not a single superfluous word. The show follows a Jewish Family in New York City in the 1970s— Marvin (Sam O’Neill), the frustrated ex-husband of the underappreciated Trina (Caroline Patterson), and partner to the stylish Whizzer (Caleb McArthur). Trina and Marvin’s son, Jason (James Parascandola), is growing up quickly, rapidly reaching the age of his bar mitzvah. Among all this, Trina and Marvin’s psychiatrist, (Sammy Guthartz), fall in love and get married. Thus, completes the web of this unusually interwoven family. That is, until you meet the quirky lesbians from next door in Act II, Dr. Charlotte (Abby Lyons) and Cordelia (Kate Cummings).

Falsettos was written by the incomparable William Finn and James Lapine, both Jewish writers (and Finn identifying as queer himself). It’s hard not to love this gem of a show. Its mechanical musical composition and emphasis on developing endearing and complex characters make the show feel complete and questionably familiar. The music is fun and catchy yet requires exceptional musical expertise to execute well (skillful music direction by Caleb Middleton).  The story blends humor and heartache while these characters are on their quests for happiness and acceptance.

The relevance that Falsettos retains from its 1992 premiere is remarkable. Difficult family dynamics, a rapidly changing social landscape, and a world that feels like it’s uncontrollably crumbling around them. Successful musicals stand the test of time, and after over three decades it’s clear that Falsettos made the cut.

The tense family dynamics were masterfully cultivated by director Naomi Parr and navigated equally as masterfully by this intense and thoughtful cast. Patterson (the needy, Trina) has one of the most captivating voices in the show—she does not shy away from the luxurious lines in the score while capturing Trina’s true angst and frustration with the imprudent men in her life. Her dynamic alongside the charming and perfectly awkward Mendel (Guthartz) was sublime. O’Neill and McArthur navigate perhaps the most complicated relationship dynamic in the show, one loaded with lust and devotion, sprinkled with violence and need for acceptance. The nuance the two brought to this unbelievably deep relationship was remarkable. Whizzer and Marvin’s poignant love maneuvered through each twist and turn, even past the heartbreaking finale—an arduous task beautifully achieved. Underneath these two intricate relationships leaves Jason (Parascandola), who left to pick up the pieces (literally and physically). Parascandola’s playful exchange with youth and hope left me rooting for Jason, wondering where his little life will take him next. It’s plain to see how this cast ripped my heart out and left it in the 1970s with them.

The cast of “Falsettos” and director Naomi Parr.

Parr states in her director’s note: “Falsettos addresses devastating tragedy but lives instead in the celebration of life, including mishaps that surround these moments of grief.” With one of the most responsive and touched audiences I’ve ever encountered, it seems the only thing missing from Falsettos was another weekend of shows.


April 6th, 9pm. Newman Studio. Images thanks to Naomi Parr and Basement Arts.