With an almost full lower level at the Power Center for the Performing Arts, student performance groups across Michigan pulled together October 18 for G-Fest, a 2-hour extravaganza of singing, dancing, comedy, slam poetry, percussion and glow-stick dancing. Each act brought something fresh and new to the 5th Annual G-Fest. Alumni G-Men from the inaugural show had the honors of opening this one. Not only were the acts solidly executed, but the ever quirky, comical G-Men introducing them kept the show’s momentum running strong throughout the entire program. Personal favorite included when two G-Men made dubstep with their mouths, including dubbing the beats to Snoop Dogg’s “Drop it Likes it Hot” and Ginuwine’s “Pony.” I think this was when the crowd cheered the loudest the whole time, although each group received a respectable amount of loud, rambunctious applause, and for good reason.

The G-Mens opening number
The G-Men's opening number

The Harmonettes killed it in black pumps and blue jeans.
The Harmonettes killed it in black pumps and blue jeans.

I found myself feeling like I was an extra cast member in Pitch Perfect when the G-Men and Harmonettes sang in harmony and pitch together. The G-Men pulled off a catchy Spanish number to open the show, followed by a mash-up of Maroon 5’s “Harder to Breathe” and Adele’s “Skyfall.” Pure ear candy. In the second part of the show, the self-proclaimed always classy, sometimes sassy Harmonettes brought their girl power with Little Mix’s “Wings,” my favorite number from their set. To quote the movie, both groups were “aca-awesome.”

Asante looks dapper in his top hat and jacket.
Asante looks dapper in his top hat and white jacket.

Asante, the only solo act on the bill, sang two original compositions at the piano. He described the process of creating his own music by visualizing different keys as different colors and putting it all together. His two pieces complemented each other perfectly well, and had the venue feeling like a small intimate jazz club. As a senior in the School of Music, Theatre and Dance, he was one of my favorite acts for his ability to silence and mesmerize the crowd with his smooth voices and even smoother piano playing. He’s got showmanship down, looking and sounding mighty classy. I loved every minute of it.

The Michigan Raas Team
The Michigan Raas Team
Photonixs eye candy
Photonix's eye candy

The first dance group, Michigan Raas Team, performed to traditional Indian music wearing traditional Indian costumes. Their fluid movements had me wanting to get up and dance too, if I knew how to dance like that. G-Fest ended with Photonix, a group that dances with glow sticks to create visual art with trippy trance music in the background. It takes a whole lot of talent to wave glow sticks up and down to create something magical, and Photonix’s did just that in this out-of-this-world finale.

Grooves jamming out on trash cans
Groove's jamming out on trash cans

Before intermission, Groove beat their trashcans and quad drums made of plastic bins to perform several numbers of carefully crafted percussion numbers. The intensity and speed at which these performers can go is remarkable, and I can only imagine how much time and practice they endure to get it just right. These guys nailed it, and the best part is all their instruments are random, common items one wouldn’t expect to find in a formal show. Groove’s ingenuity, coupled with their urban allure, made for a stylistic success to round out the first half.

ComCos improv players provided plenty to laugh about.
ComCo's improv players provided plenty to laugh about.

Not only did talent lie in the musicality of performances, but in comics and poets, too. The first half featured six ComCo. members, campus’s oldest improv comedy group, playing various games with audience participation. They pulled off one of comedy’s greatest exercises, telling a story with someone else’s hands behind them guiding the action. Another game had the game master control the flow of dialogue, interrupting a “mother/daughter” pair whenever he didn’t like what they were saying and making them redo the line in a different way. The best part about the players was the sheer improvisation–these guys can think fast on their feet and that makes it all the more enjoyable and entertaining. One of the highlights of the night for me was being able to laugh at the absurdity of the situations the players acted out.

Four members of the Slam Poetry Club read their poems on stage, giving the audience chills with their themes of growing up, being there for someone in tough times and a poem chronicling Adam and Eve’s experience in couple’s therapy. Each poet slammed really well, slowing and quickening their voices at the appropriate times and really speaking from the heart. It takes a lot of guts to speak like that in front of such a large audience, and these kids nailed it.

I couldn’t have asked for a better Friday night listening to and seeing all the great talent this campus has to offer. Each group shined, and it made me even prouder to be a Michigan Wolverine. Even though G-Fest was just a sampling of the many performance groups on campus, it accomplished its goal of entertaining attendees. Bravo, everyone, for your amazing performances.

REVIEW: Rachel Mazer

Rachel Mazer

A few weeks ago, U of M School of Music Jazz singer/saxophone player extraordinaire Rachel Mazer performed her very own songs at the Canterbury House on 721 East Huron Street.With the accompaniment of a medley of musicians from the School of Music as well as several alums, Rachel amazed the intimate audience with her incredibly luscious voice. As classic as Billie Holiday and as fresh as Beyoncé, Rachel delivered five original songs and one inspired by the greats. In fact, after her performance I asked her what her vision had been for her show and she said something along the lines of  “to make jazz approachable, easy, and hip to our generation.” The possibility of adding  Jazz overtones to some Beyoncé covers is one of the projects she has up her sleeve- one day, after hopefully recording her own work first. I have heard Rachel play saxophone before, but until her show I had never had the pleasure of hearing her belt it out on stage.  It was a treat for all who were present, and I will definitely be waiting for her Beyoncé remixes to come out on vinyl.

REVIEW: Sprites and Satire at the Mendelssohn: UMGASS’s Iolanthe

In the director’s note for Robyn Tierney’s UMGASS production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe, she says “I could have manifested my own creative expression into the delivery of the show, but I believe Gilbert and Sullivan had enough creative expression of their own; mine would only complicate things…I would present Iolanthe in a more traditional environment, one that captures the original brilliance and wit of our two theatrical heroes.” It’s a long-running debate in the world of repertory-based music-theatre: should the director preserve “traditional” practices and try to produce the piece as it would have been on the night it premiered, or should they go in an uncommon direction to try and bring out an aspect of the work that has hitherto gone unnoticed by past interpreters? Directors who pursue either approach run the risk of losing sight of the paying public and alienating audiences. The traditionalist can present a performance that is pedantically attentive to the practices of a bygone age, and thus of interest only to historians. The nontraditionalist can craft an interpretation so radically different that the meaning of the piece is lost, and confuses both newcomers and audience members familiar with the piece. It takes a director with a strong sense of the heart of a particular theatrical work to bring any production to life, “traditional” or not.

Thankfully, Tierney understands Iolanthe very well. She brings out the edgy irony of the piece with aplomb, while not neglecting the slightly mystical unearthliness. This production of Iolanthe is the best kind of Gilbert and Sullivan production, one that has all of the charm and none of the quaintness, decidedly Victorian in atmosphere but with the slightest pinch of 21st-century irreverence.

A good supplement to Tierney’s traditionalist cause is the fact that Iolanthe is a Gilbert and Sullivan work that has aged reasonably well. The trademark Gilbertian social satire is simultaneously biting and absurd (although rather less subtle than in, say, The Mikado), with a plot concerning a painfully idiotic House of Peers having their political powers taken away by a crew of vengeful fairies. The jibes about the folly of having politicians vote based on which party they belong to, rather than what they personally believe, seem particularly pertinent in today’s political climate.

The cast, as per usual with UMGASS, gave thoroughly intelligent and charming portrayals of their characters. The two ensembles in particular brought everything that was needed. Each member of the House of Peers, plus the Lord Chancellor (Don Regan), brought a definite and different brand of buffoonery to each individual part, from Jon Roselle’s obsequious Lord Tolloller to Don Regan’s alternatingly intellectual and befuddled Lord Chancellor. The fairies were exceedingly animated and characterful as well, graceful and sardonic in equal measure. The contrast between the sassy sprites and the blustering bluebloods was terrific to watch. Amanda O’Toole brought a noble bearing and a truly glorious contralto voice to the role of the Fairy Queen. Joshua Glassman combined a gleefully goofy demeanor and a sterling tenor voice in his portrayal of Strephon. Alexandria Strother, as Phyllis, delivered her dialogue with a strikingly naturalistic bent and her lyrics with a pristine soprano tone. Tina Pandya’s choreography was exceedingly well-suited to the music and lyrics: very merry, somewhat silly and occasionally even witty, not something easy to pull off with dance. Not to be discounted are the lovely costumes by Marilyn Gouin and Tam Prentice, which clearly defined the personalities and stations of the various characters with economy and beauty. Also to be commended are the lovely sets designed by Cynthia Lempert and Laura Strowe, evoking the Arcadian environs of the fairies in the first act and creating a picturesque nighttime view of the London skyline in the second.

One minor quibble I had concerned the delivery of some of the lines. Gilbert’s deliberately arch and verbose style, while effective in its time at lampooning the artificial stage conceits that Gilbert so despised, needs a little something extra to come off properly today. The words, while extremely eloquent and clever, ought to be “sold” a little in order to come off properly; this is especially true in the long and intricate passages of dialogue delineating the paradoxes and puzzles of logic that were Gilbert’s forte. It’s a delicate balance, for if the lines or lyrics are too heavily exaggerated, then the wit is lost; however, if they are said too plainly, the import of the words is easy to miss. There should be just the slightest splash of Technicolor in the delivery, just a little something extra to make the words truly register. For the most part, the cast did very well at keeping this balance. Two cast members in particular achieved this clarity through very different methods: Glassman delivered his lines with a delightful silliness that somehow felt perfectly natural, stopping just short of too much; Regan spoke his lines with pinpoint diction and a terrific sense of timing, pausing ever so slightly in his monologues to give the jokes just enough time to set in before moving on. Still, there were a few occasions where some lines that ought to have won gleeful guffaws ended up getting a bit lost, receiving only a smattering of chuckles. But this was only the first night—now that the cast has played to a full audience, hopefully they will be able to easily find their oratorical bearings.

If you are looking to introduce yourself to the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan, Iolanthe might be one of the best ones to see first. It has all the hallmarks of the Gilbert and Sullivan style in full effect: intricate absurdity wedded with music of beautiful sprightliness (ably conducted by music director Matthew Balmer and performed by the orchestra, which has too many members to name here). If that sounds at all appealing to you, Iolanthe will more than likely be well worth your time.

Iolanthe is running December 7-8 at 8:00 P.M. and December 8-9 at 2:00 P.M. at the Lydia Mendelssohn Theatre. Tickets are available at

PREVIEW: Best of Michigan A Cappella CharityFest

This Saturday, February 19th, the Michigan A Cappella Council will host its first philanthropic event of the year: Best Of Michigan A Cappella CharityFest. The show will feature 13 University of Michigan A Cappella groups, each of which will perform a single song.  The purpose of the event is to raise awareness about the charity album that MACC produced last year, entitled: Best of Michgian a Cappella. This album will be sold at a special discount price of $5 during the event. All proceeds from the show and album sales will go to the VH1 Save the Music Foundation.

The concert will feature:

58 Greene

Amazin’ Blue

Compulsive Lyres

Dicks and Janes

The Friars


The G-Men

Good News

The Harmonettes

Kol Hakavod


Midnight Blue

The Sopranos

Hope to see you all come out for this amazing event!

When: Saturday, February 19th, 7:00pm

Where: University Club (First floor of the Union)

Price: $3

Preview: (g)imble presents: SPOOKAPELLA! feat. Maize Mirchi & The Harmonettes

With Halloween right around the corner you can feel the pulse of campus increase with vigor.  Halloween is often the most anticipated celebration throughout the school year, and for good reason.  It’s the one time throughout the year that people can dress up, take on different identities and enter a world that resembles something out of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.  Although Gimble A Cappella may not be ready to take on the likes of Rocky Horror, they will put on a fabulous show at their 2nd annual Halloween a cappella show, Spookapella!

This  year, Gimble will host Maize Mirchi, Michigan’s premier South Asian a cappella group, and The Harmonettes, one of three all female groups on campus.  Gimble will also welcome special guest Scotch Tape, who are coming all the way from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota to open the show and will begin singing at around 6:45pm.  It should be a great night of a cappella!

Here’s the rundown…

Who: Gimble, The Harmonettes, Maize Mirchi & Scotch Tape

Where: Angell Hall Auditorium D

When: Friday, 10/29 @ 7:00pm

Price: $5 Adults/Students, $3 Children

Enjoy the show!