Merrily We Roll Along
By Noelle Trost
While West Side Story is regarded as Stephen Sondheim’s testimonial to Shakespeare, Merrily We Roll Along contains all of the same elements of Shakespeare’s tragic hero that make his plays so iconic. In this semi-autobiographical musical produced in 1981, the life of Franklin Shepard, played by Aaron Lazar in the Wallis Annenberg rendition, is traced backwards from 1976 where he is a successful, but blasé composer surrounded by an artificial group of other eminent producers and performers, all the way back to 1957 where he is encircled by his two best friends, Charley Kringas, played by Wayne Brady, and Beth Spencer, played by Whitney Bashor, dreaming of all the sensational pieces to be created together one day. His story depicts an innovative artist’s loss of individuality in the cold nature of the entertainment business. His desire for wealth and ambition for success, otherwise his tragic flaws, swallows up his passion for music and the strong bond he once had with his companions.
Whereas Merrily We Roll Along is critiqued for its perplexing backwards structure, the Wallis Annenberg performance of this piece demonstrates the musical’s comprehensibility is dependent on the director’s ability. Michael Arden does a wonderful job of making transitions between time periods clear and making the plot easy to follow. Stephen Sondheim himself makes the musical an accessible piece to all audiences by providing contextualization in the form of news reports throughout the story. The acting, singing and dancing ability of the cast is spectacular, with pieces such as “Not a Day Goes By” and “Like it Was” standing out as emotionally touching pieces in the overall production. However, in terms of the actual characters of Merrily We Roll Along, the role of women throughout the play is somewhat outdated from a modern perspective. While each role is deeply complex, each with their own motives and biases, making the production unique, most of the key female roles are either a “love interest” or an “unrequited lover” to Franklin Shepard, no matter how successful or independent that character is. Nonetheless, the portrayal of these characters is very enjoyable, traditional or not.
What made this production of Merrily We Roll Along by the Wallis Annenberg memorable was definitely its technical aspect. While working with a minimalist set can sometimes be a gamble, it proved to be successful in this circumstance as the ample space gave the cast plenty of room to dance across the stage, while still providing the audience with enough props to understand setting of the scene. The lighting in particular was brilliant (almost to the point of blinding the audience at some points). In the beginning of the show, the multitude of lights from the vanities surrounding the scene gave the stage an air of extravagance, highlighting Franklin Shepard’s major success. By the end (or, really, the beginning) there is almost no light at all, except for that behind the characters who are watching the sunrise, creating an aura of young optimism. Overall, whether for the complexity of the plot and characters or the genius behind the set and lighting, Merrily We Roll Along is definitely a must-see for anyone in the mood for an entertaining, but cautionary tale.
Merrily We Roll Along
By Maegan Fellner
Merrily We Roll Along has been known as the play that completely bombed the first time that it was on Broadway. It may also be known as the musical from which some of Stephen Sondheim's most beloved music came. The Wallis has reimagined the play, while keeping the famous musical score the same.
If there is anything to know about this play, it's that it is backwards. The whole story is told starting out when Frank Shepard, the main character, is having a party with his rich "friends," at his lavish house. With him is Mary, his oldest friend. She has been trying to keep her friendship with Frank alive, but has failed. Frank continues to act like the cool kid, but behind the scenes, everything is falling apart. This almost leads the viewer to wonder "How did he get here?" and "How did he become who he is today?" The scene quickly shifts to the backstage of a radio room. Here we really get to know Frank's other old friend, Charlie Kringas. Mary is desperately trying to keep Charlie and Frank from fighting. Though Charlie and Frank had been very good friends beforehand, now their friendship is on the fringes. We continue to rewind back in time, meeting Gussie Carnegie, the power hungry Broadway star, Joe Josephson, Gussie's ex-husband, and other intriguing characters until we finish at the start of the threesome's journey.
The writing was fair, but I was not impressed with the story itself. The only thing that made the show unique to me was the backwards aspect. I don't mind any of the scenes, most are mediocre to good, and I feel like some just went on for way too long. A couple of the more melancholy scenes were the ones that I felt needed the most attention, such as the scene where Frank and his ex-wife Beth are getting divorced. I may also mention that Mary's costuming, in this scene in particular, was not flattering.
The music really matched the mood and time for almost every single scene. Some of my favorite songs were "Franklin Shepard Inc." a musical number sang by Charlie Kringas about his frustration with Frank's obsessive business notions; "Opening Doors" one of the last songs, is sang by all three of the main characters and conveys an upbeat, motivated vibe: and finally, "Old Friends", the song that Mary often starts when she wants to make a point about Franklin and Charlie staying as friends. I also enjoyed how some of the songs, like "Not a Day Goes By" were sang twice or more, with different emotions and by different characters. Overall, the music often shows a softer side of the otherwise rough-around-the-edges characters, as well as making me smile.
The costuming was fair, if not exceptional on Gussie and Charlie, and sub-par for Beth. Frank was always wearing suits, so there was less of a change in him. The lighting was not bothersome, and helped convey the mood, especially during the scenes where Franklin was talking to Gussie, such as during the musical number "The Blob". The only time that I did not like the lighting was when it shone straight at my face, and there were a couple of times when the show used that effect. Finally, there were a couple of scenes where the actors were smoking, and the smell of the smoke really filled the theater, something unpleasant for me.
The actors all did a pleasing job, with a highlight on the singing. The actor that really shined for me was Wayne Brady, who played Charlie Kringas. He sang with such passion, and he had some extra difficult scenes, with lots of ups and downs, that Brady delivered very well. I also really enjoyed Saycon Sengbloh's portray of Gussie. She used her voice to the fullest extent, and conveyed emotion strongly. I also liked Melody Butiu's character portrayal. She was part of the ensemble, and she also played a newspaper journalist and a radio reporter. Frank's character, played by Aaron Lazar, seemed a bit stiff at times, but otherwise the acting was well executed.
The show was fun to watch, kept me engaged for the most part, and was accompanied by a live orchestra playing that wonderful Sondheim music. I did not really like the technical side, some examples of this being Mary's costuming, the lights shining at the audience, and the occasional cigarette smoke. I did think that the acting was strong, and I liked the colored lights, which helped to convey the various moods. The play is not much unlike the main character, Frank -- a musical, rough-around-the-edges piece of showmanship, and I would recommend checking it out.
Merrily We Roll Along
By Anna Polin
Merrily We Roll Along is a production about three friends and the fading away of their friendship because of the consequences of their life choices and mistakes. What makes this musical exceptional is the form it is presented in. It begins in the 1970’s and ends around the 1950’s. In other words the story is going back in time.
This performance begins around the 1970’s with three friends all separate from each other. Frank, one of the friends is at a pool party with his friends and coworkers all drunk and weird. His new wife, Gussie a famous actress who thinks too well of herself is one of the main causes of his life turning around. The lighting during this scene seemed to be fine but the props and background didn’t let the audience know they were at a pool. It’s important to know is that during the beginning of the performance bad language was used as well as there was a lot of unruly behavior because the characters are drunk. This part isn’t suggested for young children.
I really liked when the performance was going back in time they would have big lights telling you what year it was. I found this very helpful since it was going back in time and it made it he a lot less confusing. The costumes in the show were great but some characters you couldn’t tell that they were getting younger because their wardrobe and hair didn’t change much. My favorite part of the show was probably the music and songs. The songs were very fast beat although they didn’t always go with the plot. The props were wonderful. I especially like that around the stage there were little dressing mirrors sending a message that your life is like a show. Except for the first scene I thought the setting was wonderful and loved al of the detail.
The only thing I think they should have added to the performance was one more scene. At the end they show the three friends meeting, but I think they should have added another scene of the friend back in the present remembering all of this and turning his life back around. This would be an important addition because this man, Frank chose fame over, his wife, child, and friends and I think it would be important to show other people that it is always possible to fix your mistakes. Overall the show was amazing although I wouldn’t recommend it for kids under 10 to watch without an adult. But I would definitely suggest young adults watch this show. It is a beautiful performance about real life things that could happen and that you should always count on your friends because friends are more important than fame.
Merrily We Roll Along
By Veronica McFarlane
“Merrily We Roll Along” is a show that brings hopes and dreams to life, and highlights the lesson of life’s consequences from our choices. A wonderfully fun surprise is that the story itself goes backwards starting with three friends’ whose journeys end at the beginning of the performance. As the story continues, Franklin Shepard, the main character, tries to figure out the moment when his friends start to vanish from his life. We are shown how decisions he made to achieve fame and success affected other areas of his life.
This musical almost seems like an every-day story, with everyday drama. But when the story is going backwards, the show really becomes unique and interesting. Frank, Charlie, and Mary are three friends, played by Aaron Lazar Wayne Brady and Donna Vivino. The audience follows their friendship throughout the story. Since it is going backwards in time, the characters and their chemistry become stronger and more loveable. As they got younger, we could see what unified them as friends. Their passion to create and perform was exciting and it was almost like we were part of their journey as we stood backstage with them. At the end, you finally get to see how they became friends and how their dreams started.
Personally, my favorite thing about this musical is the younger versions of the three friends. Between each scene, they would show memories through beautiful dances and even interact with their older selves. The dancing fit the theme of the musical, and projected friendship very well. The classic Steven Sondheim score told the story of three very creative friends who were not afraid to share their dreams, and the actors did a beautiful job portraying that feeling of being inspired and powerful.
The entire cast is on the stage throughout the whole play. There is a “backstage” visually set up facing the audience where the actors would make wardrobe changes in front of their lit mirrors or set props around the stage. Sometimes I would find this distracting, but then there were moments when the whole cast would watch the scene as it is played to the audience and their interaction brought focus to the story unfolding. This gave me an “All the World’s a Stage” feeling; one that reminds us that we are constantly being watched. The costumes were so authentic that I really did believe that I was going back in time, especially when we were taken back to the 1960s. The costumes of the three friends never really changed based on the time period, but they did look younger gradually as the years went by. It was really clear how far you were going back and where you were based on the costumes and the setting.
“Merrily We Roll Along” is a musical that inspires you to follow your dreams. It’s a great reminder to keep your friends close as well, for those friends help, inspire, and push us forward every day. “Merrily We Roll Along” taught me that even the littlest choices we make can change our future.
Merrily We Roll Along
By Chloe Clark
The musical, Merrily We Roll Along, directed by Michael Arden, is a complex musical that has a backwards structure in order to portray a theme which displays the role of true friends and how the consequences of their choices can lead in certain directions.
The play was different because it was performed backwards, to show the downfall of three friends even though they originally began their lives with promising futures and strong careers. The backwards structure can be very confusing to follow but the songs worked on varying levels to contribute to the content of the story. For example, in the first song, the lyrics included “how did you get to be here” and “time goes by”, which adds to the theme of the play.
The lighting on the stage was bright and the years were specifically highlighted with stage lights which were significant in helping the audience follow the backwards timeline, from 1976 to 1959. The rest of the stage was filled with many dressing rooms in the background where some of the actors waited. Although the background could distract from the focus of the play, having the open dressing rooms can portray another theme of how life is a stage and there is always an “audience” watching, which makes one aware of their mistakes and choices. The changing of sets in different scenes was smoothly transitioned with the addition or subtraction of a few props such as a plant or a sign. Although there was not a lot of choreography as a group, the dancing performed was smooth and in sync. There was also a group of three who occasionally danced and they had excellent technique that drew the audience across the stage with them.
The actors in general had really nice acting skills and emotions that were portrayed through their tone or body language. For example, when one of the characters, Gussie, left the house in the first scene, she closes the door and leans against it in hatred and sadness. The fact that the audience is still able to see this occur even after she leaves the scene is another significant aspect of the play. Although there were not a lot of props used, there is one significant role the door plays; it signifies the action of exiting and the end of a beginning. Although doors normally symbolize beginnings and opportunities, the door prop is used to contrast with this idea. One other significant prop was the use of mirrors, where one of the main characters, Frank, stands surrounded by three mirrors and looks at himself. This scene is insightful to the play because it provides a sense of not only literal reflection, but symbolic reflection as well. The mirror reflects consequences, both positive and negative.
Overall, the play had a unique concept because of the backwards arrangement. Although this can be confusing, by going from end to beginning, this displayed how the main characters roll along in a timeline filled with not so merry consequences.
Merrily We Roll Along
Review By Jack Grazer
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts Artist-in-Residence, Michael Arden, director of “Merrily We Roll Along” has done an excellent job bringing what used to be a total bomb of a play to becoming a spectacular miracle of a musical! Stephen Sondheim, one of the greatest composers in theatre history, continues to inspire audiences with his passion for musical storytelling in this show. Thanks to Tony Award winner and writer, George Furth for this story and a big Bravo! to director, Michael Arden for directing this relatable story of life and friendship: choices and trajectories, sometimes, best understood by looking backwards and finding the hilarious, inspiring, profound and bittersweet moments.
The history behind this musical isn't at all what anyone would think it would be. It was originally a play by Kaufman and Hart and it was considered to be a major flop by critics. Until Sondheim came across the play it was nothing but a bump in the long road of classic theatre. It was hard for many to understand the concept of life in reverse. It was very different from what people were used to in terms of plays.
The creative director, Michael Arden did an excellent job. The acting was a phenomenal experience that was a breathtaking ride through song and character embodiment. The elements of the script were perfectly portrayed by the actors on stage. The characters and how they evolved (or in this case “devolved”) was brilliantly touching, yet motivational. The relationships and friendships between the characters were organic in their evolution as we witness their life trajectories in reverse.
All was perfect with the cast synergy between Aaron Lazar, (Franklin Shepard), Emmy winner, Wayne Brady (Charley Kringas) and Donna Vivino (Mary Flynn) as longtime college friends having grown into adults. With such ultimate professional talent between them, the performances were seamless. Tony nominated actress, Saycon Sengbloh (Gussie Carnegie) was an epic showstopper with her heart-grasping voice and dynamite saucy attitude. Ovation award nominee, Amir Talai (Joe Josephson) was a hilarious, egotistical Broadway manager who always seemed to give the absolute worst advice in the most brilliant way and Whitney Bashor (Beth Spencer), with a gift from the angels of song, was an explosion of light, yet she knew how to cool things down when things would get too hot.
The stage lighting and the set design, with a glimpse backstage into the dressing room and the lighted dressing mirrors, was a brilliant invitation. With some of the backstage mystery removed, the audience gets a look into the real life of the characters the actors portray. For performers, and others, it’s a reminder of how the stage will always be where the drama of life unfolds. The music was a boon and definitely helped create the real moments of what it’s like for those who live a life in theatre.
Stephen Sondheim has left many of the world’s theatre critics and audience members in awe by the striking riffs and melodic refrains that his glorious music portrays. Michael Arden, did an astounding job directing the performance. The way the story “Merrily We Roll Along” plays among real life is exceptionally brilliant, especially in review. The audience can relate to the journey through life this musical presents and reminds us that sometimes in life, no matter what we’ve experienced, it may be in our best interest to learn how to merrily roll along…
Merrily We Roll Along
By Frederick Roman Minser
The Wallis Annenberg’s adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s musical, Merrily We Roll Along is a beautiful adventure through a person’s life. Unlike a typical play that moves in chronological order, Merrily We Roll Along is unique in its backwards story telling. Though the script tends to confuse some audiences with its flipped narrative, director Michael Arden has no issue making a compelling and true theatrical display. Using mirrors the actors have created an insane illusion that can only be described as magical. From the beginning the stage is set as a dressing room and if you pay close attention you can see cast members waiting on the side or getting ready for the next scene. Though this may be a clever way to keep the same set throughout the show it can be quite distracting to see people moving around in the background. The entire cast does an amazing job of portraying each character. Wayne Brady and Aaron Lazar both feel like real people who the audience can relate to. Through their friendship and arguments they truly carry the show.
The music numbers are phenomenal; the fantastic score by Stephen Sondheim makes this an outstanding performance. The play defiantly portrays growing up in a harsh way and will hopefully resonate with younger audience members and perhaps change their views on their future. By the end of this musical you can’t help but shed a tear for the boy so optimistic on what’s to come.
Merrily We Roll Along
By Reese Brucker
If I were to describe The Wallis Annenberg’s production of Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along in one word, it would be inspiring. The director, Michael Arden, pushes the envelope of theatre. Arden’s guiding philosophy for casting and staging this production, seems to have been “less is more.” Arden’s bold directorial choices made for a very effective piece of storytelling.
The entire cast did an excellent job of bringing the characters of Sondheim’s show to life, particularly the role of Charlie, played by Wayne Brady. Brady’s dedication and commitment to the role of Charlie was evident through his outstanding performance. Brady’s vibrant facial expressions, strong body language, and robust vocals showcased his storytelling capabilities. It was clear that Brady’s performance not only invigorated his cast mates, but it inspired the audience as well. Along with Brady, another standout performance would be Saycon Sengbloh portrayal of Gussie. With her powerful vocals and her fiery magnetism, Sengbloh actively propelled Sondheim’s story forward. It was her performance that convinced the audience we were truly going back in time. Her ability to convey the story through different moments in time was delightful to watch. Along with Wayne and Last, the entire cast as an ensemble did an excellent job of creating unity for the piece. It was unique because no actor ever left the stage. Each actor did an excellent job by telling the story, without detracting from the main plot points. The ensemble did an exceptional job with their vocals, choreography and their numerous set transitions.
In addition, the high caliber acting was accompanied with amazing technical aspects as well. Arden made a distinct artistic choice to have an abstract set, which was one of the most striking visual elements of the play. Arden chose to not have one piece of architecture stay on stage for the entire performance. The set pieces were moved very quickly, so nothing stayed in one place for a long period of time. The décor was in pieces and Arden left it to the audience to fill in the rest with their imagination. Perhaps this was because the main character, Charlie, was falling to pieces, so the play went back in time to piece together how he lost sight of himself. In addition to a minimalistic set, the use of lights and sound were very effective because they correlated with the set because they were abstract. The lights created a variety of rooms and many different atmospheres. The lights helped guide the audience’s attention to what was happening on stage, boldly and beautifully. The sound of the live orchestra also beautifully correlated with the abstract lighting and set design, making the production completely unified.
The Wallis Annenberg’s production of Merrily We Roll Along was electrifying and one-of-a-kind. With a brilliant cast, breathtaking technical effects and Arden’s artistic vision, the production beautifully encompassed what great theatre has to offer. It was more than just a performance; it was an experience.
Reflecting on the Past
Merrily We Roll Along
By Liza Freiberg
Michael Arden’s remount of the Stephen Sondheim musical Merrily We Roll Along, based on the play by Kaufman and Hart, captivated the entire audience, as each person was able to relate to the show’s themes of hope, love, and betrayal. In addition to the brilliant performers that guided everyone in the theater on their emotional journey back in time, the lighting and costume designers surpassed expectations with their own performance, which only enhanced the intent behind Arden’s direction.
Each retracting decade required a unique lighting scheme to set the stage for the time period, and Travis Hagenbuch provided the performance with just that. The warm colors throughout the first act characterized the vibrant 70s, while the cool greens and blues of the second act depicted the tone of war, presidential assassination, and the popularization of marijuana into an already rebellious 60s society.
Dane Laffrey’s costume design not only reflected the era, but it also added to each actor’s character, expressing distinctive personalities. Noticeable throughout the play is Laffrey’s dedication to detail, such as each performer’s hairstyle. She chose to give Gussie Carnegie, who played the seductive role of the main actor’s mistress, an afro to portray the wild style of the late 1970s, which gradually straightened to a sleek lob that signified the laid back vibes of the early 1960s.
Arden’s remake Merrily We Roll Along featured a stage cluttered with mirrors, which some spectators may argue a reflective distraction and a challenge thrown at the lighting crew. However, other onlookers interpret the mirrors as a meaningful prop, symbolizing Franklin Shepard’s – the main character – reflection on his past.
Including dance choreography and songs from Sondheim’s score, Arden’s Merrily We Roll Along is surely a triple threat that no one will forget. The diverse twenty-member cast flooded the stage with a pool of talent, embracing actors, singers, and dancers of all ages. Lead actors Aaron Lazar, Wayne Brady, and Donna Viving captured the exclusive bond of friendship, and also the sacrifices it entails. Brady especially stood out with his performance of “Franklin Shepard, Inc.” which required the memorization of fast paced, intricate hand movements, as well as abnormal sound effects. His flawless performance entertained the audience with an aspect of humor as well as anguish resulting from the corruption of success, leading to the loss of a deep-rooted friendship.
Zukerman Trio Critique
by Izabella Paz
The Zukerman Trio used the beautiful sounds of the violin, cello and piano to entice the audience and capture them in what was a beautiful evening at the theater. The works of Pinchas Zukerman, Amanda Forsyth, and Angela Cheng provided an amazing escape from the busy life of Los Angeles. The music itself was flawless and seemed to calm down the audience, however, the whole production itself including tech, staging, and transitioning was casual and provided no extra elegance to a night out to the theater. Sitting down, I was ready to see an extravagant production honoring these three amazing musicians; unfortunately that was not at all what was brought before the audience that night. Out walked Pinchas Zukerman and Amanda Forsyth and as the murmuring came to a stop they started to play. I was very confused as they didn’t speak or even acknowledge the fact that they had an audience in front of them. However, the beautiful sound of the strings quickly made me forget and I slowly became captured by the first piece; Prelude.
During the first 30 minutes, I was asking the same question, where is the third player of the trio I came to see. It seemed odd that they would start the show with just two players of the trio. Without any introductions whatsoever, the pieces continued and as Angela Cheng came on to complete this trio I was thoroughly enjoying myself. I do not recommend coming to see the show if you have a particular dislike for classical music as the production was all classical, as expected. I especially enjoyed Amanda Forsyth; her deep tones added a great depth to the music that I focused on. At some points in the night she nervously glanced at the audience, honestly, it felt weird to be acknowledged and I think she was a little confused on whether she could acknowledge her audience or not. Another distraction I found rather irritating was the man that came and helped Cheng with her music, such as flipping the pages. He kept smiling and bobbing his head to the music, this seemed very unprofessional. As the performance began to come to an end, the music became significantly dramatic; this was particularly enjoyable as I saw the gradual increase in speed.
The audience on October 30th, the night I attended, was aged from about 50 and up; again I do not recommend it for children. If you enjoy clearing your mind and becoming carried away with the shifts of bows then I would strongly recommend this production. Seeing the music go through the bodies of these musicians was enough to calm a busy bee instantly.
by Canyon Clark
Pinchas Zukerman connects with fellow musicians and audiences alike. Before the trio performed there was a Q&A session with Zukerman and Rachel Fine, The Wallis Annenberg managing director, that captivated the audience.
Zukerman is a pro at warming up the audience. He set the tone for the whole night with his amazing stories about his childhood and ideologies. Many musicians could stand to learn from Zukerman, relative to how he connects with his audience.
Additionally, it was obvious that Zukerman(violinist), Amanda Forsyth(cellist), and Angela Cheng(pianist) had a great bond with each other from the outset. Each one knew when the other would start, ritardando and end. The triad were so connected that the initial note of the concert came out of nowhere, which brought the audience into the performance.
There were no extravagant lighting or props. Neither were needed because the threesome captured the mood within their musicality. The venue, The Wallis Annenberg Center of Performing Arts has great acoustics for a performance of this sort.
Zukerman along with Forsyth and Cheng all brought world class talent to a classical performance. All three of the musicians were connected to each other and to the audience, which made longer movements seem shorter, thus leaving the audience wanting more.
by Julia Maisel-Berick
In Kyle Riabko’s solo show, Bacharach Reimagined, he explores and performs the classic songs of Burt Bacharach. One might not expect a twenty something man to be playing 1960’s pop songs, however Kyle Riabko is an exception. The Broadway performer created and acted in Close To You, a musical piece that featured his takes on Bacharach songs and has worked with the man himself. In Bacharach Reimagined, the audience not only gets to hear Riabko’s renditions of these songs, but you also get to learn about his relationship with both Burt Bacharach and his music.
Riabko wasted no time in starting the performance and immediately delved into his rendition of “Close To You”. From there he proceeded to play more of Bacharach greatest hits including “Don’t Make Me Over” and “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” Additionally, the concert features his unique medleys of Bacharch songs such as combination of “Look of Love,” “Say A Little Prayer,” and “Arthur’s Theme.”
Kyle Riabko brought a modern twist to these vintage tunes with his singing approach of breaking down the lyrics, allowing the audience to experience the songs in a new way. He accompanied himself solely with a guitar and the occasional back track. These songs had members of the crowd, whether they were previously fans of Bacharach or not, were tapping their feet and nodding along to the beat in this show.
by Chloe Clark
The Zukerman Trio stylistically played their set of classical songs through musical effects of layering volumes and rhythms, which effectively meshed together the violin, cello, and piano in a single harmonious sound.
The performance began with only the violin and cello. Although the songs in Gliere were not accompanied by the piano, the performance was still powerful in sound. In “Impromptu”, the musicians held out notes to complement each other’s sound and the violin maintained balance with the faster-paced cello. There was also volume differences that faded in and out, alternating from the loud violin to the quiet cello, which produced beautiful tones. The crescendo and decrescendo added to the varying moods in the songs. Although the music was beautifully played, there were numerous awkward changed between songs while changing sheet music. This slightly took away from the performance because it seemed choppy. At the start of Shostakovich, the piano player, Amanda Forsyth, joined the violist and cellist. The deep sound of the piano contrasted nicely with the lighter sound of the latter instruments. The trio changed the pace of songs by smoothing transitioning to staccato notes which made a more forceful sound combined. It was interesting to see how the musicians used their instruments differently. Not only did the violin and cello stoke with the bow, but they also plucked the strings. Plucking helped to build a pounding rhythm with the piano. The plucking method also produced volumes depending on if the plucking was harsh or subtle. With the use of the bow, the steady beats emerged from the bow tapping lightly on the strings. The musicians were in great unison, creating a simple musicality. In “Largo”, the song began with piano only, but the violin and cello caught on at different times which increased varying levels to the music. There was shifts in mood depending on if notes were played softer and slower. This was displayed when the violin and cello played slowly while the piano softly accented in the background. In the last set, Schubert, the songs presented dramatic sound which was due to the alternating playing from the strings and the piano. The precision of the violin and cello mimicked the decreasing volume of the piano. In “Scherzo”, it was effective how the piano played a simple melody in the background while the violin and cello played in the foreground. The different volumes also were utilized to highlight a particular instrument. The final song was very powerful because it ended with a ringing sound from all the instruments in unison along with the thunderous applause from the audience.
by Chloe Clark
The Harlem Quartet put on an amazing performance, incorporating different styles and moods with their strong technical abilities from many years of classical training. The style infused both classical and jazz music. Throughout the songs, the musicians produced varying levels and volumes through their instruments, from subdued and mellow, to strong and forceful. From these different levels, involved different moods like somber, vibrant, or intense. The performance created a good experience for the audience because of the different emotions created from the music. In the first song, Almendra, I especially enjoyed how the piano was the main highlight while the four other instruments played subtly in the background; the sounds complemented each other in harmony. The musicians produced wonderful rhythms and smooth transitions in and out of each solo. The musicians were very well rounded in their music education, for they utilized their instruments to its full capabilities. For example, the cello player played his instrument like a string bass by plucking the stings, while also using the bow. Also, the viola player emulates sounds of an alto sax, which is significant in adding a more stylistic sound to the music. Along with the musician’s technical abilities, they also were emotionally involved, putting so much passion in their performance. The passion was driven from the connection between the two brothers, Ilmar and Aldo. Because the brothers were separated due to political circumstances between the US and Cuba, the music truly serves as a powerful connection between the brothers. This emotional connection comes across through the music and felt in the audience as well. The musical performance overall illustrated a range of emotions and captured a state of mind- of love and intimacy. I was in awe and captivated with not only the music, but also how the musicians used the music to illustrate a theme.
For the Record: Scorcese American Crime Requiem
by Jack Grazer
The genius of Italian mob screenwriting, directing and film producing that brought you Casino, Goodfellas, Taxi Driver, The Departed, Mean Streets and of course the unforgettably vulgar and ruthless Wolf of Wall Street, Martin Scorsese, has been greatly honored by director, Anderson Davis for presenting the insanely energetic performance of For The Record: Scorsese American Crime Requiem at the Wallis Annenberg Center For The Performing Arts. The For The Record Company has definitely proven themselves worthy of interpreting these great films for the stage with this home-run hit of a production! Before the show even began 60’s mobsters and 50’s hit-men walked about while Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and other classic crooners of the era wafted from every corner of the thrust and all the way into the theatre. A fun moment at the beginning of the show was an actor’s improvisational interaction with an audience member seated at a table blending perfectly into the scene.
As the lights slowly dimmed over the Italian restaurant dressed arena, actors and actresses begin their “no turning back” journey onto the stage and into the stories of Scorsese. Mobsters and gangsters grab a seat at their well-known bar. The legendary scene from Goodfellas begins. After Frankie, the Joe Pesci character from Goodfellas played by, Jason Paige, reveals his impractical joke on the Ray Liotta character, they move, seamlessly, on with their powerful performance and transition into the different scenes.
For The Record: Scorsese totally portrays the hardcore and harsh reality of the mafia and what the money, sex, drugs and killings did to these characters. The music, song and dance provides a sort of happier and more soulful element that you wouldn't normally find in a drama-based production. But, in the majority of Martin Scorsese films, upbeat and joyful songs are usually played at times where dark or depressing things are happening. For instance the song Gimme Shelter by The Rolling Stones is used in many of Scorsese’s films such as: Casino, Goodfellas, Shine A Light and The Departed. The song Gimme Shelter is considered to be a feel-good song due it’s beat and rhythm. But it actually has a much deeper meaning that, fortunately, For The Record: Scorsese production utilized in a way that had a hymn like quality, summoning a need for redemption or safety for the characters.
The music was also a character in this production, acting as both narrator and as subconscious voices for the characters. It was church or the Superbowl for Scorsese fans and any fan of great musical theatre. Truly an event! As the multiple stories unfolded and the main themes running through each acted out with perfection, the audience was enveloped and immersed in the epic world of Scorsese. The voices from the actors, as these characters, were so energetic, vigorous and at times haunting. Such professional artistry and talent graced the stage that their passion was evident in every scene.
The choice of songs for this production was spot on. Martin Scorsese would be very proud. Songs like: House Of The Rising Sun, Well Well Well, Comfortably Numb, The Thrill Is Gone, Kissed Me, Sunshine of Your Love, My Way, Sweet Dreams and other classic songs that Scorsese has used in his films were performed by the cast with powerful and commanding presence. The lyrics in these songs were the voices of the wounded characters. The layered storytelling, combined through the acting and singing, brought a new depth to the already soulful stories.
The period representation from the actors in this performance was so authentic, yet stylized in their own theatrical interpretation that it really added on to the excitement of the show. The overall enthusiasm in the audience was palpable from the onset. Even the gunshots and the perfectly necessary swearing made it so much more lively and real. The gospel of Scorsese was alive throughout in the scripting, set design, lights, choreography and music.
Martin Scorsese, one the biggest and most popular storytellers in the crime-drama genre, has been awarded one of the greatest tributes ever imaginable in this production. The way the For The Record Company emulated and interpreted Scorsese’s work with a rock solid cast of outstanding talent, as actors and singers, and put it into, not only, a regular musical but more like a rock and roll cabaret show, dedicated to Mr. Scorsese and his indelible storytelling, was outstanding!!!
The American Revolution: history before your eyes
By Joey Maya Safchik and Judy Durkin
“History isn’t the whole story” chanted the actors in The American Revolution, Theatre Unspeakable’s remarkably relevant experimental theatre production. The one-act performance depicts the trials and tribulations that contributed to the emergence of the United States. While history is the foundation of this 50-minute theatrical spectacle, this is surely no 11th grade textbook-based lecture. People of all ages will find the performance endearing and educational.
With the energy of a polished and uniquely entertaining experimental high school theatre piece, the ensemble production merged physicality, vocalization, humor and… American history.
Performed almost entirely upon a rectangular wooden block, the seven actors transformed an intimate space into palaces and battlefields. The set is composed primarily of the actors’ bodies, clad in basic red Nike attire. The intricate direction by Marc Frost called for constant movement, showing off each performer’s flexibility (including an impressive long-lasting handstand from cast-member and former US National Champion gymnast Flora Bare) and athletic capability. The cohesiveness of the ensemble was a highlight of the production, and the cast’s chemistry was evident.
Each cast member played a crucial role, stepping into the shoes of dozens of founding fathers, influential Revolutionary women, soldiers and monarchs. An array of accents filled the intimate theatre. The devised script consisted of over-exaggerated Southern colloquialisms, to snobby British regaling of historical information, to appropriate modern anachronisms. With his brilliantly absurd British accent and flawless comedic timing, Thomas Wynne won the audience over with his rendition of the villainous King George. In her gender-bending performance as Governor Dinwiddie, Sarah Liken humorously embodied the prudent man, whose historical significance is not often discussed in classrooms.
Perhaps the most versatile performer was Rasell Holt, who played both general George Washington and his slave Billy Lee. Without much stage time as each character, Holt managed to take the audience on an emotional journey, providing a poignant contrast to the comedic production. In his speech as Billy Lee, he wonders why slaves were left out of Jefferson’s declaration that “all men are created equal.” This draws a connection to the Black Lives Matter movement of today, showing that, while America has come a long way from the Boston Tea Party, there is a great deal of work yet to be done.
Full of prime history-buff humor and extraordinarily accurate factual representations of our past, the play creates a welcoming environment for patrons to become in touch with their history.
United States History class periods at high schools are approximately one hour long. In that time interval, The American Revolution provides a stellar crash course on our nation’s birth.
The American Revolution by Maegan Fellner
The American Revolution cleverly combined pantomime and comedy to convey a crucial time period in the history of our country, bringing it to life for viewers young and old.
Each actor played a meaningful role in the story. The performers were clearly skilled in mime, and yet it took a few scenes for me to understand the symbolisms of their movements. Overall, the fast pace of the performance kept it going, and the witty humor locked me in.
The idea of portraying a key chunk of our history on such a small platform was ambitious, and pulled off well.
Although I felt as though all of the actors played integral parts in the production, I especially admired Thomas Wynne’s depictions of King George because of his overall acting style. He played a part that was goofy, yet really sold that without it being cloying.
I liked how the lighting was used to highlight the main character in the scene or convey an important mood. I feel that Rachel K. Levy, lighting designer, helped the story along greatly. I noticed a lack of music, which was a choice on the direction side of things, and I feel as though a couple of tunes could have added to the performance.
In my opinion, the actors used their facial expressions and improvisational flair to richly portray this interesting time in our history, not only within 50 minutes, but with a smile.
The American Revolution by Veronica McFarlane
“The American Revolution”, a show by Theatre Unspeakable at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, is a creative and a “fun for the whole family” show; I never thought I would see a reenactment of the American Revolution on a 21 square foot raised box. It’s a family friendly educational show and based on the laughter from the children in the audience, myself included, I would say it was definitely entertaining. I was expecting more of a dramatic play about war, but I was pleasantly surprised with the way the actors told these historical events in a new and fun way.
Each historical figure that the actors represented had its own animated character, and it made the show so fun, especially Thomas Wynne’s character, King George. It took two people to make that character, a careless king who just swims all day and is apparently really flexible. It was also easy to tell who was who, since some of the actors played different roles, like Rasell Holt, who played George Washington. But he was also a slave who wanted to be freed. That was a very powerful scene, because it showed both of his characters talking to each other, but as completely different people; a man who had freedom and a man who didn’t. As that scene was going on, you also had the whole cast moving around and lighting to highlight different things to create different settings and separate the two. So each person was useful, not one of them came off the stage. There was also singing and music added into the show as well. Some of it was just fun and random, they even managed to add “The Addams Family” theme song and finger snaps! Most of the singing added made the war scenes at the end of the play very powerful and inspiring in a way. The show itself wasn’t long, only 50 minutes, which kept the story going and kept the audience so entranced that we didn’t even notice there wasn’t an intermission.
All the actors worked great as a team, and you could really tell they were all having fun with each other. All cracking jokes and being sassy at times; which you wouldn’t expect in this play. They all worked hard to create the setting with their own bodies, and the sounds with their own mouths. One scene that really stood out to me was when George Washington crossed the Delaware River. Everyone was used as masts, rows, flags, and it included George Washington’s famous pose. I kept thinking that the actors must really trust each other, because if only one person was off then they would all fall since they were balanced on each other’s bodies so carefully.
I was able to meet some of the cast members after the show and they were very kind and eager to talk about their production and told me how they all have studied the teachings of Jacques Lecoq. The theater program has a great article with the Director, Marc Frost that explains this type of acting as “a living comic book” - the audience can imagine easily since it is performed on a raised 3x7 platform which actually does look like a comic book frame from the audience point of view. Marc Frost, is also a student of Lecoq and studied at the London International School for Performing Arts which is an off-shoot of the Jacques Lecoq school in Paris. He started this team, Theatre Unspeakable, in Chicago about six years ago. I am so glad I got to experience this type of production, it is so unique and I have never seen anything like it. Most of the audience I am sure will not get a chance to go to Paris or Chicago, so we are fortunate that they came to us!
Through the actor’s constant motion, great accents and intense characterization - the American Revolution was truly brought to life. Overall, this show actually taught me a lot about our founding fathers and their struggle to claim America. But I never knew I would laugh while learning about it.
While The American Revolution by Theater Unspeakable promises to “recreate the entire American fight for independence from Lexington to Yorktown” it only succeeds in a sloppy, partial tale, and misses huge chunks of the story. Theater Unspeakable’s execution was sloppy, confusing, random, and did not proudly depict the most important war in american history.
The American Revolution did have good production quality(lighting and, sound effects) but the actual context of the show lacked in many ways. One of the most noticeable ways it under-delivered was costume design. While the photos in the playbill promise well produced, custom costumes, that look to contain actual thought, in the actual production the actors wear nothing more than red Nike leggings and t-shirts. Although I understand the space they are acting on is small (only 21 square feet) and the costumes must be fitted and take up little space, another option like unitards or even decorated leggings and shirts would have made the production look a lot more professional, and the costumes less of a distraction. As the actors attempt to show different historical time periods, the silver flashing Nike sign is completely distracting, and breaks the historical atmosphere the actors aim to create. As the actors sing about the Declaration of Independence all one can think is, “You need to declare independence from those so-called costumes”.
Another way the production lacked was content. While the idea of condensing American history into less than an hour sounds like a good one, this production proved wrong. Had the idea been executed well and successfully, viewers would have thoroughly enjoyed it, but the missing chunks of history, and absence of prominent historical characters was hard to overlook. The American Revolution did condense some history into 50 minutes, but the historical events included were not thoroughly explained and large parts of history were missing, which resulted in a confusing production that left one questioning each sentence spoken. While they did successfully include the signing of the declaration of independence, there was no mention of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, or Thomas Jefferson, but there was plenty to say about Mrs. Martha Washington. Mrs. Washington was an amazing woman no doubt, but she didn’t have a big influence on American independence, which made me wonder why she needed to be such a prominent character. In conclusion, the parts of history included were left unfinished, and lacked detail, and there were many big parts of history completely missing.
Overall The American Revolution left out major sections of history, and the parts of history included were not thoroughly explained. The production also lacked in costume design, and quality. I would not recommend this show to people with little knowledge of American history, to young children, or people with little extra money. Young children and people with limited American historical knowledge will be confused and underwhelmed by this production, and will leave the theater confused and unsatisfied.