From Reviews

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[Review] Head Over Heels for Fiddler On the Roof (Hickman High School)

This is a special time of year; I daresay my favorite. It seems that all roads lead home in the dynamic few weeks before Christmas. The sheer number of music events occurring in my hometown is nothing to scoff at (nothing at which to scoff? Damn all the propositions). The city is alive and pulsating with art; an undeniable electricity illuminates the hearts and minds of men and women in an annual year-end cultural crescendo that will culminate on December 31st and extinguish before we are ready. Yes, this time of year, I’m proud to call Columbia, Missouri my home.

This weekend’s to-do was the classic Fiddler on the Roof, presented by Hickman High School and directed by Sarah Gerling, Robin Beach Steinahus, Denis Swope, and Vicki Palmer. It’s been nearly thirteen years since I last saw this show, which takes some time commitment as an audience member (nearly 3.5 hours?!). It was a long one, folks, but the time was not ill-spent, not in the least bit. In fact, it was only last weekend that I experienced a sort of personal renaissance at Battle High School’s production of Cinderella, during which my sense of purpose as an audience member underwent a rapid revitalization, and I remembered how fulfilling and awesome it is to simply consume art without any unreasonable expectations, reservations, or inhibitions.

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I attended Friday evening’s run and the house was packed. Rumor has it nearly 800 people attended.* That’s some serious seat-age. I attempted like mad to resist the baked goods (UK folk – read again – baked goods) hawked at intermission, but I could imagine the Music Boosters were a teensy bit panicked at the prospect of five hundred unexpected guests. I hope they did well, and my apologies for the lack of purchase – I had to save my calories for my nightcap, which I so desperately needed after that notoriously haunting, almost chilling ending. For some reason, I don’t remember it concluding that way. Age and perspective do funny things to the soul.

My disclosures: I have private students involved, some current and others former. Like anyone, I can only wish I had been endorsed with tickets, drinks, or promises of fame and fortune to attend the show. Alas, like everyone else, I sat with my knees jammed up against the seat in front of me. Note to self: don’t wear high-heeled boots at the Hickman High School auditorium. Also, find an unsullied corner where my personal-space bubble can remain intact (I realize this statement does not bode well for my future, seeing as I’m only 28 and already a grouch face about personal space).

An outline of the evening’s memorable features:

  • The unwavering Tevye, played by Will Fandek, who managed to intelligently balance the character’s archetypal gruffness with comedy and zeal. In the most heartbreaking of scenes, Tevya furiously disowns his daughter Chava after she elopes with her lover. I was nearly moved to tears at the discontent of it all and how beautifully Fandek, a high schooler, managed to bring to his role the wisdom of a Jewish father hell-bent on tradition and set on his ways. Lovely work, Will. Also, props for the beard (which looked real – was it?). That’s a lot of hair for one person.
  • The adorable interchange between Tevye and Golde (Myriah Araiza) in “Do You Love Me?” Barring any fluky assumptions, I’d say their situation is not easy for mid-missouri teens to relate to, yet Araiza and Fandek pulled it off, and charmingly so. The interchange was sweet enough to make me elbow my date beside me, and believable enough that for a long moment after the scene, I pondered the implications of arranged marriages less than a hundred years ago by people like my great-great grandparents, and found myself grateful for my personal freedoms and thankful for the decisions of my ancestors.
  • The character of Sasha, played by Mikey Mossine, whose infallible pirouettes caught my eye. This one appears to be a triple threat, with dance tied for vocals. To Columbia: it might be time to consider doing Billy Elliot. Any takers? Food for thought.
  • An impressive vocal performance by Josh Friedrich, who played Perchik. Fantastic vowels, technic, and diction throughout. Mistake me not, Josh: you appear to be a SATIT. Super-Awesome-Tenor-In-Training. Super awesome tenors are in short supply; if you don’t neglect the training, I have no doubt you will have loads of fantastic theatric opportunities in store for you.
  • My one rampantly-biased note is for Sophia Casto, who played the endearing oldest daughter, Tzeitel. During the scene in which Motel defends himself to Tevye, proving his love for Tzeitel, there is a moment where you are frozen in time while Tevye contemplates the situation. My friend next to me fawned over your beaming face, and even from far in the back, I couldn’t draw my eyes away from your character, which was captivating and believable.
  • The two little girls Shprintze (Deanndra Zellmer) and Bielke (Olivia Aufderheide – greetings from your older sister’s former voice teacher!) What a nice opportunity to include developing thespians! These two were thick as thieves and wore their hearts on their sleeves. Keep up the good work, little ladies!
  • The fiddler (Wenzer Qin), whose clean violin technique was rivaled only by her quiet demeanor and peculiar Mona Lisa half-smile, both of which sweetly fit the role.
  • Charlee Kimmins, who played Yente: your hilarity was a ray of sunshine in a painfully bittersweet show. You reminded me just a little of Grandma Yetta from The Nanny, minus the alzheimer’s. Or maybe it’s just the name…

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    upside down fiddle…world turned upside down…I GET IT!

    this is glorious. The faint cubism effect and upside-down instrument poignantly represent the prevalent theme of fractured traditions. The fraying at the edge? Smart. Really clever. Did this come with the performance materials, or was this done locally?

  • Tech-y stuff: I immediately noticed how well-balanced the microphones were, especially during “Matchmaker.” This is not an easy thing to do. I’m sure critical ears in the audience were grateful for the balance, too. The lighting bows at the end were spot-on and totally appropriate, too. Very nice attention to detail. In fact, I’m considering making T-shirts that say “thank a tech director.” I’ll fed-ex you yours.
  • Last but not least, the jaw-dropping, freakish nightmare sequence, featuring a positively sinister Colleen Cutts as Fruma Sarah. I had to do a double audio-take; for a second, I had to make sure I wasn’t listening to a former voice student of mine, whose timbre is unmistakable. A quick glance at the program confirmed my suspicions: I suppose twins must share a certain amount of vocal gene traits (hello from your sister’s former voice teacher! A theme for this post…). You could have knocked me over with a feather, partially because the concept of “no fly space” made for a scene straight out of A Christmas Carol (Ghost of Christmas Fruma, anyone?). From what I heard, this scene became an actual nightmare on Saturday evening, when Cutts plummeted several feet from her monstrous stilts.** Yowzas! Good juju for a speedy recovery, Colleen. Glad you are okay. Way to suffer for your art!


To the rest of the cast, chorus, orchestra, and crew: I’d name you all by name, but then I’d have to kill you. Instead, know that I’ve scrutinized the program, and wish it had been in my power to get this little morale boost out before your last show. Better late than never, I suppose. Thank you all for the truly lovely performance (and sorry, Colleen… I know the possibility of falling to your death is not lovely…)



*Edited 11/24 to reflect accurate numbers
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[Review] BHS’s Cinderella Success!

In my last post, I offered some scintillating commentary on this weekend’s bevy of local scheduled performances, one of which was the musical Curtains at Rock Bridge High School. I so wished I could teleport among all of my friends’ and colleagues’ creative endeavors these last few days. The Musician’s Teleportation Device: patent pending…

I paid my third and final visit to Battle High School, where the Vocal Arts program presented the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Cinderella. Like in all my other reviews, I haven’t been endorsed (not even in stiff drinks) for penning my thoughts. However, in this particular instance, I am probably wildly biased, in part because the leading lady is currently my private voice student, and also because the director is a long-time friend and musical comrade of mine. Consider yourself disclosed.

Battle High School appears to have the most monolithic of stages in all of Columbia, Missouri. This was my first event in the performing arts center, and I managed to ward off a slight sense of vertigo enough to appreciate that the room was controlled for temperature and sound. Some of the side sections were diligently marked off, no doubt to ensure an optimal acoustic experience. Some audience members chose to ignore this. Oh well. Can’t save them all.

Cinderella, played by the up-and-comer soprano Catera Combs: I noticed you managed to maintain your composure 100% in the initial market scene, despite the fact that your shoe had managed to escape your foot. Since it wasn’t the whole “lose your glass slipper” scene just yet, I can only assume that wasn’t supposed to happen. If anything, your shoe’s jailbreak made your character more believable and endearing. If it was intentional, nice job on the foreshadowing (ha). In this scene, I was fascinated with the engagement of every actor; there was a lot to look at, and every time my eyes scanned the stage, I was drawn to each character’s (highly believable) story. The slow-motion blocking lent itself well to the action, too.

The chemistry between the stepsisters (Elise Hardesty and Montiera Ferrell-Nelson) and stepmother (Alia Stepney) was choice. There was never an awkward interaction or ill-timed moment; the hilarity of their dialogue really helped carry the show. I didn’t quite know what to expect of the character of the Fairy Godmother, played by Haley Mullen, but her zany eccentricity worked, especially in the transition between “Impossible” and “the Transformation.” The entertaining rapport between Queen Constantina (Ariel Walker) and King Maximillian (Tyler McCutchen) was engaging, as well. Three cheers for excellent casting decisions! Although, in typing this paragraph, I noticed Maximillian’s character was misspelled in the program, and there were a few other typos, too…nothing to lose sleep over (over which to lose sleep?), but noticeable, regardless.

Here were the highlights of the evening:

  • “Stepsister’s Lament.” Nothing like a solid kick-line to elicit applause in the middle of a song! Also, way to utilize the many wardrobe-related talents of your ensemble. Here’s the note I made about that:
don't mind the smudge: Dexter the Dachshund decided to play Lord of the Dance all over the playbill.
don’t mind the smudge: Dexter the Dachshund decided to play Lord of the Dance all over the playbill.

Pretty much.

  • The set: I wondered how a stage of colossal proportions could possibly be entirely utilized, yet it was, and spectacularly so. Also, those abstract clocks in the background (so perfectly sized and artistically proportioned across the stage, I might add) were vaguely reminiscent of Salvador Dali and helped reinforce the fairytale setting, which I felt most strongly during the hazy-beautiful “Do I Love You.” That is some glorious songwriting.
  • The silhouette scene / Finding Cinderella (that’s not really the scene title, I just made that up). Creative! And a unique way to use your dancers.
  • Two special individuals (one of whose name I’m only 90% sure about) stole my heart with their magnificent ballroom dancing. Such poise! They were positioned subtly enough not to pull focus from the scene, but the ballroom dancer in me was praising their frame, hand positions, and turns. That was a really excellent addition to the scene.
  • The attention to detail throughout: the whimsical head-shakes and hoof-pawing of the horses, the perfectly-symmetrical, gargantuan chandeliers (the biggest one was in the middle…well done), the Lion King / Michael Jackson reference (that had Jazz Rucker written all over it), the thoughtful ballroom-scene choreography (dancers paired by height). It all was positively eye-candy and pleasing.

To the cast and the general public: I’m sorry that I didn’t get a chance to post this with enough time to plug the last remaining matinee. Life intervened. Excuses, excuses. Still, though, I thought it necessary to sing your praises…

The truths of what I’m about to say will probably ring undeniably cliche, but the older I get and the more performances, musicals, and shows I attend, the more I come to appreciate the privilege of consuming art. Mandatory recital attendance in college used to be ridiculously burdensome, so much so that for almost six months after I graduated, I barely went to anything in an attempt to recover from what I only now understand to be an undeniable, extraordinary component of musicianship. It’s an intense honor to be an audience member whose only obligation is to let loose their reservations, to listen unconditionally, to devour and relish what has been created for you. Perhaps I’ve grown closer to the experience because over the years, I so rarely find myself in the situation of simply attending an event without having some part in its organization, preparation, or execution. Maybe having my very students, friends, colleagues, and teachers doing the creating is what has made concert-going more personal and near to my heart. Or maybe it’s because I’m intimately familiar with the musical trials and tribulations of the girl who played Cinderella. Either way, attending this particular show, I felt the inner stirring of something I hadn’t felt in a long time. Thank you to the cast, orchestra, and crew of Cinderella for proving that there really is Music In Me. 

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[Review] Curtains! @Rock Bridge High School

Other than the notorious and dreaded second weekend in December, this might be the busiest weekend for performances here in my hometown. Two of the three local high schools have their musicals, the opera company at a local university has their fall scenes program, and my kiddos have their studio recital, among other things. I’m riding the Pick-n-Choose Struggle Bus, and finally settled on a weekend schedule that wouldn’t leave me maimed and ruined for concert-going.

Up first on the docket was Rock Bridge High School’s production of Curtains, directed by Mike Pierson and Tammy Walker, a dynamic duo with a long history of collaborative work.

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By the end of the show, this is what my program looked like:

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That’s a lot of writing. I couldn’t help it. I was the strange audience bird attempting to “feel-write” words in my program without the aid of a cell phone light in an attempt to not be that person (which made for some interesting scholarly deciphering early this morning). The thoughts kept coming at me like a hostile alien attack, though the comments were far from negative.

I loved that the pit had their own mini-processional at the start of the show. I can’t remember a time when I’ve actually seen that done locally, but their parade set an exciting, anticipatory tone, indirectly silencing the masses and drawing attention to the lost art of the overture. Otherwise, I may not have heard the fantastic keyboard stylings of a sir Anthony Hernandez, whose run this weekend completes his eighty-bajillionth musical accompanying gig this year (maybe his 9th or 10th? either way…). Way to carve your niche, kind sir. You are in demand and that’s how DIY musicianship is done.

In terms of productions, this musical is no easy feat. I didn’t count the set or costume changes, but there were a lot. Here is what I wrote about that:

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Yes, even I write in internet-speak (to myself). But there really were a lot of sets. Many of which may have only been used for ten minutes, max, like the set for “He Did It,” which was oddly reminiscent of “The Telephone Hour” from Bye-Bye-Birdie. I had to laugh at the absurdity of seeing a giant boat and 6+ mermaid costumes during the complete “In the Same Boat” at the end. Way to accept that challenge and not cut that out of the show, which I imagine is done a lot for logistical reasons (as in, who has a giant boat lying around? Not many…).

There’s also something to be said for the overall musical choice, which offered a variety of speaking, singing, and small-group opportunities for students to shine, not to mention a considerable amount of stage time for the chorus. I wish my directors had made selections like this when I was in high school. Be grateful, students! Seriously. Having spent my three high school musicals in the chorus for Singin’ in the Rain, Finian’s Rainbow, and The Wizard of Oz (all of which are strangely male-centric, cast-wise), that will be my only lecture-y comment.

This musical is classy and somewhat adult, and so is not easy to pull off with a younger cast, but everyone passed with flying colors. Most notable were the vocal stylings of Madi Mertz, who played Carmen Bernstein. Mertz’s sound is mature beyond her years (without being contrived or forced), and this was most apparent in “It’s a Business.” I spent half the song in awe of her well-formed vocal technique, and the other half sympathizing with the ridiculously low range (what are those, F’s? E’s?)  I’m not sure any other high school singer could pull that off the way Mertz did. You’re going places, little lady.

It wouldn’t be a COMO musical without a high-kick from Leslie Walker, who played Georgia Hendricks, and who moves across the stage with the grace of a well-trained dancer. I frequently found my eye drawn to Walker because of how at ease she appeared throughout the show, even when she was standing still (a deceptively difficult thing to do as a performer). That type of bodily comfort does not come naturally to many, and I saw a similar ease in Brice Lafond (who played Frank Cioffi) and Andrea Walker, who portrayed the adorable Bambi Bernet.

I enjoyed the remarkable pairing of Niki (Evann Twichell) and Lafond, whose chemistry was so unmistakably Fred and Ginger that I found myself smiling nonstop during “A Tough Act to Follow,” which, with its classic choreography and costumes, really was a tough act to follow. Beautiful work by all, especially costumes and hair, which were detailed to a “T” by the stylish Victoria Mongillo. Your work does not go unappreciated. Neither does the creative lighting, I might point out. Real clouds! Not questionable clouds. Good work.

I have to say that the unexpected highlight of my evening was hearing Sean Garfias sing “I Miss the Music.” What a perfect casting decision. Garfias’s beautiful tenor quality was so undeniably fitting for this piece, that I found myself sitting forward in my seat and nodding along at every clean vowel, cutoff, and articulation, as if to telepathically reach Pierson from within the audience to agree vehemently. This piece was heartbreakingly bittersweet, and the stranger next to me actually gave a standing ovation after the song. I couldn’t disagree with her sentiment.

Finally, I can’t wrap up without commenting on the witty elocution of Cole Walker, whose comedic timing truly served as a sort of theatrical glue, cohering the scenes into a smooth, hilarious work of art. That role, the part of Christopher Belling, really couldn’t have been better, especially if Cole had stood any taller than he does in his current frame. 🙂

I have more indecipherable scrawlings, but 1000 words is my limit. To everyone in the cast, crew and pit: I do try to name everyone by name in these sorts of things, but the complexity of the forces involved are limiting me in this case (and that’s awesome). I do this sort of thing because it’s important to build up other musicians, actors, and artists, and to point out that a production really is the sum of its collective parts. Without every single one of you, the show would not have been possible, and the individual time and talents that each of you contributed to this work do not go unnoticed. Really, after all is said and done, you are all, in fact, show people.

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The Blue Moon of Blogs: [Review] A+ For Avenue Q!

Once again, a big apologetic shout-out to the non-locals. The artistic community here in mid-Missouri has a direct siphon from my bank account, it seems. There’s just so much damn talent that I have to debrief yet again. This officially marks a new PR for the number of blogs in one day: TWO. I figured the sooner I get this out, the better, because there’s only three more opportunities for the community to catch this, and trust me, you’ll be sad you missed the rollicking racism aria

This review’s disclaimer is brought to you by the Bank of Robin Anderson. Account confirms (unfortunately) that actual money was paid for a ticket, and that no bribery, extortion, or false promises of fame and fortune occurred in the making of this post. So there.

This time, it was the musical Avenue Q, whose local run was put on by Columbia Entertainment Company, a community organization that is older than Father Time. The bathroom walls of the recently-paid-off establishment are plastered with neatly-framed photos from past productions. It’s only my tenth year in this ol’ town, which is just long enough to be caught off guard by some striking shots of my fairly-immediate network of friends and musicians…while washing my hands. Some of those pictures, like their subjects, are aging quite well.

The musical is that one show with all the puppets, which was a unique idea at the time of conception (c. 2003). Having never actually seen the musical until this week (yet ironically taught “Fine Fine Line” to multiple college and high-school voice students), I scrunched my eyebrows at the thought of puppet musical that wasn’t Sesame Street. And yet it really is cleverly done. The residents of Avenue Q are an archetypal mishmosh of characters, some played by puppets and others by humans. There’s Kate Monster, the kind-hearted kindergarten assistant, and Princeton (nice name – ingenious, really), the recent college grad who pursues employment in the big city and is fired before he even starts. Among their neighbors are the couple Brian and Christmas Eve, the hilarious token asian whose accent left me with a stitch in my side (it’s surely no coincidence her stage husband’s name has a “R” in it). Then there’s roommates Rod and Nicky, the former of which grapples with his sexuality, and the latter of whom is OK with his roommate’s GaynessA myriad of other characters – Lucy the Slut, the Trekkie Monster, the Bad News Bears, and even Gary Coleman (LOLZ) neatly round out the cast. The whole show is a tongue in cheek parody of life in the mid-20’s, and is fairly reminiscent of South-Park, whose R-rated yet ingenious musical adaptations have gained critical success (or is that just in my book?). This show is marginally cleaner than South Park, save for a very riveting puppet sex scene (I totally caught the “69” detail on the front door…coincidence? I hope not), and let me tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve witnessed that.

technically I took this before the obligatory "ban on photography" announcement. Also, go Mizzou, apparently. Thanks, guy in the front.
technically I took this before the obligatory “ban on photography” announcement. Also, go Mizzou, apparently. Thanks, guy in the front.

I actually volunteered to house-manage last Friday, during the second week of the run. Like an idiot, I somehow walked away without a program to reference or photograph. That’s what I get for recycling. That’s okay, though, because I decided it was worth seeing again and even dragged my recluse husband along and proved his existence to my friends. I’m glad I did, because the cast members seem to have really hit their stride, and there was a considerably higher amount of energy this week. That’s natural in any multi-week run, though.

First off and on a somewhat unrelated note, I have to say KUDOS to these glorious testaments to graphic design:

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CEC, thank you for jumping on the Bandwagon of 21st Century Programs. These little things were quality. I’m no designer, but I appreciate a good color palate and a font choice that isn’t comic sans. They were clean, attractive, and versatile. I’m assuming Celeste Creative was responsible for that, and if so, HOLLA (also, I’m pretty sure I had Celeste’s son in my middle-school choir a few years ago. I am officially a townie).

Here were some of my favorite moments:

Item No. 1: Master Puppeteer Skillz. The ability of actors, poets, and musicians to personify inanimate objects will never cease to amaze me. Of course, by inanimate objects, I clearly mean singing cardboard boxes. Seriously, though, there was a magical connection between these actors and their puppets. I was continually entranced; when Kate Monster nervously brushed her “hair” aside (Michele Curry, you were hands-down the most fascinating to watch), when Lucy the Slut seemed to pop her nonexistent hip, and Trekkie Monster – thanks for that engrossing mastabatory gesture during “The Internet Is For Porn.” Caught me totally off guard, and that’s show biz. Bravo.

In fact, Trekkie Monster, played by Mitch Thompson – you brought me to Jesus. And by that, I mean I’m not sure I’ve ever really enjoyed a character (or a character’s voice) as much as I did in this show. It was almost religious, which is the only way to describe that feeling where you are so engrossed in what you are watching or listening to that you are completely removed from reality. Also, I’m sure the fabulous Sarah Neely Culp (music director) covered this, but do take care to rehab your gut-busting, comical voice when all this is over. Gut-busting, yes, but more like throat-busting. Mechanically, you have to manipulate your larynx in some really unhealthy ways to do what your character’s voice did. Worth it, though. 

Speaking of voices – I really loved how everyone rocked their speaking/singing styles, no doubt coached by the wonderful Sarah Culp, who is certainly making a name for herself in the mid-MO music theater community. Kyle Kuypers, who played Rod, delivered his singing lines fabulously, as did Taylor Yazel, whose Nicky voice contained the perfect amount of Kermit the Frog. To Rachel Davis, who expertly pulled off the character of Gary Coleman: Aretha Franklin should want to be you. Don’t forget that and keep getting at it, mmkay? In fact, NONE of the things I heard in the show are easy to execute vocally, so PROPS to everyone for sticking with it. I’m going to reiterate for you all what I’m SURE your music director has already tattooed on your forehead: a billion percent diction is still probably going to be just shy of enough. You’re welcome, Sarah.

Speaking of music, a shout out (which my computer just tried to autocorrect to shootout, which would have made me really sad) is in order for the pit, led by the infallible Alex Kirby, who also seems to have carved out his musical theater niche in recent years. I heard some really lovely stuff, and I don’t even mean that facetiously. Enola White and Scott Pummill are apparently dominating the woodwind sections of all the pits in the history of pits. I know for a fact this is at least their third show this year. Way to keep musicing. Your efforts do not go unnoticed.

Although, they almost did, because it seems CEC has caved to the atrocious new trend of banishing the live music to the netherworlds. At least you’re not being piped in from a separate location…yet. I seemed to hear the pit better from the center of the house than I did the first time, when I was perched near the back, stage left, by the lightbox. I’m sure it is a logistic dream come true for the crew and everyone else, but the trained musicians in the audience are shaking their heads and dying a little at at every cutoff, entrance, and vamp that is just slightly off because of the physical distance. It really is a shame.

Despite this, the level of With-It-Ness this production had was really astounding, which has to be because the director, Kate Musgrove, has a mile-long list of credentials, including a PhD in directing…whaaattt?! Columbia grovels at your feet thanks you. I thank you. My past experiences with far-from-amazing directors, like a bad breakup, have left me jaded for anything less than stellar direction. The director makes or breaks it all, really. I know I’m just a someone, but it was seriously gratifying to see this level of professionalism brought to CEC, whose shows can really be a hit or miss. This one was, without a doubt, a hit.

A HIT. Is what you’re going to receive from me if YOU (yes, you) don’t get your tush to the last three runs of this remarkable musical! Your opportunities await. You won’t regret it!

If you missed my last community review on 13! The Musical, do check it out. I eagerly await my next chance to build people up…or rip them to shreds. MUAhahaha.

Until next time.

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[Review] 13! The Musical….COMO Style

First off, let me apologize to all my non-local readers. A brief explanation: COMO is cool-people abbreviation for Columbia, Missouri (MO), where I live. I just have to take a moment to debrief here. I went to go see a local production of 13! The Musical last Monday, of all nights. The performance was an encore run to a successful end-of–summer stint, which proved popular enough to re-run several weeks later, and even included some daytime showings for local middle schools. The production was a result of a partnership between Columbia Public Schools and Columbia College (where I teach voice), titled “Summer Arts Intensive,” and rightfully so. Last summer, a bunch of local high-schoolers worked their collective BEhinds off singing, dancing, and blocking, often for 4+ hours a day.

The phenomenal local talent were led by an equally awesome team, including Nollie Moore (director/producer), Tammy Walker (choreographer), and James Melton (music director), not to mention a comparatively stellar crew and pit.


Beautiful graphic design, I might add.
nifty graphics, I might add. Sorry my iPhone couldn’t do this justice.

The story focuses on the lives of several fresh-faced teenagers; their trials and tribulations, relationships, successes, and woes. The music and script intertwine perfectly, weaving comedic quips with tender truths, some nostalgic, others more bittersweet and somewhat painful. I found myself recalling my own delicate tween years;  all those awkward group movie dates, weird little crushes, and understanding how to maneuver The Rumor Mill, in its horrid glory. All of that seemed so important to me back then, and having actual teenagers play the roles was an interesting juxtaposition to the fact that they themselves probably only very recently experienced (or are likely continuing to navigate) similarly tricky/awful situations. Middle school sucked, and high school sucked a little less (or more, depending on how you look at it), and the whole musical was a fresh reminder that the students I deal with on a weekly basis are still in the trenches. Just hold out, kids. It really does get better. If it doesn’t, you have my permission to show up at my door in the middle of the night with a flaming bag of poop.

Before you get all weird about this, reader, I was NOT paid, or even given a comp ticket to this show. I bought a ticket like everyone else. My opinion may be a teensy bit biased because I’m semi-woven into the network of involved parties, so take from that what you will.

Here were some TOP MOMENTS from the audience POV:
(Yes, most of these are music-related, but guess what: I’m a music teacher, so that’s what I’m going to focus on…unlike another nameless community figure who “reviews” local plays and musicals, but really has no training whatsoever on how to critique a show, and whom I have on good authority has actually fallen asleep in the audience)

The main character, played by Cole Walker, consistently and magically navigated an ungodly vocal range. It’s not Jason Robert Brown if someone isn’t straining their voice to accommodate some ridiculous notes on each end of the spectrum. I often wonder if Brown ever actually tries to sing his own stuff before hitting “submit,” or if he really is some untouchable Tenor God that can sing every note he writes. When I described this anomaly to a friend, I dubbed Walker’s role as “Tenor +++, Counter-tenor-minus, guy-belting-alto.” During the run, I found myself humming along just to match pitch and see what sort of notes we’re talking about here, and I’m sure there were some B4s and maybe even a C5 in there for good measure. PROPS to Cole Walker (and really, the entire cast) for getting. that. done. That stuff is NOT easy to sing.

Speaking of range, I gave a big hand to that otherworldly, freakishly high note at the end of “Bad, Bad News.” I wish I knew enough names to attribute that glorious falsetto to someone specific, but I could imagine anyone from the cast reading this, nodding, and chuckling knowingly to themselves. You know who you are, I’m sure.

Re: vocal timbre. There is some real beauty in the role of Patrice, played by Sarah Merrifield, and I found myself entranced by her vocal tone, which lent itself so dang well to the character. Keep up the amazing technique, Sarah. You’re doing it correctly. 

What sweet, sweet choreography throughout. Tammy Walker is a choreo wizard in character shoes, and really knows how to play up everyone’s movement strengths. Loved the nod to Beyonce’s “Single Ladies,” which was even more breathtaking when performed by high-school boys pretending to be 13-year-olds. That is something I can honestly say I have never seen before.

I shoulder-shimmied to some rocking, Aguilera-esque vocal riffs by Maddi Mertz and Catera Combs, especially at the end. You ladies owned it. And pretty much everyone rocked the end.

Nothing quite beats a kid pretending to be a cripple and using walkers in a kick-line. Cheers to Neil Cathro for living the character! For some reason, yours was the most believable. You have a gift for nailing personality every. time. Don’t let the world ruin your penchant for witty flair and comedic timing.

Speaking of characters, I related the least to Lucy, the conniving, bossy wench (more commonly known as shit-stirrer), but can’t say I wasn’t friends with many a crazy one in my time. Leslie Walker played that to a T, though I’m sure she’s genuine in real life. Keep up the mad acting and dancing. I can’t get my legs to do what yours did in this show, nor have I ever been able to. And yes, I want them to :::attempts lame split-kick-piorette-thing, fails:::

THE PIT. Good lord, the Pit. You guys were a class act. Led by James Melton’s unstoppable “conducting wand” (’twas but a pencil, though). To the guitarists: your wa-wa pedal really lent a nice touch. Who doesn’t love a good bom-chicka-wom-wom to connote sexual tension? To everyone: good job playing what I can only assume to be the most-mixed-meter EVER. All the time. I stopped trying to bob my foot to the beat because a) I was alone in the back and b) I looked like I had, in fact, no rhythm whatsoever. Yes, I was the weirdo creeper who couldn’t keep the beat. Far from the case, I assure you. ::claps on one and three:::

The staging and set throughout was really eye-candy, to say the least. I was frequently drawn to the onstage shenanigans (like the background cheerleading sequence in “Opportunity“), yet nothing ever really pulled focus or was overdone, and that’s no easy feat. Snaps for creative use of props – was that a real tampon machine in the girl’s bathroom scene? If so, I’d like to hear the  story on how that was acquired.

Finally, a little note to everyone I didn’t specifically mention, but with whom I feel like I shared a special moment in time: Carter Moore, Evan Twitchell, Josh Friedrich, Brice LaFond, Emily Mertens, Kyle Shearrer, Brady Butcher, and Nora Hennessy (in spirit!), along with a seemingly supernatural light and sound crew (supernatural = I can’t see it, but I know it’s there…get it?) Every one of you is a raging success. Keep up the superb work and never forget that you have shared something unique and amazing with the world.

To the general public: sadly, the run is over. Mehopes there may be another future summer intensive in the works, but only time will tell. In the meantime, get your booty to some musical productions this year and experience a mere sampling of the hot talent that COMO has to offer. If you’re like me, you’ll walk out skipping and feeling a pinch better about life, because that’s what musicals do to the soul.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have A Little More Homework To Do. 

See what I did there? I crack myself up.

:::pours fourth cup of french press:::

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