Category: Reviews

Photo Courtesy of Joan Marcus

After a previously sold-out run off-Broadway, Lynn Nottage’s breathtaking play, Sweat, opened recently at the Studio 54 theater. The show, based in Reading, PA, focuses on deindustrialization and its lasting ramifications. In our current political climate, Sweat’s arrival could not be more timely. The show forces its audience to fully delve into the lives of blue-collar workers in America. In a country becoming increasingly divided, as evidenced through the 2016 Presidential Elections, Sweat explores and explains with breathtaking eloquence and clarity the malaise that has spread through many segments of the nation.

For those who have not seen the show, it focuses on the lives of friends working together at a local steel mill. Slowly, as jealousy flares and the workers realize their jobs–and the cultural status that came with them–are dwindling, they each begin to turn on each other. In trying so hard to save themselves and clinging to the work ideals many of their past family members have learned to expect, they are forced to find new work as the impacts of globalization and deindustrialization affect their town.

The show’s strong text is paired with skilled actors and a mundane yet detailed set. The play is primarily set in the local bar, where audience members watch the lives of these workers unfurl as if they were flies on the wall. In each interaction, one can see the close friendships of the characters. In particular, the show focuses on the close bond between two friends: Tracey (played by Johanna Day) and Cynthia (played by Michelle Wilson). In initial scenes, the two characters laugh and drink, jovially sharing stories about their students and their factory jobs, just like normal close friends do. However, after Cynthia is promoted to a role off the factory floor, jealousy flares as Tracey copes with not getting the promotion she truly wanted. As this jealously increases, tensions rise with conversations about race (as Tracey becomes convinced Cynthia was promoted solely for being Black) and the responsibilities of friendships.

To learn more about the show and how it came to be, we sat down with its playwright Lynn Nottage who–in addition to playwriting–is a Professor at Columbia’s School of the Arts. Nottage, originally from Brooklyn, studied at Brown University for her undergraduate degree and later studied and taught at the Yale School of Drama. She has won two Pultizer Prizes and received both the Guggenheim Fellowship and MacArthur Grant.

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Photo courtesy of Joan Marcus

There’s something fun brewing down on 52nd street. Opening April 17th, “Groundhog Day” is creating a comical storm on Broadway in the August Wilson theater. Based off the the 1993 movie, the show has been adopted into a two act musical with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin (known for his working in writing the music for Matilda).

Andy Karl as Phil Connors. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Andy Karl as Phil Connors. Photo by Joan Marcus.

For those who have not seen the show, Groundhog Day centers around a shallow, arrogant weatherman named Phil Connor, played by Andy Karl. Connor, known for his weather reports, is once again sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the annual Groundhog Day event. Frustrated and disillusioned with being sent to a small town to report on a holiday that directly contradicts his own profession, Connor makes his disdain for being sent to report on the holiday abundantly clear. He irritably storms around the town, ignoring those around him and dismissing his cameraman and assistant producer Rita as they record

that the groundhog saw its shadow, meaning there’ll be six more weeks of winter. Later that day, he finally gets excited again — about leaving back for “anywhere but [Punxsutawney].” However, both weather and the local police overshadow his plans as the storm he predicted would not hit the town ends up dousing the small town with a heavy helping of snow and closing down all the roads and highways. Despite his best attempts to leave the town (portrayed with a miniature van circling around the stage), he is forced to spend one more night in little old Punxsutawney.

The cast of Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

The cast of Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Upon waking up, however, Connor is confused as everyone in the town seems to be talking about Groundhog Day, even when it should be the next day. As he quickly realizes, he’s stuck in a loop — every morning he wakes up in the same bed and breakfast on Groundhog Day.

Throughout the show, Karl perfectly portrays Connor. As the days keep on repeating (marked with characters repeating lines and scenes happening again and again), even the audience can feel his frustration. Even when Connor goes to quite drastic measures to end the cycle, he fails. Eventually, Connor learns to use his “curse” for a greater good — he starts trying to improve the lives of others and is forced to finally think about those around him. Like he says in the show, no one realizes “how deep my shallowness goes.” But as his character develops, we see a new side of him as he learns to focus on being a better person and lifting up those around him — even if they won’t remember it the next day.

Andy Karl and Barrett Doss in Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Andy Karl and Barrett Doss in Groundhog Day. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Likewise, his associate producer and later love interest Rita Hanson (played by Barrett Doss) is equally as splendid. Not willing to give into just any love interest coming her way, Hanson plays a strong woman who knows what she wants and refuses to settle for less. Hanson tells Connor, “You’re the lucky one–you get to try new things everyday,” when he tells her that he is stuck in a loop. It makes the audience think about what they would do if they could do anything without the consequences of facing tomorrow and the aftermath of a bad decision. Yet, sometimes you want to move forward in life, no matter the regrets you have. Time is a theme that the audience can’t seem to escape while watching the show: it leaves us with lingering questions about our own choices and how we use our time. Focusing too much on success or the future can make us ignore enjoying and contributing to the present.

“Groundhog Day” is a special show. Within two and a half hours, the audience watches the characters grapple with insecurities, rejection, love, and more in a show that is brilliantly hilarious and equally thought-provoking. With its mix of upbeat songs and an incredible story, this is a show that everyone should run and see. As Rita Hanson sings in the middle of Act II, “If I had my time again, I would do it all the same,” and when it comes to whether I would go back to see this show again, I’d have to agree.

Tickets to Groundhog Day can be purchased from here. The show also maintains a daily lottery for those interested in winning discounted tickets.

Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

“So beautiful,” whispered a captivated concertgoer behind me. Normally, any talking—or sound for that matter—is hurriedly and aggressively shushed by a “serious” audience member at the Met. Renée Fleming, however, seemed to provoke an admissible exception.

Fleming’s whirlwind return to the Met Opera’s season premiere of Der Rosenkavalier (music by Richard Strauss, libretto by Hugo von Hofmannsthal) electrified the opera community. Last week, Fleming scared many by announcing that she would soon be leaving the opera stage. Fleming has since nixed the retirement idea, but the effect of the buzz was obvious: fans came in large numbers just in case this would be the last time that they could do so. In attendance as well were some of Fleming’s collaborators, who have sung with her over the years–coming to support her previously-presumed last run at the Met.

Fleming, for her part, plays the Marschallin: a middle-aged member of the Viennese aristocracy who sighs in anguish over the cruelness of aging. Fleming knows—and loves—the role. In her first solo at the end of Act 1, Fleming smartly addressed the silver rose—a symbol of youth and forthcoming happiness—with an imploring, wistful tone quality. Shortly after, her sweet, yet innerly despairing voice seized the audience’s empathy.

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Renée Fleming as the Marschallin in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

However, notwithstanding the positive aspects of Fleming’s work tonight, I do prefer her 2010 performance of the same role (Columbia faculty and students can find it through CLIO under the keyword “Met Opera on Demand”). In that performance, she lived the Marschallin: solemn tears slowly streamed down her face at the end of the “Mein schöner Schatz” duet in Act 1. Her phrasing and sepulchral tone made for an unforgettable moment.

Tonight’s conductor, Sebastian Weigle, again chose problematic tempos. The prelude, for example, was much too fast. Here, the music is declarative, demonstrative—overly confident and grandiose. Yet, Weigle seemed incredibly anxious, gesturing with extremely quick circular motions (so fast that his arms were just a blur to my eyes). By taking a quicker tempo, the music sounded too hectic and lost its appropriate gusto.

Weigle made a similarly poor decision in the last minutes of Act 3. Here, silvery chords in the high strings, winds, and percussion flutter downward. The descent should be reflective—it is the end of the opera!—and ethereal. However, it felt tossed-off, illy cared for–herky-jerky and uneven. I recognize that I was critical of Weigle’s lethargic tempo decisions for Fidelio, yet here he seems to have gone in the opposite direction. I do admit however, that future runs of the production might produce better results.

The Met orchestra impressed me —as it routinely does—with its stamina. In the middle of the third act, I heard a clarinetist–presumably either Inn-Hyuck Cho or Anton Rist–flawlessly execute a rapid lick that flickered between the clarion and altissimo registers. The passage was followed by a sustained, pianissimo high note. Both of these sections are incredibly difficult to play when with fresh energy. They’re almost a miracle after two and a half hours of continuous music.

Robert Carsen, the producer of the Met’s new take on Der Rosenkavalier, replaces the dusty, Beauty-and-the-Beast-esque setting with a bawdy production set when the opera was written (1911). Topless prostitutes pursue and are pursued by lustful Viennese men; Octavian, the Marschallin’s young lover, grabs his partner’s behind (what a great way to say, “Welcome back, Renée!”); and Sophie, Octavian’s new love, carelessly dances across one of her father’s howitzer (oddly placed in the living room of their modern palace).

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The playfulness of Octavian–performed by Elīna Garanča–and the Marschallin–sung by Renée Fleming–on display in Act 1. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Admittedly, I was skeptical when I learned about Carsen’s decision to set the third act in a brothel. Typically, it is staged in an inn, a “house of ill repute.” However, the text—the same one used for the inn setting—actually translates well in the new environs: it is believable that Sophie’s dad Faninal calls Octavian, who is disguised as Mariandel, a slut and it makes sense that Octavian assumes a baser dialect as a working-class Viennese woman (some funny lines include “Whad’ya mean?” and “I ain’t gonna drink no wine.”)

The one aspect of the brothel that felt most uncomfortable, however, was the onstage jazz quartet. Prostitutes pantomimed and synchronized fake playing on the clarinet, saxophone, double bass, and accordion. Not only was their supposed music not like the orchestra’s actual performance, but also the quartet implied 1920s Europe more than the 1910s. The production had a 1920s feel to it elsewhere as well, Octavian’s flapper-like costume in Act 1 being another example.  

I found Carsen’s incorporation of the Zeitgeist—especially Freudian ideas—rather compelling. When Sophie sings about her upcoming marriage, dreamlike clones of Sophie and her groom-to-be waltz behind her. Sophie is bathed in a yellow spotlight—the light of the real world—while the dancers behind her are enveloped in purple—a hue of the inner, thought world. Carsen’s decision illustrates how an individual’s inner thoughts and desires are experienced as real, even while awake.

Elīna Garanča as Octavian and Erin Morley as Sophie in Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier swear their love for each other in front of an imposing howitzer. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Elīna Garanča as Octavian and Erin Morley as Sophie in Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier swear their love for each other in front of an imposing howitzer. Photo by Ken Howard/Metropolitan Opera.

Although this was seemingly The Renée Fleming Show, there are, of course, more singers in Der Rosenkavalier. Elīna Garanča as Octavian embodied the wide range of conflicting emotions of her character. At the end of the last act, Octavian is caught between the Marschallin and Sophie, unsure of who he should turn to. Here, Garanča’s expressions and voice illustrated Octavian’s distress well.

Erin Morley as Sophie sounded quite warm in the upper register, especially when she built up toward it. Unfortunately, she was sometimes overpowered by the orchestra, especially during a fast, staccato passage in Act 2. Overall, I found that her diction was unintelligible at times, but balance could be to blame.

Günther Groissböck–a holdover from Fidelio–swaggered with pride, aggression, and self-absorption as the predatorial Baron Ochs. In Act 2, he engaged with Sophie in a vocal battle of sorts, his crescendoing vocal presence overpowering his soon-to-be wife (who he caustically likened to an “unbroken foal”). The Ochs is easily one of the easiest-to-hate characters in opera.

But the night was Fleming’s. At curtain call, the audience enthusiastically expressed joy for her return and relief for her operatic stay. It was her voice—combined with the prowess of the Met orchestra—that led my fellow concertgoer to exclaim, “So beautiful.” It is for these cherished musical moments that we go to the opera and for which you should let yourself come too.

Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier runs through May 13, with casting changes. The opera will be broadcast live May 13, at 12:30 PM, on WQXR 105.9 FM. Information and ticket listings (including student and same-day rush tickets) can be found online at metopera.org.

 

 

Photo Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson.

“Don’t tell the Americans.” I sit laughing in the seat of the Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center as I watch actors portraying different leaders discussing how to keep the negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians a secret from the Americans. Now certainly, political plays can be a hit or miss, especially because bias can permeate the play, leaving a bitter taste in one’s mouth. “Oslo” is far from this. “Oslo” presented the issue completely fairly, allowed for both sides to display their anger and wishes, and truly showed the magnitude of the conflict between Israel and Palestine. The play is about the secret meetings that led to the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between the Israelis and Palestinians. Whether you are a history buff, you are active in discussions about the conflict, or you just want to know more, Oslo does the story complete justice, and I highly recommend it.

Photo Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson.

Photo Courtesy of T. Charles Erickson.

The actors were superb — giving every inch of their being to the emotional narratives both sides of the conflict feel. The pain they voice, the struggle they capture through every yell that reverberates through the theater makes you remember how very real and challenging this conflict is — for both sides. In the play, the 3rd party interventions and negotiations were referred to as “Dialogues of the Deaf.” Outsiders are painted as hardly being able to understand or alleviate tension that prolongs attainable peace, which is why Terje Rød-Larsen, the Norwegian Director of the Fafo Institute who was a key figure in the negotiations, claims the method of “gradualism” must be used. This means that both sides are in one room negotiating and then go to the other room as friends, where they talk about their families and lives over food. The parties gradually make progress through human-to-human connection and understanding.

The audience is immersed in both rooms at various points of the play, but more often than not we see the negotiations spill over into the room where they are supposed to be friends. The conflict runs deep and emotions on both sides find their way into the smallest interactions, but at the end of the play you see how the men negotiating not only warm up to each other and recognize the need for peace, but see each other as men and not just an “Israeli” or “Palestinian.” “Oslo” ends with a poignant scene of the actors and actresses listing out some of the events that followed the signing of the Oslo Accords, such at Prime Minister Rabin’s assassination, several terrorist attacks, the deaths of men involved in the process of the secret negotiations, etc. The audience is left wondering if everything we just witnessed was worth it. Was there ever really a chance for peace? Did those secret negotiations move us forward or backwards? These questions don’t seem to matter. Now matters.

Peace is right through the negotiation door. Do you see it?

 

Tickets to OSLO can be purchased here. For more information on how to get rush tickets to the show, message LionBot “How can I get rush tickets to Oslo?”

Hello Columbia! My name is Remi (CC’20), and I’m the Creative Director for the Lion. I turned eighteen a few weeks ago, I have no idea what I want to do with my life, and I really love cats. One week ago today, I got a press pass to Bacchanal, and here is what went down.

No, this is not me pretending to write for Buzzfeed. Okay, maybe it is. Don’t judge. I’m fulfilling a fantasy, okay?

No, this is not me pretending to write for Buzzfeed. Okay, maybe it is. Don’t judge. I’m fulfilling a fantasy, okay?

Wednesday night before the concert the Bacchanal e-Board invited us press pass holders to discuss logistics (at like 11pm – and I had an exam the next morning, whoops). There were four of us: the Lion (me), Bwog, Spec, and something they called the “Bacchanal Press” which I’m pretty sure was them hiring CPS photographers to get their own pics of the event. The press pass gave us access to both the ‘private’ viewing areas directly to the left and right of the stage on Low steps in addition to the regular mosh pits (on map labelled “Front Viewing Areas.” We were also told we’d be given limited access to the middle aisle in front of the stage for a few minutes per act to get some close up shots.

Image courtesy of the Bacchanal e-Board.

Image courtesy of the Bacchanal e-Board.

We were told that last year, the Bacchanal committee only gave out one press pass, which they explained to us was a total disaster in that the individual was backstage very drunk and made the committee look terrible. As a result, Public Safety significantly limited our access to the middle aisle area this year. On that note, only myself and the Bwog rep showed up to that first meeting.

The day of the show, we met at the side entrance to Low at 9:30 am to pick up our wristbands and purple press passes.

They used my I.D. photo. Ew, am I right? Look at that shine.

They used my I.D. photo. Ew, am I right? Look at that shine.

I went up to hang on Low steps at around 12pm, in preparation for the show to start at 12:30pm. The show actually started at 1pm, but they kept telling us to advertise a 12:30pm start to get people to show up.
The first act was a student opener, Battle of the Bands winner THOU SHALT NOT Entertainment (made up of Vanessa Chadehumbe, Tarek Deida, and Jenny Goggin). Before the show started, Vanessa complimented my blue lipstick. I was in a little bit of shock! She’s a pretty rad person and super nice, you guys. When you’re rich and famous, please remember me and hire me to be your photographer! –sobs

These guys know what’s up.

These guys know what’s up.

Let the show commence! THOU SHALT NOT did an amazing job, even if there were only a dozen spectators on either side. There was a student group as backup dancers who were also pretty spectacular. Unless told otherwise, you definitely would’ve thought they were a professional group. Check out their Soundcloud here.

Jenny Goggin of THOU SHALT NOT.

Jenny Goggin of THOU SHALT NOT.

Vanessa Chadehumbe and Tarek Deida of THOU SHALT NOT. So fierce.

Vanessa Chadehumbe and Tarek Deida of THOU SHALT NOT. So fierce.

Next there was about a twenty minute break before the second act: Mykki Blanco. For those who don’t know, she is a poet, rapper, and activist originally from California. During her performance, she got the audience to chant phrases like, “Protect Trans Women,” and “Protect Black Children.” Very Columbia.

Goddamnit, CAVA, messing up my perfect shot. Mykki still slays, though.

Goddamnit, CAVA, messing up my perfect shot. Mykki still slays, though.

It was honestly wild, though. About a minute into her performance, she leapt off the stage, jumped three fences, and took a stroll down College Walk. The other photographers and I were clicking away literally running after her. It was the first time I’ve ever felt very ‘paparazzi-esque,’ but it was fabulous. She then ran across the railings leading towards Low; you could practically feel Public Safety having a panic attack.

Lol wut are you doing?

Lol wut are you doing?

 

You go, Glen Coco. You live your best life.

You go, Glen Coco. You live your best life.

Next came D.R.A.M. (Does Real Ass Music; real name Shelley Marshaun Massenburg-Smith). You may know him for his song Broccoli featuring Lil Yachty, which was nominated for a Grammy Award last year. The crowd was starting to seriously pick up at this point, and the atmosphere reeked of stale alcohol and low expectations. The pens were pretty much filled by this point – there were girls sitting atop shoulders above the crowd; a steady thumping as the audience jumped up and down. The lawns, of course, were packed, their residents either not possessing tickets or unable to be bothered to get swept into the crowd of sweaty, drunk teenagers. Sticky!

Yass.

Yass.

D.R.A.M. got the crowd pumped up!

D.R.A.M. got the crowd pumped up!

Things got a little hazy. The DJ Almand came on and gave a steady performance of his own techno / rap mixes, and kept changing into wacky costumes with each song change.. Despite the stupor, you definitely got the sense that everyone present was having a pretty good time. Lines to get into the pens snaked around the corner while popcorn and Rice Krispie squares were being given out by the handfuls. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get any clear shots of Almand due to the Bacchanal committee sort of forgetting about us press people? It’s all good; poor guys, they seemed so stressed. Almand’s music was great, though, and he really engaged with the crowd, coming down off the stage and taking selfies with the crowd. At one point he took someone’s phone and took a picture onstage with the crowd!

Aluna Francis of London-based electronic duo AlunaGeorge.

Aluna Francis of London-based electronic duo AlunaGeorge.

I texted them halfway through AlunaGeorge and they were able to let in us. She was so much fun: the perfect concluding act! I don’t feel like that many people were familiar with her songs, but they were catchy, lively, and caught on quickly with the crowd. The viewing areas were super packed, and there was a lot of wild fist pumping going on. I saw a lot of glitter. There was enough glitter for a lifetime…

And the crowd goes… WILD!

And the crowd goes… WILD!

During her last song, she invited a bunch of people from the private, Low steps viewing areas onto the main stage. I, unfortunately, was not among such elite ranks, and had been taking pictures from the crowd. Oh well! It was super cool to see normal people having some fun onstage – and a very nice closing touch. I actually wasn’t there because I lowkey got tired right before the end and went back to my room to destress. I live in John Jay, and have a nice room facing Low – and was able to get this pretty nice shot of the end of Bacchanal!

Yeah, my view’s pretty swanky. I stuck my camera lens out the tiny amount we’re allowed to open our windows.

Yeah, my view’s pretty swanky. I stuck my camera lens out the tiny amount we’re allowed to open our windows.

My thoughts and reflections?

Overall, getting ~backstage access~ and a ~special pass~ was pretty fun. 9/10 dentists would recommend. If you have the opportunity to get special access to Bacchanal another year – whether that might be being apart of the planning committee, or for one of the publications or performance groups, I’d check it out. It let me experience the event in a really special way, and I’d definitely be open to doing it again. It got me out of my comfort zone, which is what college is all about!

Bacchanal itself was pretty cool! It was my first, and a good first, I think! The music was great, I loved the student openers and the craziness of some of the performers. I’ve never been that much of a party/concert person, but I feel more open to them now after forcing myself to go to Bacchanal.

Whether you got to be apart of the crowd, casually observed from the lawns, or flaked altogether, one thing is sure – Mykki Blanco’s green hair slays for centuries.

~
If you liked these photos, click here to see the full album on the Lion’s Facebook page, all personally shot (unedited – I ain’t got time for that!) by yours truly.