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Highlights from Musicals

Creativity from Constraint

By Amy Meadows

Staff Writer

Directed by Caroline McEnnis ’03 and Cemocan S. Yesil ’03

Choreographed by Kathryn Phillips, Niyati Gandhi ’02, and Caroline McEnnis ’03

With Jesse Cox ’03, Niyati Gandhi ’02, Sephir Hamilton G, Caroline Mc0Ennis ’03, Kathryn Phillips, Anne Rhodes G, O.B. Usmen ’03, and Cemocan S. Yesil ’03

Piano accompaniment by Katherine Bryant

Covering a broad range of songs, Highlights from Musicals surpassed many of the possible problems and constraints of the typical musical review. Highlights was performed this past weekend in Killian Hall.

Without the context of a play, the performance, consisting of many songs from many plays, sometimes loses its impact on the audience. The format is undoubtedly tricky. To maintain a proper sense of balance requires as much talent as the performance itself. Highlights from Musicals achieved this balance by bringing out variety and emotional depth in the songs as well as the musical talents of the cast .

Starting out with an old standby, “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” Highlights quickly proceeded into more diverse material. Combining many different types of songs, the review certainly had breadth, including both the easily recognizable (“If I Were a Rich Man,” from Fiddler on the Roof) and the less well-known (“I Know Him So Well,” from Chess).

There was not just a surface impression of breadth; the individual songs also had their own depth and power. In “Monica’s Waltz,” Anne Rhodes G powerfully sang of the fantasies of a deprived girl. “Monica’s Waltz” provided one of the most compelling performances of Highlights. With Cemocan Yesil ’03 as a mute gypsy (an interesting dynamic in a production full of songs), the song not only contrasted with the more traditional Broadway songs but also provided depth and substance to the performance as a whole.

Cemocan Yesil ’03 also brought a powerful performance to Highlights. Specifically, as the Phantom in a medley of songs from The Phantom of the Opera, Yesil, along with Kathryn Phillips and Sephir Hamilton G, closed the first act with a memorable dramatic and vocal performance. Because it was a medley, the Phantom act had more plot and drama than did many of the other songs.

At the same time, the levity was maintained by songs such as “Master of the House,” a humorous song sung by and about a corrupt innkeeper in Les Miserables. A personal favorite was the light, amusing “Luck Be a Lady.” Sung by Onur Usmen ’03, “Luck” was as much in the swinging style of Frank Sinatra as of Guys and Dolls.

Personally, I was impressed because the performers transformed what could have been very little into a lot. For instance, the only accompaniment was on the piano. While this minimalism could have constrained the range of songs, it only showcased the vocal talents of the actors more clearly. (Credit is also due to Katherine Bryant who tackled some rather difficult songs, such as the Phantom medley, on the piano.) For another song, the props consisted only of several black boxes. Although lack of props usually harms a play, the cast used the boxes creatively: as a bed in “I Could’ve Danced All Night;” as chairs and tables in “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables.” Everywhere there was a possible disadvantage in the music, the format, or the set-up, the cast turned it into an advantage.

The audience also seemed receptive to the format, one of the possible reasons for its success. Although there are many possible constraints, the review format allows more freedom to choose the way in which it has an effect on the audience. Although a play has cohesion, it also is rigid in the timing, staging, and order of its performance. Highlights from Musicals took advantage of all of the resources made available by this less restrictive review format. Although Highlights would not work in all contexts, providing the cast with possibilities instead of finalities made the performance more valued by its players and therefore more varied and interesting to watch.