The Daily Community Culture writers put together a list of their favorite events from the year.
10. Orpheus Singers: “The Poet Speaks of Love”
The Orpheus Singers are a vocal ensemble at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance conducted by Dr. Eugene Rogers’s graduate studio, a remarkable group comprised of Master of Music and Doctor of Musical Arts choral conductors. With their haunting voices, The Orpheus Singers left a lasting mark on their audience during their second performance of the semester on Nov. 29. Both undergraduate and graduate students revived age-old songs and poems in beautiful sound. The group provided a prime example of how supporting one’s fellow students at the University can evoke a sense of pride and awe.
— Zachary Waarala, Daily Arts Writer
9. UMS presents “Cold Blood”
I have seen some bizarre things within Ann Arbor’s art world, but the University Musical Society’s “Cold Blood” was by far the most absurd. Filmed live in the Power Center, the performance focused on hands. On stage, the audience could see the actors and cameras, but the real action was on the screen above which projected a close up of the actors’s hands. The show went through the death of seven different hands occurring in places like a drive-in theater or a frozen lake, deaths that could be both hilarious and mournfully tragic. The hands moved like people and embodied human characteristics in the most creative, minute ways. I felt as if I was in a hypnotic, dreamlike state as the narrative transitioned from story to story. The techniques used for lighting, shifting scenery and props were surprisingly brilliant. Many times I wondered, how did they do that with just a hand? “Cold Blood” stuck with me because death was portrayed in a way that was so hard hitting; I can still feel the sense of pleasant uncertainty and inevitably that I left with.
— Fallon Gates, Daily Arts Writer
8. Ann Arbor’s 40th Annual Folk Festival
Year after year, some of the biggest names in folk travel to Michigan for the Ann Arbor Folk Festival. This year, for the festival’s fortieth anniversary, the acts were bigger than ever. From some of the biggest names in the genre like John Prine, to smaller, up-and-coming acts like Mountain Heart, there really was an act for everyone at the festival. For two nights, Ann Arbor’s historic Hill Auditorium transformed into a haven for music that celebrates the tradition of storytelling in America. Whether you are a walking folk encyclopedia or know absolutely nothing about the genre, the Ann Arbor Folk Festival is an Ann Arbor tradition that everyone should experience.
— Ryan Cox, Daily Arts Writer
7. SMTD’s “Porgy and Bess”
The premiere of the new critical edition of “Porgy and Bess” at Hill Auditorium featured guest and student singers, SMTD professors and musicians. While not staged, it featured the score to the opera/musical in its entirety: all three and a half hours of the original Gershwin score. Though many songs from “Porgy and Bess” have entered into the greater American songbook, I was surprised by how much of this new critical score I was not familiar with. And though most of these standards from “Porgy and Bess” are heard in a jazz context, I couldn’t decide in this performance if the piece was opera or musical, jazz or classical music. This score was Gershwin at his best, straddling the boundary between jazz and classical music, confusing and captivating the listener for hours at a time.
— Sammy Sussman, Daily Arts Writer
6. Pasek and Paul Book Tour to Ann Arbor
When thinking about my favorite event of 2018, I am sent down a wistful lane of remembrance full of inspiring University productions, thrilling touring events and student pieces that moved me both to laughter and to tears. However, I have to think about the roots of all of this creative collaboration, exploration and celebration. Who paved the way? The answer lies in our many fantastically talented alumni, three of whom I had the pleasure of seeing live in Ann Arbor early in the fall semester of 2018. Benj Pasek and Justin Paul (writers of “Dear Evan Hansen”) and Darren Criss (“Glee”) all came together on the “Dear Evan Hansen” book tour on a cool Oct. Ann Arbor evening in Hill Auditorium. The trio sang, read from the novel and told stories of Michigan and beyond, reminiscing on their past while thinking of their creative futures. The event reminded me why I am so lucky to be here: a student pursuing creative arts with so many inspiring and creative people around me. Pasek, Paul and Criss — all incredibly successful arts in theatre and film — have paved the way for University alumni artists after them by providing an artistic community of alumni working in the real world. At the event, the trio invited their previous professors on stage to sing songs from “Dear Evan Hansen” with them and answer questions from audience members, inviting us to all be a part of the conversation surrounding their new novel and future projects. The event was thrilling and breathtaking, yet casual and laid back. The audience settled into the auditorium comfortably, inviting the trio of artists to take a stroll down memory lane.
— Eli Rallo, Daily Arts Writer
5. UMS presents “An Evening with Audra McDonald: Songs from the American Musical Theater”
This past Nov., I was lucky enough to see the fantastic Audra McDonald perform at Hill Auditorium. Audra McDonald is a six-time Tony award winning singer and actress — a well-known and powerful presence on Broadway stages. McDonald was able to connect with the audience by telling stories through narration and song in a way unmatched by any other performer. I watched McDonald make the most overdone Soprano repertoire sound new to my ears by projecting her own story and perspective onto the song. I was awestruck; her singing voice seemed to be simply an extension to her speaking voice. That night, McDonald dazzled the hearts and minds of Ann Arbor.
— Isabelle Hasslund, Community Culture Editor
4. A Dramatic Reading of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” with Alec Baldwin and University Theatre & Drama Department
For a brilliant reading of Arthur Miller’s iconic play “Death of a Salesman,” exceptional Theatre students and professors from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance were joined by award-winning actor Alec Baldwin on Saturday, Sept. 29 at the Power Center. Semi-staged and fully produced in both its intention and execution, the near four hour marathon of a performance remained engaging until the last lines. The play was as profoundly tragic and poignant as it was cathartic. The seamless coherence between Baldwin and SMTD’s actors created an electric synergy that did Arthur Miller (an SMTD grad himself), SMTD and Baldwin more than justice.
— Allie Taylor, Daily Arts Writer
3. Literature vs. Traffic Installation
When the University Institute for the Humanities brought the “Literature vs. Traffic” installation to the streets of Ann Arbor on Oct. 23, it was an intervention for thousands of Ann Arbor students and residents. Ten thousand books lay splayed out on East Liberty St. illuminated by the sun by day and by thousands of gentle LED lights by night. These lights gave the books a preciousness that reminded everyone who came across the installation how near and dear books are, or at least once were, to our hearts. Crowds eagerly sifted through the books when the gates opened at 8 p.m. that night, some people even acting as if there was a piece of knowledge lying somewhere on that street that would complete them if they could just find it. Maybe putting ten thousand versions of any object on the street for free would have inspired the same reaction, but it seems here that the students and residents of Ann Arbor were driven by a thirst for new information rather than consumer instincts. Before coming to Ann Arbor, the installation was also set up in Madrid, Toronto, Melbourne and New York. Its arrival and success here speak volumes about Ann Arbor’s far-reaching influence on the humanities.
— Ben Vassar, Daily Arts Writer
2. MUSKET presents “In the Heights”
2018 has been a particularly dispiriting year for diversity. As a woman of color, it’s hard to face a world thriving with anti-immigrant sentiment. My heart reaches out not only to people of color, but to anyone who has been branded as different. Individuals with physical or mental disabilities, sexual assault victims and dreamers — those who face the consequences of their labels without having control over their experiences. Musicals like “In the Heights,” written by Quiara Alegría Hudes and composed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, remind us that there’s still hope for those who feel silenced. MUSKET’s rendition of this inspiring story of Latinx life in Washington Heights, Manhattan was vibrant and attentive to the culture it embodied. The show was not only a celebration of diversity, but of life. Musicals like “In the Heights,” like all stories from different walks of life, deserve a seat at the table.
— Trina Pal, Senior Arts Editor
1. SMTD’s “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches”
The Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning first installment of Tony Kushner’s epic tale about AIDS and homosexuality in the Reagan era, “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches,” was performed on the Arthur Miller stage earlier this year. Daniel Cantor, director and University professor, pieced together a talented ensemble of actors. Particularly unique to this version of “Angels in America: Millennium Approaches” was the angel suspended before the audience’s eyes in a vast array of colorful silks. It was easily one of the best theatrical performances I’ve ever seen. The commitment and passion coming from all involved was remarkable to witness.
— Alix Curnow, Daily Arts Writer