1. Spring Awakening

Standing out among the student productions of 2015, “Spring Awakening” presented edgy and bold material that left the audience dazzled, if not slightly unsettled. Brought to campus by MUSKET, Michigan’s oldest student run theater group, this pop rock opera enthralled its audience with shouts of adolescent rage and passion as it followed German school children through their struggles with sexuality and independence. The musical ebbed and flowed with the music as characters broke out of their scenes in moments of climactic emotion to relay their unbearable state of mind to the audience. Presenting songs that ranged from heartfelt ballads like “The Dark I Know Well” to fits of anger like “The Bitch of Living,” the music alternately tugged at the audience’s heartstrings and inspired them to jump out of their seats and join the cacophony on stage. Meticulously choreographed and designed, MUSKET once again graced us with an adaptation of a Tony Award winning musical that broke every boundary, changed the meaning of taboo and left nothing to the imagination. Months of preparation and production member’s dedication made this musical a standout production of 2015, and of MUSKET’s lengthy repertoire. Sensuality and anger melded together to create a musical that made problems faced by children in 19th century Germany relevant to modern college students, and that is an achievement of epic proportions.

— Natalie Zak

2. Tribes

What defines a person? The group they were born into or the group they identify with? How does this personal association influence a person’s interests? How does it affect the way they treat those they love? Rude Mechanicals, a student run theater group, posed these questions and more in their production of “Tribes” this past fall. Exploring the strained dynamic of an aggressive and overwhelmingly critical family of five, “Tribes” tells the story of a family and their relationship with the deaf son. Centering around the deaf Billy and his talkative and highly opinionated British family, this play expands on the silent world of the deaf when Billy is thrown into the path of Sylvia, a woman who grew up in a deaf family and is slowly growing deaf herself. Having lacked support and emotional guidance in his bitterly sarcastic family, Billy seeks support in Sylvia, and begins exploring the tribes he never before identified with. Distinguishing itself among the student productions of 2015, “Tribes” consisted of a cast of six, all of whom worked to balance the family’s cries of anguish and anger with Billy’s silent, stoic demeanor. Tirelessly rehearsing to perfect their British accents, the cast worked with coaches simultaneously to accentuate their vowels and enunciate with their hands. The set introduced a version of closed captioning, allowing the characters to mime out the lines in American Sign Language and have the audience experience no loss of understanding. Rude Mechanicals’ dedication to their characters and production reflects a level of integrity that usually characterizes plays that come and go in nationally renowned theaters, but instead is conveniently available right here on campus by passionate students of all majors.

— Natalie Zak

3. Henry IV

SMTD’s MainStage production of “Henry IV Part 1” showcased the depth of talent that SMTD students offer, while providing audiences with a captivating performance of one of Shakespeare’s most well-known plays rooted in history. This play tells the story of King Henry IV, a king fearful for the fate of his kingdom once he steps down from the throne, given that his son Hal is next in line and is driven more by free spirit and youth than the constitution of a prince. Lord Northumberland and Hotspur threaten King Henry’s throne believing the king to be a usurper of it, and plot to overthrow the royal family. The SMTD cast was lively, demonstrating a clear grasp of the difficulty of Shakespeare’s language and the vocal complexity of the text, which required accents for multiple characters. Characters Falstaff and Hotspur gave particularly captivating performances, as they added a layer of humor that was well-received and appreciated. Directed by Performing Arts Prof. Rob Najarian, the combat scenes were well-staged and executed and displayed the hard work and rigorous effort put in by cast members. The production took place in the Power Center, with a respectable audience turnout, many of whom were frequent Shakespeare-goers. For a play like “Henry IV Part 1,” which is a challenge for modern audiences to follow, SMTD did not fail to deliver a performance of both understanding and esteem.  

— Bailey Kaidan

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