Lydia and Tom, a Columbia University Performing Arts League special project, will be performed tonight at 8:30 pm and 10:30 pm in the Lerner Black Box theatre. Free tickets are available from the TIC. Last night, we sent Bwog musical theatre maven Kyra Bloom to review the student-written production.

Musical theatre is a uniquely specific art form.  The combination of acting, singing, and dancing makes it difficult to truly be good at; performers tend to be either actors or singers, and often, acting falls by the wayside to make room for more high belting, barrel turns, or special effects.  In an incredibly crafted piece, however, Solomon Hoffman, CC ’14, and Nick Parker, CC ’14, attempt to undo some of these tired traditions.  With a dancing counterpart for both of the lead actors, Lydia and Tom shows every side of the story.

One would be remiss not to note the troubles of the Lerner Blackbox right off the bat.  It is not, and never will be, conducive to musicals.  With that said, however, the Creative Team (led by Chris Silverberg, CC ’13) uses the space to the best of their ability.  The five-piece orchestra is neatly arranged at the back of the stage, appropriately so, because they are as much a part of the story as the performers.  The staging was nearly impeccable—no doubt a product of Silverberg’s strong experience and involvement over his years here.

Before the show even began, cheers erupted from each section of the audience as Solomon Hoffman took his seat at the piano.  He needs no introduction.  His talent is obvious, and what he has accomplished at this age is more than many of us ever will.  Hoffman easily incorporates the iPhone ringtone melody into a clever motif, and transforms the simple NBC notes into a song.  The more melodic songs were far more appreciated by the audience, and some numbers begged to end on a more powerful or energetic note.  Occasionally a lyric felt forced, but for the most part the text was clever and relevant.  Hoffman’s greatest strength is his orchestrations, and he does not fall short in his latest composition.  Special regards to Corinna Boylan CC ’15, whose cello playing melts the listener’s heart—though her beautiful bass lines can obviously be attributed to Hoffman’s writing as well.

The advantage of a new musical is that it can be molded to the talents of its cast.  Though each voice and timbre was completely different, the four singers sounded better together than one could have imagined.  Devin Lloyd, CC ’15, and Jonah Weinstein, CC ’16, though an unlikely pair on the surface, shared some very real moments throughout the show.  Lloyd has a great mixed voice and glides through difficult lines, flipping from chest to head voice with remarkable ease.  Weinstein has a magnetic presence; he is the character for whom we feel the most empathy because of his honesty onstage.  The plot is difficult to grasp at the beginning, with a relationship that picks up and rolls far too quickly, but about halfway through the first act everything becomes clear.  Lydia and Tom’s “will-they-won’t-they” situation is all-too-familiar to the college audience, easily pulling us in and forcing us to recall similar feelings in our own lives.

The small cast is completed with Skylar Gottlieb BC ’16 and Isaac Assor CC ’14 filling various quirky roles.  Young Gottlieb’s belt is sassy and strong, eliciting much excitement from the older members of the theatre community.  Assor diversifies each of his roles to the point that he really almost seems like multiple people.  His rich voice resonates well within the blackbox.  James Lasky, CC ’14, and Ashley Nagel, SEAS ’13, are simply beautiful.  At first, their dancing appeared crowded and almost frightening in the small space, but the audience quickly adjusted.  The choreography (by Adrianna Aguilar, BC ’13) was innovative and captivating.  Some of the most touching moments in the show occurred when the dancer character would interact with his or her actor counterpart.  All of the staging was artfully conceived—some of the best I’ve experienced in the Lerner Blackbox.

Though not without a few bumps along the way, Lydia and Tom truly is a commendable new musical.  Nothing is perfect at the beginning, but this student-written piece is much closer than many of us would have predicted.  The performers are talented, the music is grand—but what else could one expect from a Hoffman-Parker Production?