This past weekend, the Columbia Musical Theatre Society performed an hour-long musical performance, with lyrics by a Barnard alum. Culture Connoisseur Hannah Kauders reviews.
The cast of CMTS’s Party Worth Crashing entertained audiences in sold-out performances this week in the Lerner Black Box. In a recent report, Bwog Arts Editor and cast member Kyra Bloom emphasized the unconventional structure of this production, which she and producer Alexandra Ley both characterized as a “song cycle.” This description is apt in that the show consists exclusively of 13 songs composed by songwriting duo Kait Kerrigan (BC ’03) and Brian Lowdermilk. The term “cycle,” however, seems ill-suited to Party Worth Crashing, which approximates but ultimately lacks the unifying sentiment that the term “cycle” implies.
The cast and creative team are not responsible for this lack of continuity. Instead, the somewhat problematic relationship between the songs that comprise this production seems an inevitable consequence of the show’s structure. On their website, Lowdermilk and Kerrigan market Party Worth Crashing as a “do-it-yourself concert” that allows directors to pick and choose from a list of the duo’s compositions (from pre-existing Kerrigan-Lowdermilk shows). CMTS’s production includes solos, duets, as well as several full-company numbers, requiring a small cast of 11 performers. According to the composers, the goal is to produce a customized set-list that, although lacking in “book, plot, [and] strong thematic idea,” expresses the “taste” of the group that performs it.
The absence of these traditional elements has the capacity to rob a performance of Party Worth Crashing of all emotional import. The performers and production team of the CMTS production, however, address these challenges with creativity and grace. With the occasional exception, their version of Party Worth Crashing seems to center around a group of 20-somethings who navigate the difficulties of post-college life and young adulthood. The characters portrayed in this production include restless students fleeing responsibility in favor of the open road (“Freedom”), a disillusioned young man cooking “semi-Turkish food” in his father’s restaurant (“Someone Else’s Life”), and a character who appears to be a recent college graduate returning to her childhood home (“How to Return Home”), among others. Several of the characters explore the intricacies of love and romantic relationships: engagements, estrangements, and entanglements abound in songs such as “Not Her Way” and “How to Not Be With You.”
The show’s most entertaining numbers (or those that provoke the most laughter) are also those that stray most noticeably from this theme. Sophomore Kyra Bloom’s (BC ’15) hilarious interpretation of a pony-tailed primary-school student showcases her impeccable comedic timing and impressive vocal agility. The song’s relevance to a show about young adults, however, is unclear. “Party Worth Crashing,” while immensely funny, also seems mismatched with the rest of the set-list. This song, which depicts a stereotypically riotous party, must be a requisite inclusion in the show for which it is named, and yet its imitation of typical 20-something behavior clashes with the earnestness of other numbers. Director Jeremy Stern (CC ’15) handles this smartly—the exaggerated dialogue and movements in this number help to characterize this song as a caricature and not as a serious reflection on the behavior of young people.
The minimalism of the costumes, set, and staging fosters a sense of dramatic flexibility that allows each performer to create the world of his or her song in a unique manner.
It must be nearly impossible for an actor to interpret and convey the meaning of a song that has been completely decontextualized, and yet each cast-member of Party succeeds in doing so. Highlights include Andrew Wright’s (CC ’14) charming delivery of “Run Away With Me,” which might prompt many audience members to do just that. Wright’s effortless vocal performance visibly captivates not only audiences, but also the performers who surround him on stage. Freshman Lina Smorra (BC ’16) delivers a powerhouse performance of “How To Return Home,” which she interprets with emotional subtlety and immense vocal control. Mariah Plunkett’s (BC ’14) prolific riffing and Sarah Elrafei’s (BC ’15) powerful low notes leave the audience wanting more.
Over the course of the show, each performer overcomes vocally and emotionally demanding material to create a unique musical monologue. The resulting production, although thematically inconsistent, is a lively and impressive musical showcase of some of Columbia’s most powerful voices.
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