Editor in Chief Sahmaya Busby and former News Editor Paulina Rodriguez were taken to Area 51 at the closing night of First Stage’s production REDACTED.

On a rainy Wednesday night, we arrived in the lobby of Diana’s Glicker-Milstein Theatre for the third and closing performance of REDACTED: The Untold (Un)True Story of Roswell, New Mexico. REDACTED is the premiere production from First Stages NYC, Columbia’s newest theatre development group for new works, and it was staged with support from the Columbia Musical Theatre Society (CMTS). 

The performance—originally slated to begin at 7:30 pm—did not start until shortly after 8 pm due to what we later learned were technical issues with some actors’ microphones, but this did not greatly affect our viewing experience. Upon entering the theatre, audience members were immediately greeted with painted signs hanging on the back wall indicating the musical’s setting in Roswell, New Mexico and, eventually, Area 51.  

After we took our seats, the director, Tatiana Santos Mroczek (BC ’25), delivered a short speech thanking audience members for their patience and highlighting the production crew, designers, and cast who helped to put the entire show together in an impressive six weeks. She closed the speech by praising REDACTED’s composer and lyricist Terry Foley (GS ’24), who co-wrote the show with playwright Marino Bubba (CC ’24) and whose compositions also serve as his honors thesis project in Music. 

The performance started off strong with “The Big Bang,” an upbeat and well-choreographed opening number introducing us to the story. Set against the backdrop of the Cold War, the play follows the journey of an alien uncle-niece duo who crash their flying saucer into Roswell, New Mexico and enlist a rocket scientist to help them get back to their planet. The aliens are at risk of abduction by two outlandish FBI agents and a Soviet spy who take these missions at the orders of adversaries (and lovers!) Harry S. Truman and Joseph Stalin. 

Foley’s witty lyrics and eccentric compositions make effective guides through Bubba’s winding, zany story. If it hadn’t already, REDACTED won over the crowd with comedic duets like “Fashionable Bureau of Investigation” and “Cold War, Hot Hearts” and showy, more sentimental solos like “The Incident.” Those who attended the closing performance on Wednesday night may have also spotted Foley stepping in as conductor, taking the place of music director Ruby Liebmann (BC ’25). If you’re reading this, Foley’s thesis advisers, he’s a star. 

True to the First Stages mission, REDACTED is definitely a work in progress. The two-act show’s pacing slowed to a crawl at some points as characters dove further into backstories that didn’t progress the plot. This was not helped by the persistence of lengthy blackout transitions between scenes. The microphone blunder mentioned in the pre-show speech proved not to be an issue; however, some of the downstage action was blocked due to obscured sightlines (and we were in middle seats). Still, considering the production’s six-week timeline, what the cast and crew of REDACTED has put together is an impressive feat nonetheless. 

While Bubba and Foley have a solid script on their hands, the success of REDACTED’s comedy hinges on full-throttle commitment from its cast, and on this front, they absolutely deliver. With due credit to Santos Mroczek’s directing, REDACTED may have produced two of the best comedy duos in recent Columbia theatre with Julia Smith (BC ’26) and Aaron Castro (CC ’27) as FBI agents Johnson and Dickson and CC Shaw (BC ’27) and Mia Shih (BC ’26) as enemies-to-lovers-to-enemies Harry S. Truman and Joseph Stalin. Smith, seen most recently in the CMTS 24-Hour Musical production of Spongebob Squarepants: The Musical, may be Barnard’s musical theatre star on the rise, while newcomer Castro is delightful doing double duty as both Smith’s scene partner and Truman’s devoted assistant. Meanwhile, as Truman and Stalin, Shaw and Shih play the absurdity of their love story with unabashed sincerity, and they deservedly got the biggest applause of the night. 

Lilly Gasterland-Gustafsson (BC ’25) and Lonnie Miller (BC ’25) similarly throw their full weights behind BOB, the down-on-his-luck alien scientist, and Svetlana, the Soviet spy who dreams of becoming an American to open a fast food restaurant. Alongside them, Mimi Gillies (CC ’25), as the second half of the alien duo, and Olivia Cull (BC ’24), as fearful rocket scientist William Nye, carried the show’s more emotional moments with earnest performances.

Overall, REDACTED is certainly still a work in progress, but it is an impressive debut for First Stages—and an equally impressive feat for Foley and Bubba. The performances remained consistent throughout the show, even as many actors played multiple roles. The script also maintained its humorous edge as it explored sentimental themes of belonging and overcoming fear. The creative team and actors beautifully balanced the show’s absurdity and its earnestness to create a grand closing performance for First Stage’s inaugural production.

Disclaimer: Choreographer Tal Bloom is Bwog’s Social Media editor, and playwright Marino Bubba is Bwog’s former Deputy Arts Editor. Neither were involved in the writing of this review.

Program photo via REDACTED creative team