Elissa Miller

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Elissa Miller is the Arts and Entertainment Editor for Niner Times. She is a junior at UNC Charlotte studying Communications and Political Science. When she isn't reviewing theater for Niner Times, she is working on bringing sex education to campus through Sex Week UNC Charlotte or forcing her friends to binge watch television with her. In the future, she would like to be an investigative journalist, a lawyer, or the second female President of the United States (because if there isn't one before the time she gets there, that's just sad).

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is a compelling mystery with a heart

Warning: This review contains spoilers for the plot of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”

I first saw “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” during its national tour stop in Charlotte in February 2017. I sat in awe for the entire production, struck by both its story and the incredibly unique way the play sought to tell it through staging and special effects. It was emotionally compelling and visually immersive; I talked about it nonstop for the rest of the evening. Thus, when I walked into the Hadley Theater for Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte’s production, I was both nervous and excited to see how it would be transformed by this local professional theatre.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is based off the bestselling 2003 novel of the same name and was first translated into a play via a run in London in 2012. The West End production went on to win seven Olivier awards, while the Broadway transfer won five Tonys. It has largely been hailed as a triumph for excellence in casting, staging and special effects. “Curious Incident” tells the story of a boy named Christopher (Chester Shepard), who the author described as “a mathematician with some behavioral difficulties,” but has largely been interpreted by audiences to represent someone on the autism spectrum. It details his attempt to solve the murder of his next-door neighbor’s dog, Wellington, which results in the uncovering of family secrets, a solo adventure to London and a stressful A level examination. The play is self-aware, acknowledging that it is currently being performed on stage, and is narrated by Christopher’s teacher and mentor Siobhan (Megan Montgomery).

Chester Shepard as Christopher Boone. Photo courtesy of Fenix Fotography.

Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte is a professional theatre company that is currently in the midst of its 30th season. After losing their home theater due to leasing issues, the company secured its survival by becoming the resident theatre company at Queens University of Charlotte. A triumph for the local theatre scene, this means ATC is now housed in the Hadley Theater, which is actually located in an elementary school. It’s a little disconcerting to walk into an elementary school hallway, one littered with artwork and jump rope awards, to see a show as technically advanced as this one. However, the Hadley Theater defies one’s expectations immediately upon entering and is a perfect new home for ATC.

The set is incredible. The boxlike, mostly-barren look is clearly inspired by the original, but is condensed and translated for a smaller and more intimate performance space. Using the cast and a small number of chairs, a table and other props, it is able to quickly transform into various spaces and scenes. It also takes advantage of a highly inventive and skilled technical crew. Projectors and lights are used to visually illustrate Christopher’s dreams as well as feelings of overstimulation. Loud sounds and physical choreography are also used to draw the audience into Christopher’s world. These are most on display in scenes where Christopher is panicking, such as one in which the entire stage flashes red and the score picks up. However, it is also used in more reflective parts of the show, such as when Christopher dreams of going to space or when illustrating the math problems he solves during his A level. This production design wants the audience to (at least try to) understand what the world looks and feels like to Christopher, and presents the world as he sees it. It is an absolutely impressive work of technical theater; this alone could set the play apart.

However, “Curious Incident” doesn’t need to rely on the technical aspect alone. It is in the hands of a strong and talented group of actors. Shepard plays the role of Christopher with grace and understanding, portraying his character as the full human being he is and not just focusing on what sets him apart. He does a great job of opening up Christopher’s way of seeing the world to the audience. Christopher’s relationship with Siobhan also takes center stage throughout the play, which means it is a fantastic thing that Shepard and Montgomery are able to play so well off of each other. Montgomery often lightens the mood with her narration and utter delight at Christopher’s writing while Christopher takes the audience back to the play at hand. It is a partnership that feels believable. However, while Shepard impresses in his starring role as Christopher, it truly feels like an ensemble production. In fact, I was most blown away by Christopher’s parents (Rob Addison and Becca Worthington). They paint his parents’ flaws strongly and clearly but also with an overarching feeling of empathy and compassion. There are many points within the show where you can see the hurt they’ve caused and feel righteously angry, only to be drawn back into their lives and connect to them again. It is a moving and powerful performance. Shawna Pledger as Mrs. Alexander also delivers a strong comedic turn in an emotionally-heavy play.

Photo courtesy of Fenix Fotography.

Despite the play’s widespread success, it has not gone without criticism, especially from those within the autism and Asperger’s communities. Christopher, and the characters around him, never explicitly state what his diagnosis is (or if he has one). However, the novel/play has largely been hailed for its depiction of neurodivergent people and originally included the word “Asperger’s” on the back cover. This has led to both support and criticism from autism and Asperger’s advocates, which have especially criticized the novel’s author (Mark Haddon) for his own admitted lack of research into the subject and the play for not casting neurodivergent people as Christopher. Haddon has since distanced himself from an official diagnosis, stating that he is not an expert on the subject and that an official label would take away from the story. Actor’s Theatre of Charlotte seems to be more aware of these concerns and has partnered with Southeast Psychology for this production. In a promotional video, they urge audience members to “read, search, and learn” about Christopher’s “neuro-tribe.” They are also offering a sensory-friendly performance on Oct. 27.

While the program for the show includes a quote stating that “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” is “a story about difference,” I’d argue that it is also a show that celebrates and embraces family. It functions as a portrait not only of Christopher, but of the individuals around him that create his world. This includes his parents, Siobhan and his lonely neighbor Mrs. Alexander. All of them — with the exception of Mr. Shears (Jeremy Decarlos) — are treated with respect and understanding. Especially in regards to Christopher’s parents, the show recognizes their flaws and (serious) mistakes, yet still finds room for forgiveness and a path to redemption. This capacity for forgiveness hits the other major theme: one of hope. It is a guiding thesis here, underscored by Christopher’s final line, asking if he can do anything. It is so hopeful it hurts, because the audience knows that there are unfair societal limitations on Christopher. But for now, Christopher and his family are working on fixing things together. He has his family in the same city, a dog, two more A levels to take and a dream of becoming an astronaut. He is in a good and hopeful place, and I’m happy to exist there with him.

‘Archipelago’ is an Exploration of Loneliness and Love Stories

Photo by Daniel Coston.

Two individuals, a man and a woman, keep running into each other in unexpected places. They dated as young adults, but that was years ago. However, when they do stumble into one another, the connection seems instant. They transform into their past selves and almost immediately are drawn to one another. This seems to occur continuously as the couple is then torn apart by personality clashes, work and war. In any other context, this would be a grand romance story. Adding a grand finale in an airport would make it a rom-com. But “Archipelago” is not that simple.

“Archipelago” is a play by UNC Charlotte theater alum and OBIE Award Winner Caridad Svich. This September, it was used to open UNCC’s theater season, though a majority of the performances were canceled due to Hurricane Florence. Thus, it was only performed on Sept. 12 and Sept. 18. The play and casting were interesting choices for UNC Charlotte, as the work consists of only two performers. Both were UNC Charlotte theater professors, Carlos Alexis Cruz and Kaja Dunn. I appreciated that “Archipelago” was a chance to showcase, challenge and expand their skills and put UNC Charlotte theater faculty in the spotlight in a way they traditionally are not. However, I don’t think it was entirely necessary for the play to be faculty-led. While it is an intricate and complex play to perform, our theater students are capable.

The aforementioned plot of “Archipelago” follows a couple, who goes unnamed until the last section of dialogue, that consistently meet and fall for one another. While the play’s timeline travels in circles, often incorporating flashbacks and reflective monologues, the story of their relationship slowly becomes apparent. They met when they were young (just how young they were is unclear) and became a free-spirited, traveling and homeless couple. However, following a fight at a store, Hannah (Kaja Dunn) leaves. The two later unintentionally meet in Ben’s (Carlos Alexis Cruz) home country, an unspecified war-torn place in the desert where Hannah seeks a sense of purpose and escape from her daily life. After Ben is injured and enters a seemingly-endless coma, Hannah travels back to her home in the city. The two meet twice more before the play ends.

Dunn and Cruz do an excellent job of centering and grounding the play. It is a lengthy work with no intermission, the dialogue is complicated and the plot evokes a wide range of emotions. The two’s chemistry is undeniable and compelling to watch. Dunn and Cruz also complement each other well and bring different talents to the table. While both are great acting work, Dunn seems to take on the emotional heavy lifting. She oftentimes performed whole scenes and monologues on an emotional edge, looking like she could burst into tears at any moment. Meanwhile, Cruz thrives in the physicality of the piece. At one point, the play ceases to use words and instead uses dance, physical staging and choreography on aerial silks to illustrate and tell the story. Cruz’ background in dance and circus arts really shines here and likely influenced the choice to use aerial silks in the first place.

Photo by Daniel Coston.

The play evokes an overwhelming sense of loneliness, only underlined by the mostly-empty set design and the muted colors of the costumes. Large screens that could be illuminated, an archway and a table were the only physical set pieces. The screens caused the space to feel smaller and pushed the performance into a more enclosed and intimate setting. When illuminated, they allowed the performers to utilize various shadows to move the story forward. The script itself transcends time and place by giving very little description of where the actions occur and omitting the character’s names until the final scene. “Archipelago” could take place anywhere between any two people. It underscores how truly singular the human existence is, making the argument that we may never be able to truly understand another person.

For example, despite the fact the couple has known one another for a long period of time, both parties express that they don’t feel like they really know the other. Hannah wonders aloud how she never knew where Ben was from. They both question if their “happy” memories of traveling together as young adults were truly moments of genuine happiness or if the two were actually just desperate for connection and escapism.

It begs the question, should these two really be together? Is the tale told in “Archipelago” a grand love story, proving that despite all their struggles and problems, Ben and Hannah’s love (and possibly their fate) means they should be together? The two could be emblematic of a solution to the play’s emptiness. Maybe we are all broken and unable to understand one another, but at least Ben and Hannah are trying to together.  Or are the two simply enacting some grand love-story narrative because they are unable to move on and desperate to capture nostalgic memories of their youth? If I had been friends with either of the characters and they’d come to me for relationship advice, I would have told them to stay away from such an unhealthy relationship. However, the play doesn’t answer that question, instead deciding to leave it open to interpretation. This makes the ending of “Archipelago” slightly unsettling. The couple is finally together, but should they be?

‘Love Never Dies’ Really Needs To

WARNING: This review contains major spoilers for the plot of “Love Never Dies.”

I love musical theater. This has been the status quo of my life for as long as I can remember. I seriously cannot even tell you what the first musical I ever saw was. This makes it hard to dislike shows (though I definitely have favorites). Even now, despite the fact I have been the Niner Times’ theater critic for two years, I sincerely struggle to give a truly negative review of a musical. I can always find redeeming characteristics and appreciate the opportunity to have a night at the theater, regardless of what the show actually is. These positive qualities typically outweigh the bad in my memory of the show. However, it seems I have met my match in the form of “Love Never Dies,” a musical which completed a National Tour stop at the Belk Theater from Sept. 11 – 16. It is, quite possibly, the worst musical I have ever experienced. I am absolutely baffled by its existence; how on earth did this monstrosity of a musical get past so many people? There are so many points in which someone, literally anyone, should have said “no.”

Let’s start, for instance, with the absolutely insane plot. “Love Never Dies” is the sequel piece to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s iconic “Phantom of the Opera.” Quite frankly, this fact alone sets the musical up for failure, as trying to live up to the longest-running musical in Broadway history is an impossible feat. However, despite the fact “Love Never Dies” is a true sequel, it completely disregards the entirety of the original musical. It has the same characters, but in name only. In this version, The Phantom (Bronson Norris Murphy) is a far more romantic figure — all the murders he committed in the previous musical conveniently forgotten — who longs to hear Christine Daaé (Meghan Picerno) sing again. He’s spent the last ten years living at Coney Island, where he owns a sideshow/amusement park called Phantasma with the help of Madame Giry (Karen Mason) and her daughter, Meg (Mary Michael Patterson). When Christine arrives in New York City to sing for the opening of Oscar Hammerstein II’s new American opera house, The Phantom sends his henchmen to abduct her and her family.

Family-wise, Christine’s love Raoul (Sean Thompson) is now a man with a deep drinking problem who rarely talks to or spends time with his wife. They also have a son together, Gustave (Christian Harmston/Jake Heston Miller). When Raoul leaves Christine alone to get a drink, The Phantom appears. Christine confronts him and is angry he faked his own death, while also implying that he was the love of her life. The Phantom offers to double the amount of money Hammerstein’s opera is paying her to sing and then threatens her child if she refuses to perform. However, when The Phantom spends time with the musically-inclined Gustave at the end of the first act (accompanied by a wild rock number that appears out of nowhere), he realizes that Gustave is his son.

Bronson Norris Murphy as The Phantom and Jake Heston Miller as Gustave. Photo by Joan Marcus.

If you think “Love Never Dies” can’t possibly get any crazier than that, you’d be wrong. It was at this point in the show that I completely dropped any semblance of viewing this as a work of art. I was just there to see where the story could possibly go, which is a much more enjoyable and fun way to frame this piece. Most of act two is largely unimportant, as Raoul and The Phantom battle over Christine’s affections without ever asking her which of the two she’d prefer. In the end, she chooses to sing for The Phantom, which results in her kissing the man in her dressing room before realizing her son has disappeared.

It turns out that Meg has been desperately working to achieve The Phantom’s attention in her role as the star “Ooh La La Girl” in his Coney Island vaudeville show. Upon realizing that, despite these efforts, he’d give the show/Phantasma to Christine and Gustave, she attempts to push Gustave off of a pier and into the ocean. While she is eventually talked down from murdering a child, she then pulls a gun out of her dress in an attempt to commit suicide. The Phantom decides to wrestle her for the gun and the resulting scuffle causes the gun to fire. The bullet hits Christine. She dies in The Phantom’s arms, using her last breaths to tell Gustave that The Phantom is his true father. Raoul appears out of nowhere to cradle her dead body. The musical then ends with Gustave reaching out to remove The Phantom’s mask and give him a hug. The people behind me started laughing.

The plot alone results in so many questions. Did everyone on the creative team forget what happens in the original “Phantom of the Opera?” Does The Phantom write the songs used in Phantasma’s sideshow and, if so, do you mean to tell me the genius opera singer wrote something called “Bathing Beauty?” When did Christine and The Phantom ever conceive a child? Most importantly, who is raising that poor kid now? Are The Phantom and Raoul….co-parenting?

Bronson Norris Murphy as The Phantom and Meghan Picerno as Christine Daaé. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Frustratingly, “Love Never Dies” really has no excuse to be this bad. It is not completely separate from “The Phantom of the Opera” and retains Andrew Lloyd Webber as a composer, orchestrator and contributor to the book. While Webber is the only member of the creative team that worked on the original, new additions Glenn Slater and Ben Elton also both have prior illustrious theater credits (though Frederick Forsyth does not). With Webber on board, at the very least, the music should be more memorable than it is. It isn’t terrible but feels overwhelmingly boring and familiar. Only the quartet number “Dear Old Friend” stands out, both during the show and in hindsight. Even worse, the version of the show that played in Charlotte is actually already rewritten. The musical’s original plot and staging in London received such poor reviews that huge portions were revisited and changed for the Australian premiere in 2011. It is this version that is currently on display for the North American tour.

Still, I must say that the show is not all bad. The set design here is incredible and truly beautiful to look at. The metal atmosphere creates just-the-right level of creepiness for a 1900s Coney Island sideshow and transforms easily to build new shapes and locations. It only becomes more impressive when its lights turn on. The costumes and props are just as intricate, from Christine’s dazzling dresses to a coach that mysteriously moves without horses to a giant skeleton dinosaur. Both of these aspects are credited to Gabriela Tylesova, who clearly has skill and a vision.

The performances here are solid as well, though they are drowned by the lack of cohesive plot and generally lackluster songs. Picerno works hard to make Christine’s ever-changing emotions believable and nails her leading solo, the title song “Love Never Dies.” Mason as Madame Giry sincerely looks like she’s enjoying herself playing the vaguely intimidating noblewoman while Patterson throws herself wholeheartedly into Meg’s vaudeville numbers.  Murphy and Thompson (The Phantom and Raoul respectively) do the best with what they’ve been given. Quite honestly, the best performance here goes to Jake Heston Miller as Gustave. He can sing like an angel and is a great child actor. I sincerely hope he can use this musical as a way to continue to break into the theater industry.

It truly takes a lot for me to be as frustrated with a musical as I am with “Love Never Dies.” From a contrived story that makes no sense as a sequel or stand-alone piece to unmemorable musical numbers, it fails on almost every level. Its only saving graces, the production design and the performances of its actors, are completely overshadowed by the inane plot. It honestly feels as if someone paid an enormous sum of money to get the best sets and costumes possible and then hired actors to put on a performance of their “Phantom of the Opera” fanfiction. To date, “Love Never Dies” still hasn’t premiered on Broadway. It is easy to see why.

‘Off to the Races’ with Jukebox the Ghost

Photo by Shervin Lainez. Courtesy of artist.

Maybe I’m odd, but I distinctly connect music with specific time periods and memories in my life. ABBA’s “Dancing Queen” conjures up memories of riding with my carpool on the way to elementary school with my mom as the driver. “Low” by Flo Rida and T-Pain was the soundtrack of middle school outings to the skating rink. More recently though, Jukebox the Ghost’s album “Off to the Races” formed the soundtrack of my entire spring semester, one I spent abroad in London. I listened to the album constantly, in order and on repeat. Listening to it now immediately connects me to memories of red buses, the Kingston University library and seeing shows on the West End. However, you can only listen to an album and group so many times before you desperately want to go to their concert. On Sept. 11, I did just that and traveled with a friend to the Neighborhood Theatre for Jukebox the Ghost’s Off to the Races Tour.

I rarely go to concerts, typically because I only seem to discover artists immediately after they’ve traveled to Charlotte. Thus, this was my first trek to the Neighborhood Theatre, and also my first experience with a standing-room-only concert venue. I loved the location. Firstly, it was only a four-minute walk from the 36th Street light rail stop. The stop is the closest to Charlotte’s North Davidson Historical Arts District (or as it is more popularly known, NoDa), in which the Theatre resides. Both this location and the Theatre’s history as a converted movie theater from the 1940s give it character and make the venue unique. It was fairly empty when we arrived which meant my friend and I were able to stand incredibly close to the stage.

The opening band for the night was The Greeting Committee, an indie rock band comprised of four high school friends. Initially launched into the music scene with their EP “It’s Not All That Bad,” the band plans to release their debut album in October. The standout was lead singer Addie Sartino who had definite stage presence and looked at home performing there. While I did like their music, it just wasn’t music I think I’d feel the need to hear in concert again. However, I’d be happy to listen to it on Spotify while doing homework. It is hard to believe it comes from a band this young. Unfortunately, the group also suffered from the fact their set went on for too long. The venue continued to fill and it seemed the audience was ready to see the headlining band.

When Jukebox the Ghost took to the stage, I’m pretty sure my heart stopped beating. It is an out-of-body experience to hear songs you’ve listened to on your phone 100 times performed live. Jukebox the Ghost considers itself a piano rock band and consists of three members, pianist/vocalist Ben Thornewill, guitarist/vocalist Tommy Siegel and drum player/vocalist Jesse Kristin. They had the difficult task of deciding on a setlist from twelve years of making music together, which has resulted in six albums. However, a majority of the songs performed were from their newest album “Off to the Races.” Of the ten songs on that album, only two weren’t a part of the setlist. Songs from their self-titled “Jukebox the Ghost” album, “Safe Travels” and “Let Live & Let Ghosts” were also performed.

Due to Jukebox’s long history, it felt almost impossible to know every song. However, the band has such an incredible stage persona that it really didn’t matter if the audience knew the words or not. One of the best things about witnessing the band live was realizing how versatile its members are. Thornewill and Siegel would typically switch roles as lead vocalist depending on the song. At one point, Thornewill ditched his piano to grab a keytar and jump into the audience. It was also breathtaking to witness the band go from slower power ballads to intense pop songs. One moment, the audience would stop to listen to the words and emotion connected with a song. At another, the audience would jump up and down and scream the words. I danced. I stared in wonderment. My ears rang for forty minutes after I left.

Music wise, “Off to the Races” demonstrates a strong influence from the band Queen. This is especially apparent in songs such as “Jumpstarted” and “Everybody’s Lonely.” It was interesting to see how the band pulled off playing such songs in concert as the recordings rely on the overlaying of a number of vocal tracks. The group used a couple of different tactics to simulate this, including singing into a megaphone, asking the audience to choose a voice part and computer technology. At other times, a device was used that would repeat the phrases sung into it on a loop to allow the group to build musical moments. This worked especially well during the emotional “Time and I.” It was beautiful and I have never seen anything like it.

I left the performance venue enthused and excited, certain of the fact I really should go to more concerts. It was a great experience, from a location that allowed me to get literally five feet from the stage to the fact I finally saw one of my favorite bands. However, I’d really love to see Jukebox the Ghost get a bigger and more complex stage in the future. The band members are natural performers and their music is already incredibly layered and intricate. Get this band the corresponding light and stage show. They deserve some dry ice and roaming, colored stage lights.

Catching Stars

Photo courtesy of Theatre Charlotte

A crocodile that ticks. A pirate crew led by a captain with a hook for a hand. A boy that lives forever. The story of Peter Pan has become a part of our cultural canon. Originally written by author J.M. Barrie and popularized by the 1953 Disney film, the tale has been examined and translated into an unlimited number of forms. Want to know what happens when Peter grows up? Watch Spielberg’s “Hook.” Live-action translation of the Disney film? The 2003 film “Peter Pan” fits the bill perfectly. Have a thing for literary web series? Youtube’s “The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy” has you covered. However, Theatre Charlotte’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher,” a play based off of the 2004 novel “Peter and the Starcatchers,” offers something new. It seeks to explain how Peter, Neverland and the infamous Captain Hook came to be. Even better, it does so on stage.

The play begins with a simple set-up. Two ships, The Neverland and The Wasp, are bound to Rundoon. The Wasp, a fast-moving British ship, will carry Lord Aster (Troy Feay) and an important trunk, property of Queen Victoria. The other, The Neverland, shall take a slower and less precarious route to Rundoon. It carries Lord Aster’s daughter, Molly (Ailey Finn), her nanny (Johnny Hohenstein), three orphan boys sold into slavery and a motley crew of seamen supposedly transporting an identical trunk full of sand. The key: the trunks were switched by the crew of The Neverland. And the one containing Queen Victoria’s treasure? It actually carries starstuff, a magical substance made of fallen stars that will transform what it touches into “what they want to be.” Lord Aster and Molly are later revealed to be Starcatchers on a mission to destroy the starstuff before it can fall into the hands of those who would use it for evil.

However, this description ignores two of the most central characters in the show. The first is an orphan boy with no name (Patrick Stepp). One of three orphans sold into slavery on the ship, The Boy is a quiet and angry force. While he desperately wants a home and family, he is also extremely (and understandably) distrustful of adults, who have done nothing but abandon and abuse him in the past. His growing friendship with Molly becomes a central focus of the play, in which he finds purpose in their mission to save the starstuff and learns the importance of friendship. It is this Boy that will transform into the iconic Peter Pan. The other side of the coin is Dave Blamy as Black Stache. A “ruthless” pirate who leads his crew in a takeover of The Wasp, Black Stache is a comedic force with a penchant for poetry and theatrics. Desperate for the trunk he believes to hold Queen Victoria’s treasure, he and his crew head straight for The Neverland. There, they duel as their ships collide in a tremendous storm before The Neverland sinks and its occupants are forced to flee to safety by swimming/floating to a nearby island.

The cast here is incredible and really works to elevate the source material. Stepp and Finn play well off of each other as leads and their banter feels genuine. It can be hard to take on a role as iconic as Peter Pan, but Stepp really commits and makes it believable, even if this Peter is different than the one the audience knows from Disney. Jesse Pritchard as Prentiss and A.J. White as Ted complete the group of children and provide some solid comic relief. The head of comedy, however, is Black Stache and Smee (Jeff Powell). Blamy as Black Stache is simultaneously channeling Christian Borle incredibly hard while making the character his own. He is laugh-out-loud funny and only improved by Powell’s excellent comedic timing and support. It works, and it works well.

Photo courtesy of Theatre Charlotte

Serious acknowledgment needs to go to the creative team behind “Peter” as well. The set simultaneously is fairly large and adds an immediate “pirate” feel to the stage while providing the space for imaginative stagings and the use of cast members as part of the set. The use of lighting to set scenes in various places (such as the jungle, in the bowels of ships, or underwater) and control the tone cannot be understated. Lightning flashes and eyes glow in the dark. Jill Bloede’s direction stands out especially in the staging of a scene in which Molly trails Alf (UNCC Alum Bowen Abbey) deep into the ship. They crawl under gradually-lower strings to indicate deeper parts of the boat and she opens doors by turning cast members to face her, which immediately spring into action creating various scenes of pirate life (such as gambling and torture). A scene in which the characters collectively get separated and lost while running in the jungle is also especially memorable for its staging and execution.

However, the show is not without its flaws. It attempts to hit a middle ground, balancing comedy with an emotional story about friendship, family and growing up. “Peter” is far more successful at the former. The best part of the show is the two-minute musical number that opens Act Two, featuring the cast as fish recently turned into mermaids. It is an excellent example of comedy in a musical number and hits every beat it needs to. Yet, “Peter’s” attempts at emotional resolution just don’t completely hit, as if they missed by a centimeter or two. This isn’t any fault of the actors. It is a writing issue, as the pace moves incredibly quickly in some places (the Peter and Molly friendship/relationship suffers from this) or much too slow (the first half of the first act). The dialogue around the more poignant topics also feels stuffy and like the play is trying too hard to hammer home its point. This is only more obvious when the lines are spoken by characters that are meant to be children. The problem is disappointing considering how great “Peter” handles comedy and lighthearted fun.

Despite its flaws, “Peter and the Starcatcher” excels at comedy and provides a fun night at the theater. It can entertain children and adults alike through an imaginative and whimsical plot, a great technical team and the interactions of its cast. All of the actors are having fun here and it shows. Furthermore, it is a solid exploration of the origins of Peter Pan. It addresses most of the details, such as how Captain Hook lost his hand, why Peter never ages and how the crocodile started ticking like a clock. This is a solid start to Theatre Charlotte’s 91st season. I’m excited to see what the rest of it brings.

“Peter and the Starcatcher” is currently playing at Theatre Charlotte. Dates are Sept. 12-16 and 19-23, while times vary. Tickets are $28.

Fall-ing in Love with the Arts

Every year, UNC Charlotte’s College of Arts + Architecture curates a busy schedule of theater and dance performances, art gallery openings and concerts to showcase the incredible talent found on campus to the university community. This fall is no different. Whether you are an established fan of the arts or simply looking to experience something new, there is bound to be something for you this upcoming semester! Below is an overview of some of the events held this fall, however, the full schedule can be found at https://coaa.uncc.edu/calendar/month/2018-08.

Theater

The UNC Charlotte theater season typically consists of four productions, placing two in the fall semester and two in the spring. This fall consists of two (radically different) plays. The first is “Archipelago,” a play written by UNC Charlotte alum and OBIE Award winner Caridad Svich. It will star two UNC Charlotte theater professors, Carlos Alexis Cruz and Kaja Dunn, and be guest directed by Monica Ndounou of Dartmouth College. The show will run from Sept. 12 – 16 in the Black Box Theater. The second is the theater classic (and inspiration for the iconic Amanda Bynes movie “She’s The Man”) “Twelfth Night” by William Shakespeare. A comedy centering around a woman named Viola, who has assumed the identity of a man in order to obtain work, and the love triangle that later ensues, it promises to be a fun night at the theater. As a person who is generally a Shakespeare fan, I’m really excited about this one. It will also play in the Black Box Theater and will run Oct. 25 – Oct. 28 and Oct. 31 – Nov. 4. Tickets for both shows are $18 with concession prices (ranging from $12 – $8) for a number of groups including UNC Charlotte faculty, alumni, students, seniors and veterans.

 

West African dance piece, “Bonheur et Prosperite” performed during the 2018 Spring Dance Concert. Photo credit is Jeff Cravotta.

Dance

The Department of Dance will host two large dance concerts this fall. One consists of performances and choreography from the department’s faculty and guest artists. This (aptly named) Faculty Dance Concert will occur on Sept. 28 and 29. The other, the annual Fall Dance Concert, will feature student performers complemented by choreography from faculty and guests. It will run from Nov. 15 – Nov. 18. Both concerts typically explore a wide range of dance styles and topics. They will be held in the Belk Theater and ticket prices remain the same as for the aforementioned theater productions.

Art

One of the best parts of college is the opportunity to explore something new and fall in love with it. For me, that experience applies strongly to attending my first art gallery opening on campus. A number of exhibitions are held on campus every year, though this fall there are three that especially stand out on the calendar. The first is the CoAA Global Studies 2018 Exhibition, held in Storrs Gallery. The exhibition aims to be a reflection on students’ study abroad experiences using a number of different mediums, including video, analytical diagrams and drawings. I recently spent six months abroad and am looking forward to seeing how the exhibit conceptualizes that experience. The opening reception will take place on Sept. 14 while the exhibit itself will be on view until Sept. 28. Later in the fall, the School of Architecture is presenting a “symposium and exhibition” entitled “SEE-ING: The Environmental Consciousness Project Symposium.” The showcase will be curated by Assistant Professor Catty Zhang and on view in Storrs Gallery. The opening reception is scheduled for Oct. 15 while the exhibition will stay open until Nov. 16. The final big showcase currently scheduled for the fall is the Opening Reception for McColl Artist-in-Residence Liz Miller on Oct. 31. According to the event’s listing online, “Miller creates elaborate chain patterns cut from industrial rolls of materials such as felt, vinyl, and leather….these patterns are both elegant and deadly.” Students will also work with Miller to create a piece for display during the exhibition, which will be held in the Rowe Galleries. The works will be on view from Oct. 27 – Nov. 10. All three exhibitions are free.

 

Photo courtesy of CoAA.

Music

The music department has an especially busy semester this upcoming fall. It has to balance multiple choir groups, faculty and guest performances and various band and orchestra ensembles. In the early fall semester, the Faculty & Friends concert series hosts guest performers and showcases the department’s talented faculty. The first of these concerts will feature the ensembles A Sign of the Times and the Madison Park Quartet, which will perform a tribute to Nina Simone. This concert will be held in Rowe Recital Hall on Aug. 28.  Other featured performers in this series include Kirsten Swanson and Eric Millard. During the first week of October, concerts hosted by Jazz Ensemble & Combos, Wind Ensemble and Orchestra are available. The University Chorale will perform later that month. All of these mid-semester performances will be held in the Belk Theater. The final weeks of the semester are also home to a number of music performances, starting with the Gospel Choir on Nov. 19 in Rowe Recital Hall and ending with the Men and Women’s Choruses on Dec. 4 in the Belk Theater. Ticket prices range depending on the concert, though most are $8.

Best Songs of 2017 as Selected by A&E Writers

“Harry Styles” by Harry Styles. (Album art courtesy of Columbia Records.)

Jeffrey Kopp

5. “Like Gold” by Vance Joy: This Australian singer-songwriter first appeared on my radar back in 2013 via his hit single “Riptide.” Years later, I randomly came across “Like Gold,” a single from his upcoming album “Nation of Two,” on Spotify and I was immediately reeled in with its catchy hook. This is a song that really tells a story through the lyrics and Joy’s voice matches the lyrics with his passion. There’s a comforting calm feel that this song evokes, even having a nostalgic vibe that transports the listener to a simpler time in their life. Without any doubt, “Like Gold” has reintroduced me to the music of Vance Joy and I’m thrilled to hear the rest of the album when it releases in February.

4. “Sweet Creature” by Harry Styles: If there’s anything to take away from the rough year that 2017 was, it’s that Harry Styles is insanely talented. Stepping forward and creating his own path after One Direction has allowed Styles to really showcase his own style with his self-titled album that released in May; the album is filled with incredible songs such as “Sign of the Times” and “Kiwi,” but “Sweet Creature” is by far my favorite, because it allows Styles to hit his famous high notes in the chorus that blend beautifully with quieter verses. This is a song that has an old-school soulful feel to it, but also shows that Harry is making creative and fresh music.

3. “Silence” by Marshmello (feat. Khalid): Just when I thought that I couldn’t love Khalid anymore, he joins forces with Marshmello to deliver an epic track that perfectly utilizes both artists. The lyrics make it hard not to sing along to and Khalid’s voice is commanding and powerful as he bleeds emotions and passion. The electronic music from Marshmello has this energetic and lively feel that makes you want to get up and dance. Hopefully Marshmello and Khalid collaborate on other projects in the future, because this song is an example of a duo that is complimentary while simultaneously demonstrating the talent of the two individuals.

2. “Praying” by Kesha: 2017 saw the welcome return of Kesha to the music scene, dropping the famous “$” sign from her name and entering into a whole new era. “Praying” is both cathartic and anthemic, taking the legal issues and abuse that the singer suffered through and leaving them behind. The depression, anger, loneliness and pain that Kesha has experienced is very much present in the song, as is forgiveness and empathy. Kesha’s willingness and ability to move forward and create her own future through new music is truly inspiring and sends a strong message to those that abuse and exploit others. Kesha’s soul and emotions can be felt throughout the song and the incredible high note is testament to her talent as a singer.

1. “1-800-273-8255” by Logic (feat. Alessia Cara and Khalid): The world really needed this song. Depression and suicide have been subjects in music forever, but Logic tells a story without any fancy language or metaphors. He’s straight to the point about an issue that affects millions of people and the message of his song applies not only to those suffering, but it’s also directed to those in the position to help. By having the lyrics tell the story of a phone conversation between someone on the verge of suicide and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, it’s made abundantly clear that this are avenues of help available. This song has an important message, but it is also catchy and allows Logic, Alessia Cara and Khalid to showcase their talents in a powerful collaboration.

“As You Were” by Liam Gallagher. (Album art courtesy of Warner Bros.)

Stephanie Trefzger

5. “Bist du Down?” by Ace Tee (feat. Kwam.E): Over the past year I have been on a journey to rediscover my love for my native language, German, and this song and artist has played a huge role in that. While Ace Tee is new to music, just releasing her first EP this year, her music styling is not; this song throws it back to the R&B and hip-hop of the early 90’s when she was born.  Unwittingly, perhaps, this song also helped to usher in a new wave of discussion among young people regarding race relations in Germany.  That aside, though, this song just has a good, relaxed vibe to it.

4. “Paracetamol” by Declan McKenna: I’m not usually into indie because I unfortunately associate it with that “bananis and avocadis” vine by Chrish, but even before that, I couldn’t stand many indie singers’ soft and quiet voices where I could barely hear what they were saying. But Declan McKenna’s voice is soft without being quiet. This, coupled with the organ-like electronic opening and lyrics about growing up make for a great song. The darker lyrics with the fun, upbeat instrumentals create an interesting dynamic as well. I was heavily reminded of Vampire Weekend (who I miss) upon first listening.

3. “For What It’s Worth” by Liam Gallagher: Anyone who knows me knows that I am more partial to Liam’s brother, Noel when it comes to just about everything, but especially musically, so I never thought I would put a Liam song on this list over a Noel one when they were released in the same year, but 2017 has been full of surprises; what’s one more? Liam’s former musical project, Beady Eye, sounded a lot like a Beatles cover band, so I wasn’t expecting a whole lot out of this song or out of the album in general. However, this song is raw, original and devoid of the narcissism he is known for.

2. “The Chain” by Harry Styles: I don’t know if this is cheating or not, but this next one’s a cover rather than an original. But I, like many people at this point, am in love with Harry Styles. This is a new development for me, one that grew, partially, out of this song. I am a Fleetwood Mac purist and usually hate any covers of their songs, but Styles’ passion and ability combine into a soulful and true cover. This is by no means Styles’ biggest accomplishment this year (ya know, with the incredible album he released this year), but it stands out for sure. This song isn’t on Spotify, so I’ll add a video below:

1. “Silence” by Marshmello (feat. Khalid): This song hands-down wins song of the year for me. I anticipated it when Khalid teased it on Twitter, and I was absolutely not disappointed when it was finally released. I spend a good amount of time in the car, and this is a great car song. The backing vocals in the second verse honestly made my jaw drop the first time I heard it and still give me shivers. The production value on this song is honestly incredible. I haven’t gotten sick of it yet, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.

“Woodstock” by Portugal, The Man. (Album art courtesy of Atlantic Records)

Tyler Trudeau

5. “Rose-Colored Boy” by Paramore: While I was always a very impartial fan of the punk-pop group of Paramore, their various hits like “Misery Business” and “Ain’t It Fun” making waves across the music scene, something instantly drew me to their latest album “After Laughter.” An emotional, pop-infused journey for lead vocalist Hayley Williams, the album left me with a number of phenomenal tracks stuck in my head. One in particular, “Rose-Colored Boy,” still makes me want to get up and dance at the first spark of its beat.

4. “Feel It Still” by Portugal. The Man: Another anthem for the year found itself in Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still.” Acting as a catchy, rhythmic introduction for me to the band’s unique sound, the hit made its mark as it blared continuously across the radio.

3. “Ultralife” by Oh Wonder: After a dynamic entry with their self-titled debut album, the pop duo of Oh Wonder delivered another effortless set with this year’s “Ultralife.” With their title track breathing life into the summer, it instantly became a sprawling and infectious anthem for the rest of the year.

2. “Say It First” by Sam Smith: With the mellow brilliance of Sam Smith returning to the charts with his newest album “The Thrill of It All,” one of the most memorable singles off the album was easily the sensitive ballad of “Say It First.” Utilizing the artist’s mesmerizing voice with lyrics spinning a search for love, “Say It First” draws you instantly into Sam Smith’s newest and most volatile release.

1. “Drink Too Much” by Geowulf: After falling in love with the London-based pop duo last summer, I’ve been eagerly awaiting all year to hear more from Geowulf. With their electric hit “Saltwater” injecting dreamy lyrics into a dazzling backdrop, the Australian duo returned later this year with “Drink Too Much.” Marking another stellar single from their upcoming debut album, Geowulf remains one of the best surprises of the year.

“The Click” by AJR. (Album art courtesy of AJR Productions)

Elissa Miller

5. “Thunder” by Imagine Dragons: I’m sure some of my appreciation for this song comes purely from my excitement about Imagine Dragons’ new music. However, I do legitimately love this song. The fairly simple lyrics make the song easy to sing along to in the car, which is a necessity for me. It also functions well as a confidence builder and pick me up. This summer I had a habit of using it to help me wake up in the mornings as I drove to work, something I highly recommend.

4. “For Elise” by Saint Motel: I can’t explain my love for this song other than the fact I’ve listened to it almost nonstop since I found it during fall break. It features an upbeat tempo, original sound and catchy lyrics. Everything about it makes me want to dance.

3. The Entire Falsettos 2016 Broadway Revival Cast Album: This is probably cheating, but I am physically incapable of choosing a single song to represent this masterpiece of a musical. While the revival premiered in 2016, the album itself was not released until January of this year and technically counts as 2017. Taking place in the late 70s/early 80s, the plot of Falsetttos focuses on the story of Marvin, a man desperately trying to force his family to get along after taking a male lover. What ensues is a beautiful musical that touches on themes of love, family, and friendship. The revival cast is made up of extremely talented Broadway stars (including Christian Borle and Andrew Rannels), all of which are in great form. It’s a little long, so I’d highly recommend a listen during a roadtrip.

2. “The Good Part” by AJR: AJR’s second album is an experience best listened to in order and all the way through. However, if you can only listen to one song, this is my recommendation. While AJR’s music is more synthsized/electronic than I would typically listen to, their use of unique instruments and complex musical arrangements has completely won me over. “The Good Part” features all of the elements that make this album great.

1. “In the Middle” by Dodie: According to Spotify, this was the song I listened to the most this year. I wasn’t surprised. “In the Middle” comes from Dodie’s second EP, released in August of this year. This song has more of a pop feel to it than the rest of the album, which I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s nice to see an artist mix things up a bit; Dodie is having fun here. RELATED: This isn’t Dodie’s first time on an end of the year list, I chose the song “When” from her debut “Intertwined EP” for last year’s roundup.

“Evolve” by Imagine Dragons. (Album art courtesy of Interscope Records)

Noah Howell

5. “Walk on Water” by Eminem (Feat. Beyoncé): While Eminem’s latest album was good, it was simply only good and left much to be desired for me personally. That said, the opening song “Walk on Water” provides a interesting look at where Eminem is at now. Eminem does a good job at providing commentary through his lyrics towards both his past music and where he sees himself now compared to others in the genre. Most interesting is that the song opts for a piano melody as opposed to a regular hip-hop beat, which works surprisingly well in conjunction with Beyoncé’s chorus.

4. “Believer” by Imagine Dragons: From the start, “Believer” hits you with a heavy beat that is hard not to pay attention to. If you’re ever feeling down or just looking for some motivation, this song delivers from the musical beat alone. I wouldn’t consider myself an Imagine Dragons fan, though this song certainly got me more interested in them after first hearing it, and has stayed in my playlist of favorites since.

3. “Jump Up, Super Star!” by Naoto Kubo: Just like its actual gameplay, “Super Mario Odyssey” brings a refreshing take on its music that is a delight to listen to. While each world has its own style, the final part of the New Donk City world features one of my favorite singles of the year. “Jump Up, Super Star!” continues Nintendo’s use of the Big Band Swing genre, and the song itself just embodies the sense of adventure that you’ll find all throughout the game itself. The songs catchy lyrics also give nods to past “Mario” titles, with the song used in the original “Donkey Kong” game even being teased as well.

2. “Floral Fury” by Kristofer Maddigan: With the 1920’s cartoon aesthetic, “Cuphead” needed a soundtrack that would match perfectly alongside it, and composer Kristofer Maddigan provided. While the entire soundtrack is great, “Floral Fury” stands out among the rest with its unique samba style. The uptempo piece gives a lot of the spotlight to trumpet, making it hard to sit still when listening, which even the boss you fight during the song can’t help but do.

1. “Dinah” by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy: In an album dedicated to Louie Armstrong, Louie Jordan and Louie Prima, “Dinah” kicks it off in a special way by covering one of Armstong’s biggest hits. The song begins with the same intro that Armstong gave in the original recording, and right away you’re into the fantastic sax interlude. Musically it is the same notes, but the band does a great job at adding their own flair to it, while paying respect to those who performed it before like Mr. Armstrong. The whole album continues this sentiment with Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s New Orleans jazz style, making it my favorite release of the year.

“Melodrama” by Lorde (Album art courtesy of Lava/Republic Records)

Aaron Febre

5. “Date Night” by IDLESIDLES’ debut album “Brutalism” reminds me how Rock music can still be fierce musically and retain thought-provoking topics. And “Date Night” is the track that is my favorite off the album. The thumping, idiosyncratic bass, the guttural guitars and frontman Joe Talbot’s animated vocals. Talbot is like a combination of John Lydon (Sex Pistols) and Henry Rollins (Black Flag). This is a sound of a raging lunatic that has certainly caught my attention and leaving me wanting to play “Brutalism” over and over again.

4. “The Story of O.J.” by Jay-Z: This was straight up brilliant from Hova. Considering where he is now in his career, it would make sense to see an established icon like him to make an album that shows him becoming the elder statesmen in Hip-Hop. The sample of Nina Simone’s “Four Women” brilliantly ties up with the lyrics of issues that are being dealt with in the Black community with Jay giving his advice to the community to make them better. Do check out the music video to this track as it further emphasizes the lyrics presented here.

3. “how do you sleep?” by LCD Soundsystem: While I don’t think “American Dream” is anywhere near the level the last two LCD albums, it did produce some great tracks with “how do you sleep?” taking the top spot. It feels like this is a dark, twisted version of another LCD song, “Dance Yrself Clean” (from 2010’s “This Is Happening”). The Joy Division-like drumbeat, James Murphy’s tense vocals and the stomping electronic beat halfway through the song brings a darker side of LCD that I’ve never seen in their previous output.

2. “PRIDE.” by Kendrick LamarThis was the surprising track for me from “DAMN.” I never thought Kung Fu Kenny would go out and make this Psychedelic-like Hip-Hop track. My most played song off of “DAMN.”, “PRIDE.” has the hypnotic guitar chords, the sleepy like vocals of Anna Wise, the religious imagery lyrics and the beautiful refrain “Maybe I wasn’t there,” which conclude to me that this is one of the best tracks Lamar ever recorded.

1. “Liability” by Lorde: A heart-piercing piano ballad from Ella Yelich-O’Connor. This is the best track from “Melodrama.” The soft yet vicious vocals from Lorde with lyrics about personal self-doubt that I can relate to on many levels. “Liability,” as well the album itself, shows Lorde’s songwriting growing and leaving me thoroughly satisfied considering my lack of interest on her debut album. Plus, she’s only 21 years old and her storytelling leaves me floored.

“Rather You Than Me” by Rick Ross. (Album art courtesy of Maybach Music/Epic Records)

Bryson Williams

5. “Sacrifices” by Drake: Would it even be a valid list if a Drake song wasn’t included? “Sacrifices” is the 12th song off Drake’s playlist “More Life,” which was released back in March 2017. “Sacrifices” is a window to Drake’s elegant lifestyle and also a look into his female affairs. “40 got a house on the lake, I ain’t know we had a lake, she complainin’ how I’m late, I ain’t know it was a date.” The track includes a swag-rap verse from 2 Chainz and a ridiculously impressive verse from Atlanta superstar Young Thug. The beat has a tropical feel and creates the perfect vibe for sitting back and relaxing to, and has the ability to set the mood for any room you’re in.

4. “Apple of My Eye” by Rick Ross: On Rick Ross’s album “Rather You Than Me,” Ross balances out introspection and traditional Rozay party anthems. Ross opens up the album with a run down of his ambitions and the feats he’s overcome throughout his life in “Apple of My Eye.” The track opens up with Ross expressing what the apple of his eye was: being someone that his mom could be proud of, and someone his neighborhood could look up to. Ross raps “Lights off so you never tend to speak much, go your separate ways every time the lease up.” Rick Ross highlights the struggles he’s endured to be the mogul and icon he is today. The saxophone in the background of the track captures the therapeutic vibe of the song and forces you to listen to every word. The song ranks on my list because it has so much to digest and will always leave you looking deeper into yourself.

3. “911/Mr. Lonely” by Tyler, The Creator: Tyler, The Creator hit us all by surprise with a bass filled single titled “Who Dat Boy,” accompanied by a music video with a cameo from A$AP Rocky during the Summer of 2017. Although, following that song, he did a 180 and calmed the nerves in the room with “911/Mr Lonely.” The track is about the loneliness Tyler feels and the feeling of hoping at least one person hits your line today. The track features alternative R&B greats Steve Lacy, Anna of the North and perhaps one of the greatest of this generation, Frank Ocean. This song is on my list because of the undeniably beautiful chords and the perfect features. Tyler also delivers honest story-telling like verses that express the true emotion of the song.

2. “Self-Made” by Bryson Tiller: Most of the world knows of Bryson Tiller through is chart topping single “Don’t” back in 2015. Since then, Tiller has established stardom and has been welcomed into the hearts of the new culture of R&B. In July of 2017, he released his sophomore album “True To Self,” which contained 19 songs; five more than his debut album. On the album, Tiller takes us through a ray of emotions as he always does, but then hits with a rare braggadocio in “Self-Made.” The song opens with a bang and Tiller wastes no time getting straight to the point. “Gucci on my belt, bought a necklace for myself, bought Giuseppe for myself, spent them blessings on myself ” he raps with an open confidence, contrary to usual reserved demeanor. This song ranks on my list because its impossible for this song to not lift your confidence. This song is a reminder to always walk into any place with a poised swagger.

1. “The Heart Part 4” by Kendrick Lamar: In late March of 2017, amidst album releases by Hip Hop frontrunners by the likes of Drake, and Rick Ross, another Hip-Hop icon made certain we didn’t forget about him. On March 23, Kendrick Lamar abruptly released his militant and poetic single titled “The Heart Part 4.” The track starts off with soft kicks and a soulful sample as Lamar spits his first line: “30 millions later my future favors the legendary status of a hip hop rhyme savior.” The Compton MC flows effortlessly through three beat changes telling the world where he’s been and and that he still runs the game. This song ranks as 1st because of its over-your-head lyricism and the production of each beat effortlessly contours around Kendrick’s flow. Making it a one-of-a kind song that only a one-of a kind artist can execute.

“Everybody” by Logic. (Album art courtesy of Visionary Music Group/Def Jam Recordings)

Jerry Yan

5. “Cold” by Maroon 5 (feat. Future): As a fan of Maroon 5, I was excited to hear the song on the radio when it was released. The song is catchy as usual, and the lyric talks about turbulences lovers encounter. People who are in a relationship tend to relate to the song. Moreover, Adam Levine’s voice fits in well with Future’s rap verse in the song.

4. “Mystery of Love” by Sufjan Stevens: Nothing is more beautiful than adolescent love. Featured in the LGBTQ+ movie “Call Me by Your Name,” this piece reckons pictures and flashbacks of the summer days that Elio and Oliver spent together in an Italian small town. However, the slightly somber melody epitomizes a sad ending. It was a utopian romance between the boys. But love is love.

3. “Despacito – Remix” by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee (feat. Justin Bieber): Meaning “slowly” in English, “Despacito” was people’s summer addiction in 2017. The Spanish rhythm and lyrics seemed novel but addictive to lots of people. When Justin Bieber participated in the remix version of the song, it made a hit worldwide. From grocery stores in the U.S. to the nightclubs in China, I’ve heard the song everywhere.

2. “1-800-273-8255” by Logic (feat. Alessia Cara and Khalid): It’s not my first time to hear songs about suicide, but Logic has made his piece fairly innovative yet inspiring. The title is the number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. From “I just wanna die” to “I don’t wanna die anymore,” the song transitions from hell to heaven, portraying how people successfully save themselves.

1. “Fetish” by Selena Gomez (feat. Gucci Mane): Gomez takes one step forward in the fashion game in her video and song cover of “Fetish,” rocking a vintage yellow dress with a pair of white sneakers. As sexy as usual, “Fetish” consists of beats from R&B and electronic music, and the theme of the lyric plays around desires and attractions between the two loved ones.

Speak Up


Photos by Chimena Ihebuzor.

Each semester, Campus Activities Board adds a Poetry Open Mic Night to their schedule. The event is typically hosted by a guest poet, such as last year’s Jasmine Mans. Of course, as it is an open mic night, the floor is open to students as well. Though students hesitate to sign up at first, they eventually shake off their fears and step up to the microphone to perform their poems. Sometimes their voices shake with nerves. Sometimes they get so caught up in their emotions they lose their words or their anger reverberates around the room. The stage, the microphone, and the audience become an outlet and a support group. Though the crowd may be large, the end result always feels incredibly intimate. This semester’s Poetry Open Mic Night was held on Nov. 14 at 7 p.m. in the Student Union Rotunda.

The host for the night was Carlos Robson, two-time winner of the National Poetry Slam championship and UNC Charlotte alumni. He has been nominated for APCA Spoken Word Artist of the Year two times and co-wrote and appeared in the play “Miles & Coltrane:blue(.)” which played Off-Broadway in 2009. Currently, Robson travels and performs at colleges across the country. He plans to perform around the Charlotte area for the next month as part of a residency program.

Robson performed a number of poems throughout the night. His poetry often focused on or contained references to social justice topics such as Black Lives Matter, white supremacy, gay rights and the mental health of veterans. However, he never came across as abrasive. This was a person baring his soul to an audience. He seemed entirely genuine, passionate and open. In my opinion, his best poem of the night was “Amazing Grace,” a personal story about a boy he taught with autism. Other highlights included his poems “No Place Like Home,” “Sam,” and a poem he wrote from the perspective of Trayvon Martin.

These poems were presented with interludes of poetry from current UNC Charlotte students. They touched on a number of subjects, from relationship problems to racism. Many of them stated that this open mic was their first time performing their poetry in front of others. For example, freshman Jeremiah Parham performed “Two-Day Weekend,” a poem he wrote that day about the announcement of 50-minute classes on Fridays. Student Jacob Perry presented an especially moving piece about mental health. Hilda Kolawole, a staple poet at these events, performed a powerful poem about those who try to imitate her and envisioned a mountain-top heaven for black women.

Beyond poetry, Robson also served the vital purpose of warming up an audience and amplifying student poets. He often inserted jokes and short stories between poems to entertain the audience and make them feel more comfortable. These anecdotes also provided a bit of a break from poetry that was often deeply personal and emotionally moving. After each student performed, they were congratulated heartily by Robson, who encouraged the audience to applaud until they made it back to their seats. At the end of the night, Robson seemed genuinely moved as he stated how impressed he was by the student’s poetry. He also stayed after the performance to talk with and advise student poets.

I always thoroughly enjoy these events. Still, I sincerely wish Campus Activities Board would use a venue other than the Student Union Rotunda. While it is helpful in that it draws in audience members in the form of foot traffic, the rotunda is also exceptionally loud. This noise not only detracts from the audience experience (which is primarily focused on listening) but also seems to distract those who are performing. The sounds of rolling trash cans, loud conversations, and the student who started playing Rihanna while studying cannot have been conducive to concentrating or performing. However, due to the personal nature of the Open Mic, the night still manages to create a close-knit feeling for the audience. It provides a space for students to have their voice be heard and a place where they can share their thoughts and their fears. It encourages students to express themselves and showcase their art. It is something I strongly recommend attending.

The Homecoming King Comes to Campus


Photos by Leysha Caraballo.

On April 29 of this year, the first Muslim comedian to host the White House Correspondent’s Dinner took the stage. He was following in the footsteps of a number of America’s most popular comedians, including Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and the man who made him famous, Jon Stewart. Of course, this wasn’t the only thing special about the White House Correspondent’s Dinner in 2017. In fact, the biggest elephant in the room had to do with another man entirely: The President of the United States, whose whole administration had decided to skip the dinner. Who had been tasked with the job of entertaining this large room of people in such a tense political climate? Entering: Hasan Minhaj.

Hasan Minhaj is most well known for his work as a Senior Correspondent on “The Daily Show,” where he was the last correspondent to be chosen by Jon Stewart before his departure. He has also received critical acclaim for his one-man show “Homecoming King.” It premiered Off-Broadway in 2015 before it was filmed for a Netflix special. Generally, his comedy tends to center around topics such as politics, immigration, and his experience as an American-born Indian Muslim. He has a special skill for making serious statements about these issues while still being appealing and exceptionally funny. His one-man show is an excellent example of this, for throughout “Homecoming King” he seems to find light and comedy even in the darkest moments of his life.

UNC Charlotte students were able to see Minhaj on Nov 8, in the Popp Martin Student Union. He was featured as a part of the Forty-Niner Forum Speakers Series, presented by the Center for Leadership Development. The Series typically brings in two speakers a year; past speakers include Luke Kuechly of the Carolina Panthers, comedian W. Kamau Bell and Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson. Since the event didn’t have a ticketing system, whether or not someone was able to get in and where they sat was determined by who lined up first. Thus, even though the event was not supposed to start until 7 p.m., there was already a line by the time I arrived at 5:30 p.m.

The event itself actually began around 7:20 p.m., though this was explained to the audience as a result of issues getting Minhaj to campus. I appreciate that those running the event informed the audience of this, instead of allowing us to sit and wonder where he was. Looking back on it though, I sincerely wish we’d been able to have that extra 20 minutes. This was because Minhaj is one of the most compelling entertainers I’ve ever seen. From the time he walked on stage to the time he left, he exuded a confident and relaxed stage persona. The audience (including myself) was absolutely captivated.

Once the event had started, Minhaj immediately launched into about 20 minutes of stand-up material. All of the jokes were new, as I didn’t recognize any of it from interviews or “Homecoming King.” Not only was the material new, it seemed to come from Minhaj’s head while he was performing. Of course, while all of it was likely prepared in advance, it only highlighted Minhaj’s ability to seem completely authentic and unrehearsed. His best jokes included a comparison of white Disney princesses to those of color, a story about Samsung Galaxy Note 7’s that served as a metaphor for racial stereotyping and his cut Ben Carson jokes from the White House Correspondent’s Dinner.

Following his standup, Minhaj took questions from the audience. Questions ranged from deeply personal (“Have you ever been bigoted toward another person?”) to completely off-the-wall (“Why are buildings called buildings when they are already built?”). Minhaj answered all of them with his signature blend of heart and humor. Some of his answers even turned into comedy bits themselves. For example, his answer to the aforementioned building question resulted in a two to three minute long roast of the student asking the question. The most frustrating part of this portion of the event was that a number of students asked questions that could be answered by watching his comedy special, something Minhaj picked up on and then explicitly stated in his answers. Overall, the event ended all too soon. In total, it lasted only forty minutes and was over by 8 p.m.

After the event, the Forty-Niner Forum Speaker Series hosted a meet and greet event with Minhaj in Bistro 49. The line for this formed before the prior event had even ended, as students ran out of the event to get in line while those hosting the event called out raffle numbers. I managed to grab a spot relatively in the middle of the line. As a veteran of meet and greet events at sci-fi conventions, I couldn’t imagine that the line was long enough that I wouldn’t get through to meet Minhaj. However, I was quickly proven wrong. I waited in line for an hour and only moved a couple feet. By 8:45 p.m., those associated with the Speaker Series were already informing those near me that we would likely be unable to get in. This didn’t really seem to have the desired effect on those waiting.

Eventually, it became quite apparent that many people in line were going to be unable to meet Minhaj and the doors to Bistro 49 were closed. People around me were upset, hurt and a bit desperate. Though the Speaker Series gave out highlighters and phone chargers to compensate for the missed opportunity, this did not seem to pacify the line in any significant way. Though some people did begin to disperse, a majority of the line began to surge towards Bistro 49. It was uncontrolled and chaotic. Eager students rushed down the tight hallway and gathered almost mob-like around the doors. Despite warnings and insistence that they would not get to meet Minhaj by those associated with the Forty-Niner Forum and the Popp Martin Student Union, the crowd did not fully disperse until asked to by campus police.

Overall, Minhaj’s exceptional performance as a speaker overshadowed the chaos that came afterward. His standup material was original, timely and made every person in the packed ballroom laugh. He seemed completely comfortable on stage, which caused the audience to feel more relaxed in return. While I appreciated that the audience had the opportunity to ask questions, Minhaj was so engaging that I also just wanted to listen to him perform stand up the entire time. Granted, it would have been called a comedy show if that had been the plan for the evening and luckily, Minhaj is naturally funny even when put on the spot. I can’t imagine it working as well as it did with a number of other comedians.

As for the meet and greet afterward, the problems it had were mostly due to the Forty-Niner Forum Speakers Series’ apparent underestimation of Minhaj’s stardom. While the event itself had been moved to the student union from its typical location in McKnight Hall (likely to accommodate the expected larger crowds), Bistro 49 is simply not a good location for a meet and greet. The narrow hallway to its entrance tightens crowds and obscures sightlines, making it hard to gauge how far away one truly is in a line. Not only that, the line’s size seemed to far exceed expectations. Since Minhaj could only sign autographs and take pictures for a set amount of time, the line should have been managed more efficiently to get more people through it. A number of students that were able to meet Minhaj informed me that while there was a set amount of time allowed per student, it seemed hard to enforce. In my opinion, a pre-sold ticketing system would have benefitted both the main event and the meet and greet. It would have cut down on the premature line forming before the event, as well as prevented the chaos that ensued after students found out that they would be unable to meet Minhaj. If only a realistic number of tickets are allotted for the meet and greet, students won’t get their hopes dashed in an attempt to get into an event that can only truly tolerate a specific number of people.

The Temperature at Which Books Burn

Photo courtesy of Lyrical Photography

Heat. Red flame. The smell of kerosene and ink. This is book burning, a tactic of control and suppression that has been used since the birth of human civilization. It is the ultimate attack on freedom of thought and the right to publicly dissent. Even more dangerous, it allows those in power to shape (and even collectively erase) public memory into a story that benefits them. It is this danger that is explored in “Fahrenheit 451,” a dystopian classic by Ray Bradbury written during the height of the Red Scare. For the next two weekends, this tale will be available for all to experience as it is told on stage by the Three Bone Theater.

For those unfamiliar with the specifics of the plot, “Fahrenheit 451” tells the story of Guy Montag (Harry Jones Jr.), a fireman in a not-so-distant dystopian future. However, in this future, firemen start fires rather than put them out. Their job is to burn books, a source of information and entertainment that has become illegal, and the houses (and sometimes people) who harbor them. However, a chance meeting with his neighbor Clarisse (Stefani Cronley) sends Montag into a dangerous spiral. Ultimately, he is forced to choose between his growing desire for answers and the safety and ease of fitting in.

The performance company behind the production, Three Bone Theater, is relatively new to the Charlotte theater scene. However, one wouldn’t know that from the quality of the production. “Fahrenheit 451” has managed to compile a cast of extremely talented local actors who pull off this production brilliantly. In fact, this is one of the most well-rounded casts I’ve seen this entire season. The Duke Energy Theater complements the show nicely, as the intimacy of the small cast, minimalist set and close performance space draw the audience in.

Of course, no show is without issue. “Fahrenheit 451’s” struggles generally come from the script, with is both long and wordy. The show runs a little over two hours and a majority of the script comes directly from Bradbury’s novel. While “Fahrenheit 451” makes an extremely important point about the dangers of anti-intellectualism and book burning, it also risks bordering on pretentiousness. A number of the production’s quotes come from classic novels and rhetors and may fly above the audience’s heads. In one tense (and extremely well-performed) scene, two characters fling dueling words of philosophers at one another. While the scene ultimately succeeds in getting its message across, it may alienate members of the audience with no understanding or background knowledge of the quotes.

Photo courtesy of Lyrical Photography

However, this production of “Fahrenheit 451” overcomes its long-winded script simply by the talent and commitment of its actors. While the sheer magnitude of the lines could have overpowered the players, they instead made the long monologues and arguments their own. Every character felt real and every line was packed with backstory and emotion. Harry Jones Jr. as Montag is absolutely magnetic. The audience truly feels and cheers for him. The character’s personal journey is apparent in the way Jones carries himself, in the way he delivers lines, and in the way he expresses himself around other characters. Even in scenes in which Montag is mostly silent or confused, the emotion plays clearly on Jones’ face.

Heightening the production, Thom Tonetti as Fire Chief Beatty is one of the most compelling “villains I have seen in a theater production. Beatty is an enigmatic character whose actions and motivations sometimes seem to directly contradict each other. He is an angry and hurt ex-book lover, who turned to books during a time of need and failed to find solace. Tonetti takes this inner struggle and runs with it. At times, he plays the character as sympathetic, causing the audience to almost pity the chief. Not even minutes later, the character transforms into a whip-smart, cold and absolutely terrifying villain. There were points in the production in which it felt like the character was legitimately unhinged.

This talent was matched by Bill Reilly as the scared and quick-witted Professor Faber. Though Faber is only present for a few scenes in act two, Reilly plays the time for all he has. During the aforementioned scene in which two characters fight through words, Faber is tasked with providing the words for Montag. The scene is staged with Faber on a walkway above the two men (Montag and Beatty). This works brilliantly, as one is able to watch the three men perform simultaneously. It is beautifully compelling and tense. Stefani Cronley’s Clarisse is also a powerful performance. She provides a perfect character contrast to Montag and seems, at times, to be the only light in the dark world of “Fahrenheit 451.”

Photo courtesy of Lyrical Photography

Dystopian stories like “Fahrenheit 451” illustrate the worries and concerns our society has about the future. However, they also serve as warnings. They ask audiences to understand what path they believe society is heading in and to prevent the events and characteristics seen in the dystopia. While “Fahrenheit 451” was originally written during the Red Scare and reflects the fears of that time period, it remains ever relevant today. Book burning is still used as a control tactic in a number of oppressive regimes around the world. Beyond the act of book burning though, “Fahrenheit 451” warns the public about all attacks on freedom of speech and thought. This is especially stressed at the end of Three Bone’s production of the play. In the closing scene, the lights dim on the actors as they read snippets of the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution aloud. In today’s divisive times, this feels like a warning worth hearing.

“Fahrenheit 451,” produced by the Three Bone Theater company, is playing Nov 2-4 and 9-11 at the Duke Energy Theater in Spirit Square. Tickets are $22 in advance and $28 at the door; all shows start at 8 pm.

Bringing Women to the Forefront

Photo by Daniel Coston.

In sixth grade, we spent three weeks learning about the myths of Ancient Greece. They were typically stories of powerful demigods fighting fate, monsters and sometimes the gods themselves. They were stories like that of Herakles, the son of Zeus, and his twelve labors and the story of Jason and his quest to find the golden fleece. They may have even covered the story of Perseus and his slaying of the gorgon Medusa. However, there is one thing these stories have in common. Almost none of the popular ones were about women.

Contrary to this norm, “Women of Trachis” tells the story of Deianeira (Hannah Javidi), the wife of the famous demigod Herakles (Curtis Smith). She was repeatedly abandoned for extended amounts of time as Herakles traveled across Greece to complete his tasks. The audience meets Deianeira on the day Herakles is revealed to be returning home. While she is initially excited to be reunited with him, this is ruined by the arrival of her herald, Lichas (Noah Tepper). Lichas arrives trailing a “slave” behind him. It soon revealed that this slave is none other than Iole, a princess Herakles has taken as a lover and intends to have live with him and Deianeira in Trachis.

Once this news is revealed, the plot soon spirals into a full-scale Greek tragedy. In an attempt to save her role as a wife, Deianeira rubs the blood of a centaur on Herakles’ robe. She was led to believe that this blood would cause her husband to fall deeply in love with her. Instead, it is revealed to be poisonous. It smokes and burns, causing Herakles such tremendous amounts of pain that he murders Lichas and vows revenge on his wife. When Deianeira’s son Hyllus (Jacqueline Williams) informs her of what the centaur blood did to Herakles, Deianeira kills herself. It is then that the audience finally meets Herakles in person. He is bloody and in an impressive feat of special effects from the theater department, smoke emanates off of his body. He is so tortured that he requests that Hyllus burn him to death on a funeral pyre so that his suffering can end. However, his other final request is that Hyllus marry Iole. No one else is allowed to have her.

While all of this sounds traditionally Greek, UNC Charlotte’s production was anything but. UNC Charlotte’s Department of Theater performed the show from Oct. 25 to Oct. 29 in the Black Box Theater. This adaptation of “Women of Trachis” was written by Columbia University graduate Katherine Ryan and was produced off-off-Broadway in 2007. It attempts to infuse the Greek tragedy with pop culture references from the 60’s and 70’s. This was most apparent in the music of the show. While walking into the theater and waiting for the play to start, traditional 60’s and 70’s songs were played over the sound system. Even more obvious to audiences, was the Greek chorus’ performance of the song “Diamonds and Rust” by Joan Baez during the play.

Photo by Daniel Coston.

From a design standpoint, the play looked great and was engaging for the eye. The set of the show was modern and featured a metal porch bench and a number of chandeliers, lighting fixtures and plain light bulbs. When the show lights dimmed and the background lights became the only lights in the room, it looked truly beautiful. The costume design was also exceptional, so much so that I would rank it as the best I’ve seen in my time at UNC Charlotte. While the cuts and general design of the costumes (especially the dresses) were midcentury modern, traditional Greek influences were still apparent. For example, the dresses the Greek chorus wore were the cut and style of white dress from the 1960’s. To bring the 60’s to the forefront even more, the members of the chorus all wore blond Marilyn Monroe-esque wigs. However, gold embroidery and its’ placement on the dresses seemed to indicate Greek style. Deianeira’s red dress was also similar in that it was a modern cut and style. However, it featured a long piece of fabric that hung loosely and ran down Deianeira’s arm in a way that seemed reminiscent of a toga. Her golden jewelry would have fit in perfectly in both the 60’s and in Greece. In this way, the design and script of the play caused it to bridge an exceptionally large amount of time. It seemed to take place both in the 60’s and in Ancient Greece almost simultaneously.

Stand out performances came from a number of different cast members. Firstly, Hannah Javidi as the story’s heroine Deianeira. She played the role believably and hit all of the right emotional notes. The audience rooted for her, even when it becomes painfully obvious that her actions would result in tragedy. Noah Tepper as Lichas made a character that could easily have been dismissed as weaselly and unlikeable come across exceptionally well. He was comedic and entertaining in a way that made the audience like and feel for the character. The other standout performances came from the chorus. “Women of Trachis” is ultimately a play from Ancient Greece, meaning it features a traditional Greek chorus. However, in this production, the chorus not only echoes the characters but is given its own personality. In fact, the members of the Greek chorus are even featured and expanded upon as individual characters. They express memories, fears and individual points of view. Sometimes, they are even used as comic relief. While the program does not list which specific chorus members did what, I must commend the two chorus members who sang “Diamonds and Rust.” Their voices were powerful, moving and set the exact right tone for the play.

The story of “Women of Trachis” is not a feminist play in the obvious sense. It does not feature empowered women, adventurous heroines, or attempt to subvert societal structures. Instead, it illustrates the plight of women in Ancient Greece (and in the 60’s) by focusing on the tragedy of their stories and their inability to change their outcomes. Deianeira is a woman trapped by her role as a wife. She must continue to stay married to Herakles, no matter how many times he is unfaithful to her. Furthermore, if Herakles dies, she is to receive nothing. Similarly, Herakles’ new lover Iole is trapped simply by being the object of Herakles’ affection. Herakles’ lust for her leads him to single-handedly destroy her entire city, murder her family and drag her across the country to live with him as a slave and lover. Not once in the entire show does Iole say anything, for she is a woman who, at least culturally, has no say in what happens to her and no ability to change her circumstances.

The show also poses an interesting question by having the Greek chorus be made up entirely of women (though three of them were played by men). Though the chorus plays a large role in illustrating characters’ actions and points of view, the chorus is ultimately unable to change or affect events. They are forced to bear witness to the great tragedy that is Deianeira’s story and even express feelings of guilt that they were unable to change her ending. It begs the question, who are the “women of Trachis”? Are they Deianeira and Iole? Or are they the Greek chorus itself? Either way, by taking Greek myth and centering it on the female characters, Ryan’s “Women of Trachis” provides an interesting look at the role of women in both Ancient Greece and in modern society, even drawing parallels between them. It makes a statement about the role of women and ultimately calls for the enfranchisement and empowerment of the gender. That is a theme I can get behind.

Magic Comes to the Queen City

de Doelen, Rotterdam – Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest.
HARRY POTTER characters, names and related indicia are © & ™ Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. J.K. ROWLING`S WIZARDING WORLD™ J.K. Rowling and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. Publishing Rights © JKR. (s17)

The people who entered the auditorium were mainly comprised of three different groups. The first, middle-aged and elderly couples in suits and dresses, the typical symphony attire. The second group was made of families in casual t-shirts and jeans. You see this every once in awhile, especially at more kid-friendly events. The third? People in Hogwarts robes, complete with wands and hoods. This was new. Some wore sweaters with their Hogwarts house on them. Others wore so much fan merchandise I was convinced they raided a “Hot Topic.” It was one of the most beautiful culture clashes I have ever witnessed.

However, these three groups were united by two things: their love of “Harry Potter” and of music. The event they were gathering for was the “Harry Potter” Film Concert Series, brought to life by CineConcerts in collaboration with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra. It was held in Ovens Auditorium from Oct. 20-22. How exactly does a film concert work? Upon walking into the theater, one was greeted by a large movie screen lowered as close to the orchestra as possible. The movie “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” was to be played on the movie screen. The entire score was removed, for it was up to the orchestra to supply the music.

The conductor for the performance was Jeffrey Schindler, an extremely accomplished conductor. He has worked with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Sydney Opera House, and the Orquestra Filarmónica de Puerto Rico, among others. He has also lead a number of studio recordings for Hollywood motion pictures. These include sessions for “X-Men Apocalypse,” “March of the Penguins” and the locally-filmed “Talladega Nights.” Schindler was an absolute joy to watch conduct. It was clear just how much he enjoyed working with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and he had a great rapport with the orchestra members. He also actively engaged the audience and invited the audience to cheer, boo and participate in the film-watching experience.

The most obvious aspect of this movie screening that made it unique was the orchestra. It was truly great to be able to hear John William’s score live and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra played it perfectly. The first note of “Hedwig’s Theme” actually gave me chills. The harp soloist’s song, featured in the scene with Fluffy the three-headed dog, was surprisingly gentle and intimate. It was also interesting to see the sheer effort that goes into playing these pieces of iconic music. The concertmaster’s fingers seemed to fly across her violin at impossible speed. Not only were the notes perfect, the volume was as well. It provided just the right balance of volume to the pre-recorded movie, soft under dialogue and loud during large, dramatic moments. I cannot imagine the amount of practice it must take to perfect the volume balance so one does not overpower the other.

However, it was the audience engagement aspect of the concert that truly made it a worthwhile experience. Audience engagement is typically only reserved for showings of the “Rocky Horror Picture Show” and is not encouraged at movie screenings, orchestra concerts, or other formal performance venues. Yet instead of silence, fans were able to cheer for their favorite characters and their respective Hogwarts houses. People quoted their favorite lines and talked back to the characters. The Dursleys received the most well-deserved booing of all time. Every time the audience clapped and cheered, I felt my heart grow a little warmer.

“Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone” runs for about two and half hours. During the concert screening, the smile didn’t leave my face for that entire length of time. The event was a celebration of things I truly love: Harry Potter, fan communities and music. Active audience participation and the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra managed to transform a movie screening into something truly special. In that room full of talented musicians and engaged fans, a feeling swept through the audience. A feeling of excitement, a feeling of happiness, a sense of community. And maybe, if one looked hard enough, there might have been some magic there too.

Live From Charlotte, It’s Tuesday Night


Photos by Leysha Caraballo.

I have a confession to make: I am in a deeply committed (and one-sided) relationship with “Saturday Night Live.” We have weekly dates in front of my television set, and I spend hours reliving old memories via video clips and photos. I’ve even introduced them to my friends, who I have forced to watch “Tony Ruins Puppet Class” roughly twenty times. Needless to say, when I found out cast members Pete Davidson and Jay Pharoah were coming to UNC Charlotte for Homecoming Week, I was ecstatic.

The comedy show was held at 8 p.m. on Oct. 27 in Halton Arena. As Davidson promptly pointed out, this was a bit of an odd location. The comedians performed on the basketball court, where a rug functioned as a makeshift stage. The large echoing arena prevented the feeling of intimacy typically associated with standup performances in comedy clubs or theaters. Still, it’s the only place on campus with enough space to hold the large number of people in attendance. Tickets were free for students (which I greatly appreciated) and $20 for those outside the university.

The first of the comedians to perform was one not even listed on the program, standup comedian Dave Sirus. Dave was a member of “Saturday Night Live’s” writing staff during season 41. He also writes for “Triumph, The Insult Comic Dog” and produces sketch comedy, typically performing as a reporter covering the Westboro Baptist Church. Quite frankly, I spent the entire set feeling bad for Sirus. Not only was he faced with the extremely hard task of warming up the crowd, he had to do so as a performer the entire audience was unfamiliar with and unprepared for. The confusion in the audience when Sirus walked out instead of Pete Davidson or Jay Pharaoh was very apparent. Sirus struggled a bit material wise as well. The audience generally seemed anxious to move on and see Davidson and Pharaoh.

After Sirus, Davidson took the stage. Let’s be clear here, I’m generally a fan of Pete Davidson. He’s done some seriously good work as a cast member on “SNL,” most notably with his Weekend Update appearance on Oct. 7 and the sketch “The Jungle” with Dwayne Johnson. When he joined the show in 2014, he became one of the youngest “Saturday Night Live” cast members of all time. This year, he’s also been very upfront about his current personal struggles, which may have impacted his performance at the comedy show. Davidson struggles with addiction to marijuana, something he went to rehab for earlier this year. He has also publicly revealed the fact he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. In fact, his most recent “Weekend Update” appearance focused on this diagnosis and managed to be both funny and talk seriously about mental health at the same time.

Unfortunately, Davidson’s standup didn’t quite live up to the standards he’s set at “Saturday Night Live.” While Davidson’s stage and stand up persona is intentionally awkward, Davidson seemed nervous and struggled to remember his own material, often looking at his phone to remember jokes. I felt like I kept waiting for him to find his rhythm. As soon as he’d find it or a joke would land well, he had to return to his phone and search for jokes again. Davidson mentioned in his set that he’s out of practice doing standup and needs to do more, so I hope this was just an off night for him. Still, some jokes did manage to land really well. His best included a joke was about his father’s death on Sept. 11, a fact Davidson often incorporates into standup. He also told a pretty riveting story about his lack of sexual experiences in high school.

When Davidson left the stage, he introduced Jay Pharoah as “the headliner.” Pharoah had an absolutely stellar run as a member of “Saturday Night Live,” where he worked for six years. His sudden firing from the show came as a bit of a shock at the end of the season 41. Though the comedy show on campus had not advertised Pharoah as the headliner, it was apparent that Pharoah was in charge the second he walked on stage. Pharoah exuded confidence and swagger and had an undeniable stage persona. The contrast from the previous two comedians was very apparent. Pharoah connected with the audience more easily and often pulled in audience members for jokes.

Pharoah is an excellent storyteller and used his reputation as an “impression guy” to his advantage. In the course of about an hour, Pharaoh managed to incorporate impressions of Kevin Hart, Eddie Murphy, Barack Obama and Ben Carson (among others). Highlights of the night included memories of his study abroad trip to Japan and the story of how he created his Ben Carson impression. Still, all of Pharoah’s jokes didn’t land. Both Pharoah and Davidson write material that relates to a number of sensitive topics and would definitely be considered politically “incorrect.” Sometimes, when delivered correctly, it worked. Sometimes it really didn’t. Beyond that, his time ran on a bit long. When students began to leave the event early, I couldn’t tell if it was out of offense at some jokes or if they were simply bored and had homework to do. In all, the event lasted a little over two hours.

In the end, I left the arena a bit underwhelmed. Of course, this was in part due to my ridiculously high expectations. Some of the punchlines were really great, and enough of them amused me to make it worthwhile. There just weren’t enough high enough quality jokes as there should have been considering the caliber of the guests. Of course, comedy is relative. What I find funny is not necessarily what others will find funny and vice versa. Plenty of people laughed at every joke and seemed thoroughly entertained. As a side note, I’m seriously impressed by the Campus Activities Board for managing to get both Pete Davidson and Jay Pharoah to even come, regardless of their performance. They are by far some of the biggest stars I’ve seen come to campus. For now, “Saturday Night Live” and I will continue our relationship via our weekly television dates. I have no plans to travel up and attempt to get tickets to a taping. And while the comedy show ultimately didn’t live up to it’s potential, it was still great to have the opportunity to see a part of “Saturday Night Live” right on our campus.

From Iowa to North Carolina

Photo by Logan Cyrus.

The stage is empty. On it stands a sole actress in a basic brown dress. The music begins and she sings the story of how she traveled from Italy to Iowa, through big towns and open plains. Around her, townspeople begin to carry in set pieces. Some fencing. A kitchen sink. Stairs. As she sings the last note, the ceiling of her house is lowered into place. In a span of a couple minutes, the stage has been transformed into that of a small farm town. This is Madison County.

“The Bridges of Madison County” was originally a novel written in 1992 and immediately rocketed to popularity. In fact, The New York Times likened it to 1992’s version of “Fifty Shades of Gray.” This was only exacerbated by the book’s adaptation into a movie featuring Clark Grant and Meryl Streep back in 1995. However, with it being so long since the story’s rise, I really have no idea why anyone thought to turn it into a Broadway musical back in 2014. The original Broadway show ran only four months and wasn’t considered especially successful. Despite this, the show managed to win not one, but TWO Tony Awards in a year with especially stiff competition. I’ve actually seen every show it was nominated against for Best Original Score. All of them (except maybe “Aladdin”) would have been more deserving.

I finally saw the piece during Central Piedmont Community College’s production, which ran from Sept. 22 to Oct. 1. “Bridges” tells the story of Francesca (Sarah Henkel), an Italian war bride who moved to Iowa with her husband Bud (Steven Martin) 14 years before the events of the musical take place. When her husband and two children leave to compete at the state fair, she is left alone for four days. Then Robert Kinkaid (Ryan Deal) happens. Robert is a photographer for National Geographic assigned to photograph the covered bridges in the area. After a chance encounter, the two quickly escalate their acquaintanceship into an affair. The show seems to establish that Robert and Francesca are the equivalent of soulmates and that their love for one another is meant to be. However, upon Bud’s return, Francesca’s love for her kids causes her to ultimately choose not to run away with Robert. Instead, she lives out her life with a husband she doesn’t quite care for. Bud must live with a wife he loves but whose heart belongs to Robert. And Robert spends his time alone, waiting for a call from Francesca that will never come. No one wins. They all lose.

Maybe this sounds like a poignant and moving story, a tale of love and heartbreak. It could be, if not for the fact there seems to be little motivation behind the main plot. If the audience never met Bud and the children, it’d be a lot easier to get behind Francesca cheating on him with Robert. However, we do meet Bud and there seems to nothing particularly wrong with him. He looks out for Francesca, consistently wants to talk to her despite being away, and sings about how he wishes he could take her back to visit Italy. The only thing negative we really learn about him is that he does have high expectations of his children and bit of a temper. Still, Francesca’s cheating seems to come out of a place of boredom and a feeling of loneliness. She’s an outsider in a small town and jumps at the chance to talk with (and then have sex with) another outsider. Though we eventually learn of her somewhat tragic backstory in the second act, the audience has already formed their opinion of her by then. Since we’ve met Bud, the audience just feels sorry for him. We also feel fairly sorry for Robert, who falls for a woman who is actively pursuing him but cannot be with him due to her marital status. Still, when he suggested she leave her whole family to be with him, I rolled my eyes. They are both extremely flawed romantic leads.

Photo by Logan Cyrus.

I don’t hate this show. It’s just not that great, largely due to a plotline that feels outdated and unoriginal. The events of the show may take place in 1965, but it largely feels like the show may have been written in 1965 as well. One stark example is when Francesca’s two children grow up to be “successful” adults. Her son goes on to graduate from medical school and become a doctor. Her daughter gets married at the age of 18 and has a child. I realize this musical takes place in a different time period, but that doesn’t mean every character has to fall into a stereotyped social role. Historical fiction, including theater, can be done well and have dynamically written female characters. This just isn’t one of those shows.

However, I cannot fault Central Piedmont Community College with these issues. They did not write the script. The show was staged in the Halton Theater, which gave the show a feel of professionalism that I think was necessary due to the aforementioned problems. It also allowed the show to have a set design that was simultaneously minimalist and elaborate. The set pieces themselves were flown in from the fly system or pushed on stage by cast members. All of it effectively encapsulated the time period and setting. I’m quite fond of CPCC’s rendering of the covered bridge, a piece made with three open wooden outlines that form the overall shape of the bridge. Because it was not closed off or completed, the actors were able to move through it easier and the audience had a better view. In the background, the production used a lit screen of changing colors to evoke different moods and times throughout the show.

The actors in the show do their absolute best to breathe life into a stagnant script. Though they can’t quite push through the show’s plot, the actors are all quite talented and inhabit the personas they take on. Sarah Henkel’s operatic voice as Francesca fills a whole auditorium. It plays especially well during her duet with Ryan Deal’s Robert, “Falling Into You.” However, the best performances came from two side characters. Olivia Aldridge, who plays Francesca’s daughter Carolyn, shows serious promise for a young actress. Not only can you tell she is a powerful singer just from ensemble numbers, she also makes you root for a character that serves little to no purpose in this show. Francesca’s nosy neighbor Marge, played by Taffy Allen, also has a fun solo number that was quite possibly the highlight of the night. The comedic relief was needed and appreciated.

I wish I had more good things to say about this show, I really do. It suffers from a poor script and an outdated plot line. The music, though award-winning, isn’t particularly memorable despite the talented voices in the cast. However, I must acknowledge that while I don’t think this musical will be loved by young people, it absolutely delighted the senior citizens in the audience. I believe this is largely in part to nostalgia for the famous book and movie. Ultimately, I believe that CPCC did the best they could with the material they were given. They had a strong cast with impressive vocals, a unique set design and a talented orchestra. However, even this couldn’t overcome a truly mediocre plot.