Read original blog post at artsatmichigan.umich.edu.
Although Pioneer’s Fame was a high school production, neither the subject matter nor the incredible performances that I was witness to were elementary. The maturity of these students to tackle such complex issues such as addiction, body image, racial bias, and more was impressive. They handled each of these scenarios with care and honesty- you could tell that they had done the research and done the work to portray these with as much delicacy and respect as they possibly could.
In addition to the challenges that embodying these roles with these issues presented, they were also singing, dancing, acting, and performing complicated lifts. The sheer array of art forms that I saw during this performance was almost enough to make me feel like I was at a variety show.
Isa Grofsorean as Iris Kelly brought such grace and poised strength every time that she began a ballet sequence. I was simply entranced by the choreography and its execution, especially on the small stage with which she had to perform it.
Kenyatta Campbell was easy to love as a character. He brought a fire and drive to Tyrone Jackson and not only that, he had a contagious energy when dancing, singing, rapping, and just in his interactions with other characters. We, as a collective audience, rooted for him through and through.
Bridget Roberts as Serene Katz was remarkable. Her voice is the kind of perfect that you stop everything to listen to and could listen to on end without ever ceasing. The way in which she switches with great dexterity from her belt to her head voice, while all the while making it seem effortless, is incredible. Bravo to her.
Mia Galbraith as Carmen Diaz, is a true triple threat. Not only does she absolutely annihilate (in the best way) potentially the most complex, impressive, and most fun numbers in the first act and potentially whole show but she also comes out in the second act to wow the audience again with her dance skill in a flamenco-style piece while simultaneously juggling perhaps the most complex and tragic storyline. I applaud her immensely, for closing out her senior year with this truly beautiful performance.
Francisco Fiori as Joe Vegas was wildly hilarious. His number, “can’t keep it down”, whilst a bit inappropriate, almost had me in tears. It speaks to his versatility as a performer, as this role departs majorly from previous parts he has had as the grandpa in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the dad in In the Heights. Seeing him play a youthful and comical class clown, who also has some pretty great dancing chops, was a refreshing change of pace and truly made me appreciate this actor for all he has to offer.
Ella Manning as Mabel Washington brought the house down with her vocals, as she sang about changing her major. Her story was as engaging to watch as it was to listen to her fill the auditorium with her powerful, beautiful voice.
The entire ensemble and rest of the cast, who I couldn’t possibly have time to name one by one, but who all deserve recognition were phenomenal. I don’t think I have ever seen a show that more perfectly showcased the talents of each of its students while also maintaining the integrity of what truly was an ensemble show. I truly felt that this show could have been performed at a performing arts high school, that’s how impressive it all was. This show had me wanting to give a standing ovation by the end of the first number, and if that doesn’t sum up the experience, then I don’t know what does.
Overall, this show rocked me in every was that a person can be. Between wanting to laugh and cry and throw roses at the actors feet, I can’t give enough props to the incredible cast and crew who made this show look and sound great from start to finish.
By Kelly Kennedy