Review: MC Players Go Back to School in Annual Cabaret

by Rose Brennan, A&E Editor

On Nov. 21-23 in the Black Box Theatre, the Manhattan College Players sought to recreate the four most terrifying years in a young adult’s life.

Through the raging hormones, the teenaged angst, star-crossed lovers and teachers at their breaking points, directors Camryn Kidney and Maria Summerville succeeded in transporting the audience back into the fishbowl environment most of them had only recently left in this year’s cabaret, entitled “Welcome to High School.”

Prior to the beginning of Friday night’s show, the stage was bare.  There was a gigantic M emblazoning center stage, and various event and motivational posters were hung on the wall, one of which humorously quipped, “You do not need heroin to be a hero.”  As the audience settled in, the cast could be heard in the next room over, gleefully warming up and setting the stage for what was sure to be an excellent, hilarious and nostalgic evening.

The production began just after 8 p.m., with a large group number called “Let Your Freak Flag Fly,” from “Shrek: The Musical.”  Ushering the number in was the familiar sound of a bell ringing, calling the entire audience back to the familiar chaos typical of a high school hallway.

There were a number of group numbers throughout the evening, including “History Has Its Eyes on You” from “Hamilton,” “Stick It to the Man” from “School of Rock,” and “Unruly Heart” from “The Prom.”  “Unruly Heart” in particular was pivotal, as four seniors from the cast came forward to sing in a small group, signaling an end to their time both in the cabaret and at MC.

In a cast 41 members strong, solo numbers were few and far between.  However, the lucky few with solo numbers provided them with a wide range of emotions and experiences.  Senior Megan Lawlor sang about remaining true to oneself in the fakeness endemic to a high school environment with her rousing anthem “I’d Rather Be Me” from “Mean Girls.”  Freshman Luis Chavez, in contrast, sang “Proud of Your Boy” from “Aladdin,” wherein he made a tearful apology to his mother and promised to live up to the hopes and dreams she has for him.  Senior and cabaret co-director Maria Summerville, hiding behind a large pair of glasses and a flute, sang “Lost in the Brass” from “Band Geeks,” wherein she sang of a desire to be noticed by a boy as not just another member of the band, but also as a girl.

The true showstopping solo number, however, came from junior Andrea Gorrin Sepulveda, who sang “She Used to Be Mine” from “Waitress.”  She lifted the song from the diner of “Waitress” into the high school environment, and it was completely believable.  She sang with the emotions of standing at a crossroads, having one event (in this case, an unplanned pregnancy) completely alter the course of her life in an unknown and likely terrifying direction.

One of the most defining events of high school is definitely prom night, which was addressed by two separate numbers.  One of these songs was heartwarming and touching, as senior Gabby Kasper asked senior Julia Garcia to the prom in “Dance with You” from “The Prom.”  “The Prom” centers around two girls going to prom together and enduring the backlash they will likely receive due to it, but when Kasper asks Garcia to the dance, she doesn’t care what others say, because all she needs is “you and me and a song.”

On the complete opposite side of the prom coin, seniors Paul Fucao and Lisa Chizmadia kicked down the door of the Black Box Theatre before their prom-themed number, and frantically distributed informational flyers about the dance, hilariously written in comic sans font and forbidding all forms of suggestive dancing, including “t-werking” and “HUMP-ING.”  Amid the chaos, Fucao and Chizmadia took centerstage and launched into the upbeat song “Dancing Queen” by ABBA.

While “Welcome to High School” mainly focused on the wide-ranging emotions associated with high school, the show was not without its funny moments.  Three hilarious duets immediately come to mind.  Sami Rainey and co-director Camryn Kidney portrayed two teachers at their wit’s end with their students, and sang “Little Girls” from “Annie.”  Rainey once again appeared in a duet with sophomore Matt Blackwood, an enthusiastic yet unintelligent student in a music theory class, who believes the solfege scale ends with “Oop!”  He laments his academic shortcomings as they both sing “If I Only Had a Brain” from “The Wizard of Oz.”  Thursday night’s crowd received a fun surprise, as Rini’s role as a teacher was played by director of performing arts Andrew Bauer.

Kidney and Summerville truly had a knack for taking non-high school-themed songs and making them fit within the production.  The comical duet of “Agony” from “Into the Woods” was a perfect example.  The Prince Charmings from “Into the Woods” were transformed into “Nice Guys,” complete with fedoras, sandals with socks and incel-related sentiments, and were played to hilarious perfection by senior Peter Martino and junior Max Toder.

Following the final number, “Unruly Heart,” the cast of 41 members strong bowed for the audience, arranged according to their class year: first the freshmen, followed by the sophomores, followed by the juniors and, finally, the seniors, who received the final bow.  As the cast filed out, they called back to Fucao and Chizmadia’s earlier number, dancing and singing “Dancing Queen.”

Kidney and Summerville did an excellent job communicating the multifaceted experience of high school.  From laughs, tears and everything in between, the audience truly went back in time with the cast, and relived some of the most terrifying, and yet most formative, years of their lives.