It’s the end of days! Or so says this year’s Senior SING!, meshing together fantasy characters and the end of the Mayan calendar in its magical-apocalyptic performance.
The show, written by Ian Grant, Sam Levine, Jamie Zhan, Oliver Willens, and Ben Koatz, brought the annual tradition to new heights in terms of comedic theatrics. Never was there a lull in the action due to the talent of its performers and the depth of their characters. Less than 80 points removed from an early victory last year, the Class of 2012, led by coordinator Reema Panjwani, executive producer Neil Maheshwari, and producers Kelly Kwan, Connor Justice, and Jules Berman, returned to the stage with more experience and greater creativity to win the 40th annual production of SING!.
The production opens with the band’s xylophone rendition of the Harry Potter theme to introduce the “SS 12, Channel 12” newscast, presented by the in-your-face Chad Budwhick (Daniel Kim) and the coolly reserved Veronica Star (Andzelika Dechnik). Their newscast, which consists primarily of Junior-SING!-bashing, is soon interrupted by reports of earthquakes and tsunamis worldwide. Budwhick (“This is the big one! Run for your lives!” he shouts) and Star flee the scene as the curtains rise to reveal the chorus shrouded in pink capes and heavy fog for the opening number. The song itself, “The End of the World”— based on “Lost in the World” by Kanye West—is haunting at first, eventually growing loud and chaotic, and along with pyrotechnic sparks, a fire-red and flood-blue ribbon dance, and destructive drumming from the orchestra pit, the whole number creates a feeling of actual apocalypse.
After the song, six magical characters spin across the stage and fall down, frazzled by the mayhem. We learn it is December 21, 2012—the infamous day of the Mayan apocalypse—and the world has ended. Only those inside the enchanted walls of the set’s castle have survived. In an attempt to discover the cause of the apocalypse and to begin the rebuilding process, the characters split up into pairs. Albus Severus Potter (Daniel Aksenov), Harry’s bumbling son who cannot speak to the adorable Tinkerbell (Emma Lichtenstein) without fainting, and the outlandish David Blaine (Edward Li) team up to find the source of the chaos. They are a charismatic pair, bouncing witticisms and mockery off one another in an effortless match of verbal ping-pong.
Blaine and Potter head off on their search, leaving the ineffectively flirtatious Gandalf (Jeremy Cohen) to serenade Sabrina the Teenage Witch (Nevakivi-Callanan) and “repopulate—I mean rebuild the castle,” Cohen says.
Though the script was strong, it was the talented cast that buoyed the production and bewitched the audience. The overly forward, environmentally conscious Gandalf, the dim and eccentrically untalented Blaine, and the Lebowskian existentialist and aptly named stoner Puff the Magic Dragon (Jake Simon) were standouts in the already outstanding cast. The slightly confusing plot line becomes practically inconsequential, as the antics of the characters and the ability of the actors are more important than the outcome itself. As the action progresses, side characters are introduced who inject their own brand of humor into the ridiculous dynamic.
Early in Gandalf and Sabrina’s search, the pair encounters the jocks of the magical world, the Quidditch Bros (Gil Spivack, Julian Michaels, Sanjit Gill, Jun Hong). Decked out in snapback hats, basketball (Quidditch) jerseys, and neon sunglasses, these four embrace the frat-boy persona with an incredible amount of (hashtag) swag. Sabrina, clearly attracted to their loudmouthed masculinity, asks Spivack about his Quidditch skills: “How good are you?” To which, he confidently replies, “I got 99 problems, but a snitch ain’t one.”
In comes the third number of the show, a Potter-inspired twist on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “N*ggas in Paris” performed by the Bros whose confidence overcomes any and all inability to rap. However, their confidence is soon curbed by their coach, the Wicked Witch of the West (Lili Gehorsham), who despises this group of imbeciles and forces them to dance in order to practice their footwork. And with that, we’re in full swing (crew). Seven couples in Hogwarts house colors swing to Gehorsham’s entrancing rendition of “Great Balls of Fire” with clean lifts and skirt-flinging twirls.
Soon after leaving the Bros, the duo comes upon the Phoenix (Jackie Krass), who helps Sabrina stave off Gandalf’s advances in a bit of feigned lesbian flirting that was left oddly unexplained in the New Haven performance. Krass and Nevakivi-Callanan sing the background to the smooth and simple phoenix Latin dance, in which Dechnik, an internationally competitive ballroom dancer, makes a reprisal. The two actresses’ singing is laudable, but their dialogue feels awkward and forced.
Meanwhile, Blaine and Albus continue their search in the library. When they learn that the page they need has been ripped out of the encyclopedia, it only takes one glance at the sprinkled Doritos crumbs to tell that Puff, whose munchies of choice are Doritos, has been at the scene. After the pair confronts him, Puff, wearing a cheap dragon costume and Bob Marley tee (kudos, costume department), returns the page and explains that he “needed a piece of paper to, uh, use as papers—I mean, a napkin” in a bit of pothead humor that miraculously made it past the administration’s all-censoring Eye of Sauron.
Following a few minutes of deduction and crazed anagramsolving, Blaine and Albus discover that—surprise!—Sabrina is the bringer of the apocalypse. They are, however, too late in their revelation, as they soon discover that Sabrina has killed Gandalf and used the Magic Mirror (the jazzy and “Linsane” Joseph Frankel) to summon her master, the aaaaaaaa-stounding Mayan Chief (Josiah Mercer). (It wouldn’t really be SING! if everything made sense.) The Magic Mirror introduces himself with the help of a jazzy girls’ hip-hop dance and a song performed by Briana Byron, featuring a superb trombone solo from Mark Schramm. Byron is crisp on the vocals, and the girls are quick and composed in their dance, but nothing contributes more to the number than Frankel’s exaggerated arm-swinging and seductive hip thrusts in the background.
The gang (minus Sabrina) then resurrects Gandalf with the help of a spell-casting rave crew. A slight disappointment compared to the surprisingly talented Soph-Frosh rave, this group did little more than swing their lights in circles. (The dancing at the after-party was more coordinated.) The act would have been a completely dull if it weren’t for its killer glow-in-the-dark guitar solo in the middle.
With Gandalf back, the Magic Mirror offers the gang a brief look into Sabrina’s Mayan origins, during which the chorus, led by director Briana Byron, performs the Mekons’ “Old Trip to the Mayan Land,” a leading contender for best song of this year’s SING!.
Sabrina, as it turns out, is a Mayan priestess who has been sent to the future to bring about the apocalypse. At the close of the flashback, Bhangra performs its dance to the Punjabi pop tune “Soni Pabla Boli Pani” sung by Ravtej Kohli and a powerful drum performance by Andreas Petrossiants that may have outperformed the dancers. In fact, Kohli’s background song was one of the biggest surprises of the entire show. This Mayan delivered an impassioned performance that left its mark even though most of the audience had no idea what the lyrics actually meant.
Following the song, we return to the present where the Chief has arrived with Sabrina to finish the job of ending the world. After some name-calling and self-praise, the the Mayans and the magical beings launch into battle. Gandalf and company win the first round, a martial arts fight with choreography beyond the usual range of high school theater that ended in a Temple-of-Doomstyle heart ripping-out. Next the Mayan step crew army, directed Natalyah Morgan, Tajma Hall, and Suzy Kim, troops on stage. The crew is raucous, but coordinated enough that each stomp resounds as one and their movements are as sharp as the tip of Albus’s wand.
In fact, most of the production was pretty sharp. Almost all the sloppy New Haven transitions were ironed out by Friday’s significantly smoother performance, and any missed cues or hesitations went largely unnoticed by the audience. No, this year’s Senior SING! would not beat the epic, two-time champion Class of 2011 in a SING!-off, but it could put up a pretty decent fight. What this year’s show lacked in finesse or storyline logic, it made up for with its well-picked cast and multi-talented crews.
The last few minutes of the show are your typical the-goodguys-won fanfare in which the awkward, underappreciated sidekick (Blaine, here) saves the day and the awkward, underappreciated protagonist (Albus) gets the girl (Tinkerbell). True it is cliché, but somehow (magically) the cast makes it work. Just like they’ve been doing since scene one.
In an impressive feat of wizardry, the seniors took the morbid topic of the apocalypse and overrode it with humor and charm. Ripe with spell-casting, girl-chasing, and time-travelling, the end of the world might not be so bad