It seems almost a tradition for Soph-Frost SING! to follow the same format year after year—a hapless student wandering through the hells of homework is thrust into a magical land, where devious forces conspire to keep him from studying. It is a uniquely Stuyvesant notion, that the one written work of the year that has nothing to do with academia rests so heavily upon it, and even in a fantasy world the tedium of Stuyvesant doesn’t leak through so much as it floods.
The Soph-Frosh performance of 2012, produced by sophomores Zoe Handy and Shafeen Hemnani and freshmen Imtiaz Uddin and Emily Ruby, felt more like a showcase for several talented students than a coherent production. With the theme of playing cards, the play was set around a scheming pair of Team Rocket-esque Joker cards (sophomores Tahia Islam and Eddie Zildebrand) looking to take revenge for their exclusion from so many games (although we only learn of their motives at the end of the play). This framing device did little to unify the confusing narrative—with no exposition other than the pair’s clumsily written rhymes, stating that they plan to turn the two kings of Card World against each other, the audience is left to play catch-up. Although it is unclear why they think it will further their plans, they kidnap student Jack Black (freshman Kyler Chase) from his desk and use him to cause strife in Card World.
The production’s lack of a set—consisting of a backdrop and several blocks that were rotated to show change in setting— would be commented on regardless, but Jack makes it even more conspicuous, exclaiming, “Wow, this set is even more empty than the junior’s plot!” This is the first of many insults aimed at the other two shows, and might have been one of the more successful ones, if not for the selfdeprecating defeatism evident in the statement. The production is stuffed with so many riffs against the upper grades that it leaves one to wonder what validity they have in condemning the others’ plots.
As the scene changes to Card World, chorus members clad in costumes marking their respective allegiances to one of the two card kings filled the stage. Supposedly to magnify the conflict between the hearts and the spades, a confrontation erupts between a pair of cards (freshman Jasmine Thomas and sophomore Cassie Kessler), and they burst into “Anything You Can Do” from “Annie Get Your Gun.” Although the song is an awkward fit, the performance was wonderful—Thomas has one of the best voices in the show, and it’s a shame she was not featured more. The song ends when Jack breaks up the fight, and begins a tune of his own.
What Chase lacks in acting ability and stage presence, he more than makes up for with his breathtaking singing voice. With rich tone and strong projection, he might have the best voice of all four grades. Unfortunately, other than a brief rap later in the show, this is the only time he has to showcase it, and he seemed uncomfortable despite his aptitude, shuffling across the stage as the chorus swayed behind him.
Jack finds his way to a fortune teller, played wonderfully by [grade] Israt Houssain, who offers to read his fate. This is one of the most entertaining scenes of the play, mostly due to Houssain‘s amusing stage voice and incredible comedic sensibility. She sees the name “Kevin” in Jack’s palm reading, and asks, “Do you know a Kevin?” During the Saturday performance, as Jack rattles off several classes he shares with a Kevin, an audience member shouted, “I’m over here!” Instead of ignoring him, Houssain incorporated him into the show, waving hello and later asking him to be her next customer. Her improvisation and willingness to go beyond the somewhat staid material proves she is an actress to watch out for.
The narrative now jumps away from Jack to land on a new character—Maddie (sophomore Juliette Hainline), a spade being confronted by a group of hearts as they are evicted from spade territory. The ensemble sings a version of “What is This Feeling?” from “Wicked,” strangely reworded to center around social networking for no apparent reason.
After the police break up the fight, the step crew, directed by sophomore Mehak Ijaz, enters with no transition. Despite the messy plotting, step is impressive, using innovative choreography such as lying on the floor, and was one of the few dance teams that was completely in synch. However, the performance ended with more of a fizzle than a bang—all but two of the dancers exit, leaving the duo to continue stepping very well, but with no interaction. If not for the disappointing ending, this would have been a very strong crew.
The story returns to Jack, now in “Heartlem,” where he meets the pseudo-Mexican Uno (sophomore Clay Walsh). Sounding like Robin Williams in “Happy Feet,” Walsh toed the line between racism and comedy well, never taking the character over the top, but remaining charismatic and exciting. Later in the show, he delivers an adorable rendition of “You’ve Got an Amigo in Me,” that, while vocally uninspiring, was cute and fun. Chemistry teacher Michael Orlando has a hilarious cameo in this segment, carrying a disco ball and wearing bedazzled glasses. “You cannot do Lady Gaga in dress pants,” sneers a member of Uno’s posse, in one of the wittiest lines of the night.
Uno and Jack have an awkward encounter with the Queen of Hearts (freshman Harmehar Kohli) in which she flirts egregiously. The Queen has a powerful stage voice, but she could not overcome the obnoxiousness of her character. As she is busy with the male actors, the king, played by hilariously adorable freshman Thomas Perskin, bursts onto the stage, only to be held far at bay by one of Jack’s comparatively hands. In a wonderful nod to the Winter Comedy “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” Perskin runs into fellow actor freshman Mitchell Teper, who played a potty-mouthed Frenchman, and exclaim over the deja vu. Only those who saw the production could appreciate this, but it proved a light-hearted touch.
Uno brings Jack back to his home, where, in a refreshing change, the Latin crew is introduced as his family. Sophomore and director Christine Xu is a fabulous dancer and choreographer, but this segment seemed more an exhibition for her and her partner than a cohesive group performance—this was only exacerbated when the rest of the dancers leave so they can perform alone. The contemporary crew had a similar problem—each dancer was clearly talented, but they were out of synch and suffered from choreography that wasn’t especially breathtaking, leaving a performance that never quite peaked. Sophomore band director Aron Helfet, however, delivered a stunning saxophone solo in one of the best musical moments of the night, and the rave crew gave a surprisingly inspired performance, utilizing the stage and each other to establish a mighty stage performance for the entire act.
After so long out of the narrative, it is surprising when Maddie appears on stage again, whistling at Jack and Uno from behind a newspaper to get their attention. Jack and Uno have an unnecessary and unamusing exchange in which they think the other is flirting, before they notice Maddie. Hainline sings a decent, if somewhat off-key, version of “Love Song” by Sara Bareilles.
The three head off together, but are soon jumped by the police. Jack wakes up in a jail cell (Uno and Maddie mysteriously absent), and delivers the funniest line of the show: “Why are there bars on the windows? Is this Bronx Science?”
He is freed from incarceration by Pikachu (a reference to the Pokemon playing card game), who on Saturday was played, to roaring applause, by Principal Stanley Teitel. Jack’s fellow inmates the Card Shark (Teper) and Go Fish (freshman Nadia Saleh) warn him to avoid the “irresistible” guards, or boy’s hip-hop, whose director sophomore Phillip Lan delivers a fun intro, performing multiple highflying tricks on the stage.
Reunited, Jack, Uno, and Maddie finally make it to the court of the King of Spades (sophomore Thomas Duda), and are joined by the King of Hearts. The King of Spades explains that he evicted the hearts because a mysterious messenger informed him that one was planning to assassinate him. Jack steps forward and asks if they spoke in rhyme; the Jokers are dragged from the shadows (wearing sunglasses and mustaches, again evoking Team Rocket), and explain their chagrin at being rejected from every card game—except Chinese Poker. The two kings embrace, and peace is restored.
Despite many strong dance crews and clear, budding talent, Soph-Frosh SING! could not get past its mediocre script and the sense of resignation it brought. Those who were capable had little opportunity to shine because of what felt like a rushed performance. Every good performance was at the risk of being forgotten due to the excessive digs at the other grades and tiresome references to Stuyvesant life. What could have been a strong, enjoyable production ended up falling nearly as flat as a deck of cards, and though there was a surprising lack of reference to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face,” the audience had little trouble wearing one. However, the promise of these grades is great: with some daring, commitment, and growing confidence, next year’s SING! is sure to be straight aces.