Despite the fact that we've only been on campus for a little more than a week, campus theater has already awoken from its slumber. Over the weekend, the Livingston Theatre Company and the Cabaret Theatre put on a musical revue for the start of the theater season.
But what exactly is a musical revue — a question I heard from some of my fellow attendees as we piled into the tiny theater.
Think of a musical revue as a collection of songs, sketches and sometimes dance sequences strung together in a vague conglomeration of plot. Though I've enjoyed quite a number of revues in my years seeing theater, it's usually not so much about the plot and more about the songs themselves.
The revue, titled "What I Did For Love," was at the Cabaret Theatre on Douglass campus, a space that is famous for how hot and stuffy it can get. Luckily, in the days approaching the event, our week-long heat wave was replaced by thunder and hail storms, which helped to cool the theater down a bit — to a bearable degree, at least.
Shortly after finding our seats, I was asked if I was OK with being physically interacted with during the show, and I readily agreed. Anything for the theater, right?
The revue began with a rendition of "Seasons of Love," an appropriate start to the night as the Livingston Theatre Company is performing "Rent" later this year. "Seasons of Love" is a classic for a reason, as it's a brilliant song and was given proper justice by the cast, who harmonized with true expertise.
Next on the list was another Jonathan Larson classic, "Therapy" from "Tick, Tick… Boom!" which was popularized by the 2021 movie adaptation of the same name. For any theater lover, it goes without saying that this is a particularly difficult duet to do properly, as there is constant overlap, and it can be quite chaotic if a single mistake is made.
But Mary Klein, a School of Environment and Biological Sciences senior, and Leo Eisenman, a School of Environment and Biological Sciences sophomore, really nailed this number.
The risk that comes with attending any musical revue is that you're extremely unlikely to recognize every song on the list. Despite being a musical theater fan myself, most of the setlist was unfamiliar to me. As a result, there was a bit of a slow stretch for me during the songs I didn't know, and I often lost the storyline that connects each song.
The show itself was about love — falling in and out of it and all the disastrous and wonderful relationships we find ourselves in. While I was able to follow that basic premise, trying to keep up with the specifics of the plot was a bit difficult, and I preferred to just focus on the songs themselves.
One of my favorite moments of the show was when Rachel Mendoza, a School of Arts and Sciences junior, belted out "I Can Do Better Than That" and was rewarded with quite an eruption of well-deserved applause afterward.
During the song, Mendoza paced back and forth in the rows and, before doing so, asked if she could take the seat next to me and sang part of the number while grabbing my shoulders and delivering it to me. While a bit awkward for me as I was under a sudden spotlight and the scrutiny of the audience's collective gaze, it was a fun beat and a good story for me to tell afterward.
The audience-performer interaction throughout made the revue feel more personal and intimate, which lent to the story about relationships and love that they were trying to tell. As Mendoza went on, I felt a bit like a friend she was lamenting to, which seems like the point the directors were trying to make.
The revue didn't just feature songs from musicals but also had a few classic chart-toppers like "Happy Together" by The Turtles and a song I'm personally quite familiar with, "Both Sides Now," written by Joni Mitchell and originally performed by Judy Collins.
But one of my favorite numbers of the night was "Cool About It" by boygenius, which even rivaled the original rendition. Once again, I was in the spotlight during this number — literally, as one of the actors performed it on the step directly to my right. You could say I was very "Cool About It," as I did my best to pretend not to notice and just enjoy the song.
But their rendition of "Both Sides Now" was one I was looking forward to the whole show and slightly disappointed me. And while that's not the fault of the performer who sang it beautifully, I think such a strong number could have been done a bit better.
The song is an introspective and emotionally driven ballad that fits well with the story the revue was trying to tell, but the moment ultimately fell a bit flat in the moment. In my opinion, the arrangement could have been easily turned into a group harmony as I felt it didn't really match with the scene they placed it in.
Of course, it's hard to mess up "What I Did For Love," the last and title song of the revue — and this cast delivered it beautifully. The song from the musical "A Chorus Line" is a gorgeous and heartbreaking number about performers and their love for the stage reshaped into one about failed and triumphant relationships.
I really cannot stress how incredible the cast harmonies were throughout the show, and their hard work paid off with this last song. The revue definitely ended on a wonderful and triumphant note.
Overall, I quite enjoyed this sweet, simple and strong start to the Rutgers theater season. All the performers reminded me how talented Rutgers actors are, from the first note of "Seasons of Love" to the hauntingly beautiful last beat of "What I Did For Love." Because this was just a taste of what this campus theater season will bring, I look forward to shows that will be put on stage as always.