Friday, March 5, 2010

Two Short Musicals at UWM

Seniors Amanda J. Hull and Liz Shipe Present Two Short Musicals

By Russ Bickerstaff
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The crowd for the final dress rehearsal was populated largely with people from the UWM theatre department. It’s a different kind of crowd atmosphere . . . one not entirely unlike a usual theatre crowd. I’m there to catch a performance of a pair of projects by two UWM students. It’s a very casual workshop atmosphere. It is only a little over 24 hours before the single performance of the show as the rehearsal begins.

The lights dim and Liz Shipe enters the stage. Shipe has proven to be a talent outside UWM in a number of different projects in the past couple of years. Here she’s performing something she’s also put together . . . it’s Purple Hearts--a tribute to the US women who have been affected by war. In a series of songs and monologues, Shipe presents stories typical of women affected by a string of wars. The revolutionary war gives way to the civil war, World War One and Two, The Korean War and finally . . . Operation Desert Storm. Shipe runs through popular US history in a brisk performance that never really slows down. There isn’t much insight beyond the basic drama that hits everyone affected by war. As an entertaining hour’s performance, the lack of novel insight into women affected by war isn’t a problem . . . it’s brisk and concise enough to hold an audience’s attention and there’s enough genuine emotion pulsing through the piece as a whole that it’s all very entertaining. Shipe has chosen a group of characters diverse enough to keep the thing from feeling too repetitious. The forlorn drama of a daughter waiting for her father to come back from the Civil War front moves into a spirited woman performing with the USO (shades of Bette Middler in For The Boys) and then on to a traditional Broadway-style duet between a woman and the man she’s falling in love with prior to his deployment in Korea. 

Shipe was a little stiff performing the show in front of an audience for the first time . . . admitted to being a bit nervous during intermission. The big thing that struck me about her piece was that it was a really concise actors’ exercise routine for her . . . she’s doing British, then Irish accents. She’s doing a variety of different songs in a variety of different styles—nonmusical comedy, then drama and then she closes the show with a dance performance representing basic training prior to deployment in Kuwait. . . it’s a pretty comprehensive exercise for an actress and it’s a lot of fun to watch someone with as much potential as Shipe performing something as exhaustive as this . . . if it weren’t so clearly a

Intermission came and went and the program was on to the second act . . . Letters to No One--a play in which Amanda J. Hull plays a woman working at the post office who lives vicariously through found pieces in the dead letter office . . . it’s a cute format for a musical revue. Hull has a really talented singing voice. What with this being a dress rehearsal for a one-time only performance, she didn’t really seem to be using her full vocal range, but you could tell it was there. The really fun thing to watch with Hull is the sweet subtlety of her stage personality. The character isn’t designed to be sophisticated, but Hell does a really good job of instantly making a sympathetic connection with the audience even if the character she’s playing doesn’t have that much personality to interact with.

As a whole, this is a really fun performance. Shipe and Hull both have a great deal of potential. At roughly two hours with intermission, the show should be a fun evening’s musical theatre on a budget—an opportunity to get up close and personal with a couple of talented actresses.

Letters To No One and Purple Hearts run one night only—March 6th and 7:00pm in the UWM Blackbox Theatre. Admission is Free.

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