Photo courtesy of USI Photography and Multimedia
On a dimly lit stage, Samantha Brown (Evelyn Pigman) sorrowfully sings out, “Can you do something as simple as not knowing where you’re going? What does it feel like?” Such is the theme of “The Mad Ones,” the university’s first theatrical production open to live audiences since the beginning of COVID-19.
“The Mad Ones” was performed live in the USI Performance Center Oct. 14 -17, 2021.
The musical begins with Samantha sitting alone in her car, working up the courage to start the engine and head off to University. Samantha should be eager to hit the road as a valedictorian and future Ivy League student. Instead, she begins to reflect on her senior year of high school being struck by a world-crashing tragedy.
The voices and memories of those dearest to her including her mother Beverley Brown (Grace Koltz), boyfriend Adam (Nate Jenkins) and best friend Kelly (Clare McGregor) haunt her memory. Samantha finds herself wondering what she really wants for herself and her life. To find the answer, she must go back to the beginning of her senior-year plight.
As we follow Samantha through her memories, we begin to understand what may hold a person such as herself back from their wildest dreams and how one unfortunate accident can make you realize all that you are missing.
I had not heard of “The Mad Ones” prior to seeing this production, but now that I have seen the university’s rendition of the musical, I feel it was the best possible choice for the university’s theatre comeback in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Samantha is relatable to university students whose own final year of high school was devastated by loss. For myself and many of the university’s sophomore class, the COVID-19 pandemic crashed the remainder of our senior year of high school.
Thematically, “The Mad Ones” explores how tragedy can take us away from the rational path of our lives, incentivizing us to take risks and make the best of the time we have. It argues there is no wrong way to move forward from negative circumstances or one right way to be happy and successful.
The cast put on an impeccable performance. All four members of the cast exhibit vast talent with clear voices, beautiful harmonization and smooth runs. Their acting mannerisms and voices matched their characters perfectly, making them far from stale. Their acting more than made up for the simplistic set holding just four chairs and a table alongside blocks of light that convey setting.
Clare McGregor especially brought life to her character Kelly. Kelly could easily have been a one-dimensional stock character with the sole purpose of comedic relief, but with quirky mannerisms and perfect line and vocal delivery, McGregor made Kelly feel real.
Evelyn Pigman’s main role as Samatha was also well-deserved. She did not miss a beat or fall flat once. I was able to understand every spoken and sung line clearly. She certainly has a talent for conveying emotion and drawing in her audience.
In more emotional parts of the play, I observed that Pigman and McGregor’s performance left many audience members in tears.
My favorite performance was “Go Tonight” , in which Samantha grieves for Kelly and reminisces Kelly’s role in inspiring Samantha to take risks and be free. McGregor gives an alluring performance, conveying Kelly’s nature through interpretive dance gestures.
The choreography and set really stood out in this number, as Kelly’s black silhouette against the multicolored background made her appear to be the black hole Samantha described her as. Kelly’s jerking body movements in time with the heavy bass created the feeling of impending doom.
Other particularly strong numbers included “The Mad Ones,” “I Know My Girl,” and “The Proposal.” These numbers allowed the cast to truly exhibit their talent as well as the emoticons and relationships between the characters.
“The Mad Ones” most importantly emphasizes a message that all college students have struggled with. By the end of the musical, audiences learned the message that they do not have to know exactly what they are doing with their lives or what they want for their future. Life can change in an instant, so there’s nothing wrong with a bit of spontaneity.
This musical was performed beautifully and was exactly what students needed coming out of the nature of virtual musicals during their pandemic. I would give this musical five stars and am eager to see USI Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” Nov. 18 -21, 2021.