‘Our Songs’ at GW offered original take on the musical revue

Fourteen undergrads sang Broadway show tunes about five personal questions.

The Corcoran School of Arts and Design at George Washington University put on a musical revue of songs from a century and more of Broadway, including numbers from well-known favorites like 9 to 5, Merrily We Roll Along, newer shows with notoriety like American Psycho and Fun Home, and old standards like Chicago and Follies. In a program titled Our Songs, they created an intriguing synthesis, finding numbers that discuss five key questions — “What makes you hustle?” “When are you the most happy?” “What is something you have done to fit in?” “What is a time you really grew up?” and “What do you believe in?” — which the show sorts into sets of three songs.

The cast of ‘Our Songs: A Review.’ Photo by Sarah Hochstein.

Fourteen undergraduates and a band of professional musicians/educators and students teamed up for this experiment under Jennifer J. Hopkins’ direction. The results were mixed but imbued with a deep love for the source material and a thoughtful approach to the revue’s construction. Many of the mixed results were due to the show’s organization concept and, more urgently, its lack of audibility. The students were not amplified, which made most of the lyrics difficult to hear outside group numbers and a few standout solo performances.

Certain performers were standouts, including the genuinely tear-jerking vocalist Abigail Canalejo, whose crowning performance was “I’m Here” from The Color Purple. The probably classically trained singer Olivia Rose was deeply impressive to listen to throughout and particularly in “Video Call” from Islander. Adaptable character actor Ishan Lal evoked thoughtful laughs in “Telephone Wire” from Fun Home and successful romantic sentimentality in various duets.

Other excellent performers included the ebulliently confident Alexandra Fenton, who was a joy to watch in “Old Friends” from Merrily We Roll Along, and radiant dancer Radha Varadan, who stunned in “Hot Honey Rag” from Chicago. The show’s band was also incredible and one of the best parts of the show, under the musical direction of keyboardist Sammy Grob and second keyboardist Oliver D’Avolio.

Before each set of three songs that respectively addressed the aforementioned key questions, the performers walked out and were asked one. The students then answered it in a way that the director’s note said was real to each of them. “What makes you hustle?” was answered by one student with “Deadlines,” and “When are you the most happy?” was answered with “When I’m with my chosen family,” for example. According to the director’s notes, “every word of spoken text you hear comes from… early conversations.”

While it was genuinely fascinating to see metatextual evidence of how this show’s creative process was done, these labels subtracted from the songs’ poetic value. The show’s title Our Songs is sufficiently suggestive of interpretive work already having been done while remaining thought-provoking. Slapping a label on a song based on a single idea it touches on reduces the poetic potential of these legendary songs’ lyrical and musical power.

The three songs in each section also generally didn’t stand out enough from each other for each to sing its own distinct song, musically, lyrically, and emotionally. It’s a worthy enough idea to include elements of how each of the performers related to the songs, but the performers were prioritizing a chance to give voice to a personal narrative over communicating the point of the songs.

Abigail Canalejo, Olivia Rose, and Ishan Lal were among those who projected successfully, but it was a shame to not be able to hear so much of the show. At a minimum, perhaps the band could have been quieter, but they were not overly loud for the venue, and a drummer can play forte only so quietly.

The cast of ‘Our Songs: A Review.’ Photo by Sarah Hochstein.

Ultimately, this show proposed numerous new ways to interact with the idea of a revue that provide a lot of food for fun analytical thought. I hope that these students continue to sing and experiment with ways to present art, both new art and the classics. The conversation about how to present art is a long hallowed one that I am excited to see more of their contributions to.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes.

Our Songs: A Review played April 4 to 7, 2024, presented by the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design Programs of Music and Theatre and Dance performing in the Dorothy Betts Marvin Theatre, George Washington University Student Center, 800 21st Street NW, Washington, DC.

The playbill for Our Songs: A Review is online here.

Our Songs: A Review
Directed & Choreographed by Jennifer J. Hopkins
Music Direction by Sammy Grob

Featuring Melanie Campbell, Abigail Canalejo, Carmen Cintron, Ella Derke, Ally Fenton, Sadie Jackson, Ishan Lal, Lydia Melka, Javier Mina, Catherine Pickett, Liv Rose, Taylor Smith, Katie Stabile, Paula Taylor-Garcia, Radha Varadan, and Britta Vaughan with Lady’Jordan Matthews-Mason as Assistant Director


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