Eastern Michigan University Theatre continues its Second Stage Series with their production of “Songs Unsung: a Musical Revue,” set to open in Sponberg Theatre and run March 15 through March 17.
The musical, directed by associate professor Phil Simmons, is an untraditional one, taking songs cut from Broadway musicals and showcasing them on their own.
Another untraditional aspect? The close proximity between audience and performers, an experience that mimics the cabaret and allows for a more intimate feel on all fronts. With the talents of students Kathleen Cicero, Savannah Damoth, Sarah Gunter, Lindsey Scheidler, Parker Nolan and Rory Quist, the 90 minute production promises to be an unforgettable experience for audiences of all ages.
Simmons knows how to keep his cast of six on their toes; he dances alongside them at rehearsals to make sure the blocking is precise but fun, that the movement perfectly captures the essence of each song. Unlike other musical revues, “Songs Unsung” does not strive to connect the songs with one singular plotline, a concept that may confuse the audience at first but excites the cast all the same.
Parker Nolan, a sophomore performing his fourth time with EMU Theatre, notes the difference in terms of character, not storyline. “I’m so used to playing a character on stage, whereas in this, people are viewing me as myself,” he said.
“Granted, I’m still in different characters, but it’s a little bit more vulnerable for us to be in a show like this because we are ourselves,” Nolan continued. “We can’t hide behind that character persona.”
Sarah Gunter, another fourth-time performer with EMU, also noted the challenge. “We’re building individual characters for each song, so jumping from the different headspaces of the characters is the biggest challenge,” she said. “We want to tell each of their stories.”
Another thing that makes the show unique is the apparent bond between the cast. All six performers were in the fall production of “She Loves Me,” leaving all of them comfortable with each other. This ease and flow shows in each group number, the dance routines natural to the point where one wouldn’t believe that they had to practice.
Nolan also pointed out that with this musical, there are no traditional lead roles. Everyone is on equal footing, everyone is a star and there is more focus on a full sounding show than on anything else.
Graduating senior Savannah Damoth is glad that “Songs Unsung” is her fifth and final show with EMU Theatre, both because she reunites with friends and because she is directed by Simmons, describing the director as so much fun. “There’s never a dull moment with him,” she said.
With songs being plucked from the likes of Stephen Sondheim, William Finn and duo Kander and Ebb, the variety keeps the performances moving while the minimal set helps the audience feel at ease. As Damoth noted, this isn’t a “big, fancy production”-- but it is a charming one and a delight.
With the cast advising that the audience be ready to have fun and hear many different stories through song, “Songs Unsung” is the ultimate exercise in theatre being fun and relatable, no matter the age or experience of the audience. If the audience has as much fun as the cast, crew and director does during rehearsals, then EMU Theatre is doing everything absolutely right.
The production runs for only one weekend, March 15 through March 17, with the Friday and Saturday performances starting at 7 p.m. The Sunday performance begins at 2 p.m. and tickets can be purchased for $10 either online or in-person.