Following the success of Songs for a New World last December, MTS opted to continue their production of an autumn term ‘mini show’ with Pasek and Paul’s Edges, a song cycle exploring the themes of love, coming of age, and self-discovery. Most well-known for writing the lyrics for La La Land and the music and lyrics in Dear Evan Hansen, Edges served as Benj Pasek and Justin Paul’s first venture into musical theatre. It was written while they studied at the University of Michigan in 2005, and made Pasek and Paul the youngest ever winners of the Jonathan Larson Award.
Aside from listening to Carrie Hope Fletcher’s covers of I Gotta Run and Perfect (the latter of which was sadly omitted from this performance), I must admit, I was unfamiliar with the majority of the songs in Edges. But, if anything, this only made my viewing experience more enjoyable. Rather than entering the performance with preconceived ideas and expectations, I had the privilege of forming my connection with each character organically in the show itself, as I heard their stories for the first time.
There was a half-hour delay to doors opening, we were told due to microphone issues, yet the show still managed to begin relatively promptly. The actors were already sat in the performance space as the audience filed in, which immediately created an air of intrigue. Relying on a cast of just four, and performed in the intimate and exposing space of the Boilerhouse Theatre, there really was nowhere for the actors to hide. But that is not to suggest that the performance was in any way lacking. The minimalist staging and lack of tech lended itself brilliantly to the crew’s focus on evoking a “personal response” from each viewer, as all emphasis was placed on Pasek and Paul’s music and the stories it tells. This is really a testament to Eleanor Rutter’s direction. She managed to strike a perfect balance between a raw and stripped-back, yet skillfully choreographed and ‘full’, performance, which never failed to address all three sides of the audience – a daunting task to say the least.
Harrison Little, Andrew Onwude, Emily Quillin, and Victoria Manicom were our four actors leading the cycle, each multi-rolling throughout the show. Despite only being just shy of an hour-long, the performance is a demanding one: not one actor leaves the stage. Sustaining even one character for this length of time is no small feat, and each performer took to the challenge of constantly varying between the extremes of intensity and humour with ease. Their four-part harmonies were immaculately tuned, especially in Be My Friend and Like Breathing.
Following Become, the show’s opening number, Andrew Onwude took to the stage with the first solo song of the cycle, Boy with Dreams. His natural charisma and stage presence were evident from the outset, and it was particularly in this number that he shone vocally, but his singing was flawless throughout. I especially liked his harmonies in Like Breathing, while his energy and quirky facial expressions in Man of My Dreams were, quite simply, hilarious. This number was a real ‘crowd pleaser’, and I could tell that the audience was captivated by Onwude’s high energy performance just as much as I was.
He was matched in humour by Emily Quillin, who displayed excellent versatility as ‘Woman 1’ and a phenomenal dedication to acting through song. From wonderfully embodying the childish Caitlyn in Caitlyn and Haley (the eating of her own hair in this number particularly tickled me), to capturing the anguish and despair that often accompanies the breakdown of a relationship in Lying There, her stunning vocals often gave me goosebumps. Her acceptance of the harsh reality that she does not actually love the man she wants to be with was incredibly thought-provoking, and possibly the most poignant moment of the show.
Harrison Little made his MTS debut as ‘Man 1’, and gave a convincing and nostalgic performance. His rendition of I Once Knew was vocally very strong and a pleasure to listen to. He demonstrated an impressive belt, one which, through no fault of his own, was arguably under-used. Man 1 probably featured the least out of the four performers, which was a shame, as I would have liked to have seen more of Little’s vocals in the rest of the cycle.
Last, but by no means least, Victoria Manicom was the Haley to Quillin’s Caitlyn. I loved her jocular facial expressions throughout the show, and her off-the-wall performance of In Short was an absolute joy and very amusing. Her ascending vocal slide in the climax of Ready To Be Loved was a particular highlight.
Manicom was sadly let down by the fact that, for the first half of the cycle, her microphone did not appear to be working. This issue was heightened by the fact that the microphone operator remained in full view of the audience, as he clearly attempted to rectify this. He would have been better placed either behind the audience, or further behind the piano. Thankfully, the intimate performance space, combined with Manicom’s own projection, ensured her vocals weren’t ‘lost’ too much, and she demonstrated great professionalism in remaining visibly unaffected by the technical difficulties.
A huge congratulations must also go to Sofia Kherroubi Garcia. Not only did she musically direct the cycle, but also accompanied the entire performance by herself. With no dialogue breaks, her playing had to be continuous, and she did not falter once. The audience clearly recognised this, and deservedly gave her a personal round of applause at the end of the show.
These congratulations extend to Harriet Williams and Leela Saeng, who produced and designed the show’s publicity respectively. Their hard work remains largely ‘behind the scenes’, but is worthy of equal recognition to those onstage. Without it, there would be no show.
Speaking to director Eleanor Rutter after the show, she confessed to being on the “verge of crying”, despite “not being a cryer”, due to the hard work and dedication of her cast and crew, of whom she is incredibly proud. She applauded her cast’s innovation and willingness to be forthcoming with ideas throughout the rehearsal process, and thanked Sofia for approaching her with a song cycle she has now fallen in love with. Rutter herself should be commended for having the creative vision to tie all of this together, and utilise the intimate space given to her to generate a piece of theatre that was both dynamic and heartrending.
With two successful song cycles now under their belt, hopefully MTS’s ‘mini show’ will become a yearly tradition that continues at the university for many years to come.
Photography provided by Leela Saeng.