Arts and Entertainment


Reading Time: 7 minutes

Junior SING! 2019 did what last year’s juniors couldn’t, nabbing second place with a surprisingly heartwarming take on this year’s theme: Mafia. This year’s Junior SING! was coordinated by Debi Saha and produced by Lena Farley, Timothy Stansberry, Ahmed Sultan, and Tina Zheng. It follows undercover detective Jo (Zeynep Bromberg) as she investigates the Alders, a notorious mob family. While the subsequent plotline was relatively cliché (Jo quickly becomes close to the Alders, realizing they’re not the villains she originally thought), it was also pleasantly emotionally grounded. Skilled singing and dancing complemented a message of acceptance and the importance of family above all else.

The curtain rises on a chaotic scene―the Alders are surrounded by police officers as sirens blare in the background. Jo then recites a monologue as a spotlight fixes on her and the stage behind her freezes. She is suspended in darkness, with all eyes on her. Jo’s ample stage presence carried the opening of the show: an impressive feat considering that they were essentially straight exposition.

Jo manages to get a job at the Alders’ pizzeria (introducing herself as a family friend, “Joey Tribbiani’s kid”). She reminds herself of the two most important rules of undercover investigation: don’t get caught, and don’t, under any circumstances, get attached―a not-so-subtle, but effective, foreshadowing of what’s to come. The audience is then introduced to the Alders: a family whose problems aren’t limited to their mob connections. Struggling couple Milo (Alexandra Nobert) and Lola (Victoria Wong) bicker incessantly, the tension between them palpable even from the back of the theater, leaving their children, Axel (Chris Brown) and Cassidy (Angie Chu), caught in the middle. The introductions are wrapped up with an upbeat number to the tune of of ABBA’s “Waterloo,” allowing for an energetic first performance by the cast, chorus, and band. The number featured serial mini-solos cementing the introductions of each character, as well as an impressive number of rhymes for “mafia.”

It’s worth mentioning that during the Friday show, after the opening number, one of the chairs broke, causing a chorus member, playing a background actor in the pizzeria, to fall on stage seconds after sitting on the prop. The chorus member was able to improvise though, and attempted to make the incident seem planned, so the incident didn’t draw too much attention from the show. The chorus members nearby were quick to act as they helped each other take the chair smoothly off the set.

Also notable was the smooth incorporation of dance crews into the show: junior tap, directed by Elizabeth Doss, surprised the audience when tapper Emily Rubenstein blended the transitional dialogue into the performance, and even sang while she tapped, her clear voice fitting right in with the cast’s. Even so, the performance was undermined by the lack of turnout for this year’s tap crew. The same was true for step, directed by Matthew Chan, Vincent Zhang, and Wendy Yan, who engaged with the cast as police officers before giving a well-coordinated performance (with thunderous noise). Step was a part of the opening scene featuring the Alders’s arrest. Similarly, hip-hop, directed by Sharon Ren and Judy Yang, interacted with different cast members one by one before their routine.

The dance crews themselves offered several standout performances as well. Junior latin, directed by Jessica Lazis, Kristie Chu, and Paul Ramnauth, was particularly impressive. The combination of a near-ideal guy to girl ratio, strong lead dancers, and a ton of impressive flips and tricks came together to make a dynamic performance that was complemented by well-designed costumes with skirts that fanned out in perfect ballroom fashion. Also impressive was flow, directed by Corinne Pita, Heiley Tai, and Joanna Zheng, whose performance was near flawless, with basically no drops and a variety of tricks.

As Jo grows closer to the Alders, she begins to understand their problems more. She sees more of Milo and Lola’s marital tension, as well as how it’s affecting Cassidy and Axel. Her suspicion grows as well with many incidents where the Alders attempt to hide their crimes. For example, Cassidy and Axel draw a body quite conspicuously across the stage, with Jo oblivious to the scene. Jo suggests that the Alders renew their vows, so that she can get them all in one place for a potential raid, but it seems that she’s also becoming invested in the family’s well-being. While Jo’s connection with the Alders is clearly growing stronger, the show relies, once again, on Milo and Lola’s fighting as the only real issue the family faces.

One of the main flaws of the script was a lack of buildup to a clear climax. Milo and Lola’s marriage is fraught with tensions from the beginning of the show on, but these tensions don’t develop beyond the original bickering, and while Lola and Cassidy’s heartfelt duet, “When He Loved Me,” moved some audience members to tears, the actual interactions between Milo and Lola are barely more intense at what should be the culmination of their conflict than at the beginning. Even at their vow renewal, when the two are supposed to be reaffirming their love for each other, they end up in the same bickering match as in one of the first scenes. The lack of a solid arc in this respect makes the ending that much less believable.

Considering Jo trustworthy, the Alders finally reveal to her their secret of being members of the Mafia. This is probably one of the only instances where the audience really sees the growth of a character. The choice Jo faces, whether to reveal her true identity to the Alders or not, seems to potentially be a deciding moral moment. As she begins to speak, though, fireworks interrupt her, and Jo is saved once again from facing any kind of fall from moral grace.

The audience never finds out what Jo would have chosen; a police raid orchestrated by Detective Rodney (Bryan Monge Serrano) exposes Jo’s true identity to the family. The set change during this scene elicited a few laughs, as the chorus, stage crew, and tech members alike frantically ran onstage to pull down the posters on the walls. Once again, the dance crews were well-integrated into the plot as the step members, dressed as police officers, handcuffed the family and put them behind the bars. The performance was on theme, a thunderous sound accompanied by little features, ending with finger guns, that carried the roles of the dancers through the number. This was complemented by a catchy chant to the rhythm of “Mia Khalifa” (a.k.a. the Tik Tok anthem, “Hit or Miss”) that cheered for the juniors and poked light fun at the other grades.

It’s while the Alders are in jail that Jo realizes they’ve been wrongfully imprisoned, framed by Detective Rodney. She records his confession, exonerates the Alders, and essentially all is forgiven. However, this scene left something to be desired. The shift of all blame onto Detective Rodney meant Jo never had to face the consequences of her actions, never had any moral comeuppance, and so she never completed the standard character arc she seemed to follow earlier on. Though, the funny bit where Rodney constantly repeats his confession and adds “an evil laugh,” as per Jo’s directions, while she records his confession had the audience cracking up. The moment perhaps exemplified the story perfectly: not necessarily developed in a persuasive arc, but thoroughly entertaining.

While the character development left something to be desired, the plethora of comedic characters made for several standout performances. Brown embodied Axel in voice, physicality, and appearance (his tattoo sleeve was noted by many audience members); his constant flirting with Jo made the audience laugh more than once. The audience cracked up when he says, “I got arrested the other day. For what? For having two guns and a six pack” and lifts his shirt, revealing his drawn-on six pack. Equally amusing was grumpy janitor Archibald (Theo Haegele). Haegele’s unenthusiastic attitude made the character more appealing, and the part where he slow dances with his broom makes the broom one of the most iconic props of the show.

Despite these moments of laughter, there were many dramatic moments that kept the audience at the edge of their seats. Every single time Milo and Lola fought there was palpable tension, but Nobert and Wong’s chemistry moved the audience near tears more than once. The internal conflicts the characters faced at different moments throughout the show were surprisingly relatable, the show grounded in emotional truth despite what could have been a superficially executed theme.

The vocals overall were very strong in this year’s Junior SING!―perfectly complemented by backup vocals from the chorus. One commendable performance is when Milo and Lola sing their true emotions to the tune of “Lovely” by Billie Eilish and Khalid. While they perform this duet, the audience is introduced to a more raw side of their relationship. The song, accompanied by a heartfelt performance by modern, directed by Lianna Huang and Loula Kostas, exposed the real affection between the warring couple. At one point, a dancer walked Lola into the dance scene, engulfing her in a sea of emotions and once again proving the clever and smooth incorporation of Junior SING!’s dance teams into highlight scenes. Jo, Lola, and Cassidy’s performance to the tune of “Love on the Brain” after the fireworks was also an impressive performance that the audience left remembering.

While most of the audience left the show smiling, some were left disappointed. Some people did not appreciate the gun jokes and Italian stereotypes throughout the show. While the jokes were intended solely for humorous and comical purposes, some did not think it was appropriate to make these jokes especially with the current events regarding gun violence.

The show ended with a beautiful performance by the cast and chorus of the song “Somebody to Love” where Jo expresses her regret for deceiving the Alders, and how glad she is to be a part of a family. Milo sings about how in the midst of crime, he often forgot about his home and family. The fighting couple credits Jo for fixing their problems and being able to build a new life. Appropriately, the most important idea in the Mafia-themed show was family, and regardless of any controversy, it can be agreed that Junior SING! was able to capture an emotional authenticity that really hit home.