Arts and Entertainment

Nobody Expects the Spanish Inquisition

Reading Time: 7 minutes

It was their last chance to leave a legacy through the platform that SING! provided, and the seniors did not disappoint. Familiar theater names like Adam Elsayed and Xinyue Nam took to the stage, accompanied by an arsenal of talent from the class of 2019 that would be sure to impress any Renaissance man or woman.

Coordinated by Ruby Gary and produced by Julia Arancio, Marion Cassidy, Eli Economou, and Il Kyu Lee, Senior SING! brings us to Florence, the artistic capital of the world. The time period was after Galileo had just shook the Roman Catholic world with his claims that the Earth revolved around the Sun, and not the other way around.

The first act starts somberly in a dark church, where only a rickety-looking pulpit is visible. In it, young nun Maria (Xinyue Nam) confesses that she believes in the teachings of Galileo and that she genuinely enjoyed watching Soph-Frosh SING!. Inquisitor Mueller (William Lohier), a devilish, red-robed priest, scoffs and absolves the first sin. Maria’s lover, Filippo (Adam Elsayed), has his turn in the confession box and quickly begs for forgiveness before rushing away, clutching Maria’s hand.

They arrive in Florence, Italy, and are in awe of the city’s liveliness. Inquisitor Mueller realizes that Maria and Filippo have run away from the church looking for a new life and goes in search for them. This begins the developing conflict throughout the show; Inquisitor Mueller is the rubberband character who constantly attempts to restrict Maria’s quest for knowledge. Inquisitor Mueller, though merely a supporting character, is an attention-grabber with his bright red cape and fashionable scooter. Though he is so hilarious and dramatic that Mueller grabs most of the attention away from the titular characters, every appearance the Inquisitor makes with his fashionable scooter and spray bottle full of holy water has a purpose.

Other characters like Horatio (Albert Zhang), Tina Medici (Meredith Silfen), Da Vinci (Kathryn Jano), and Galileo (BoXuan Wu) are not as well-written as Mueller, however. Horatio helped open up the show and proved to be a fun, self-obsessed frontman of the Golden Ratios. Like Mueller, his appearances were very much anticipated and always brought smiles to our faces, but he served little purpose besides playing the comedic background role and acting as the show’s gatekeeper in the beginning. Horatio’s ex-girlfriend who he kept trying to woo back, Tina Medici, and Filippo’s role model, Da Vinci, both blurred together. They were both too similar, unfunny, and ultimately did not add anything to the story, though Da Vinci did seem to drive Filippo’s fears of failure.

Da Vinci’s dismissal of Filippo’s romantic work of art proved to be a strategically placed early turning point in the story that provided a basis for the inner demons portrayed in Elsayed’s character. Elsayed fulfilled the role of an internally divided young artist, and used the circumstances and setting very well to portray his lack of mental stability. His conflicted character helped him stand out from an array of polarizing characters throughout the show, which made his vocal and individual performances even more memorable. In a show that was centered on the church versus the Renaissance, Elsayed stood out while stuck in the crossfires of his beloved Maria and loyalty to the church.

Despite the severity of Filippo’s situation, it’s extremely downplayed by the cheerful demeanors of the forthcoming dancers and their songs. Audience members got their first taste of Senior SING!’s dance talent. The tap crew emerged onstage; it was well made up as Da Vinci’s mechanical figures, dancing to the recognizable “Another Day of Sun” from “La La Land,” and the dancers’ metal-lined shoes and robotic movements proved extremely convincing.

Da Vinci shows off his latest painting, “The Last Supper,” also known as the “Pre-Crucifixion Munchies.” Here, the hip hop team emerged dressed as the figures of “The Last Supper.” Though their routine was not very complex nor uniform, the dancers all moved powerfully and with purpose.

It’s also become obvious that the seniors had a very good costumes department. Though not very adherent to the time period, all the characters in the show wore beautifully bright and very comfortable-looking outfits that, though were a bit distracting, made each cast member and crew stand out. Hip hop was convincingly dressed as Jesus’ disciples, and the contemp crew, which accompanied Nam’s rendition of “Young and Beautiful,” was literally the constellations she was singing about, adorned with blue lights.

Nam’s take on Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful” is as chilling—if not more than—as the original. The audience gets the strongest sense of Nam’s talent as the title character when Maria walks among the contemporary dancers. Though the lyrics were meant to be happy, Nam’s singing was haunting and soulful. And if her vocal talents weren’t enough, Nam’s minor stunt in which she seemed to hang in the air forever put an exclamation point on the versatility of her performance.

Maria’s significance as a character is centered around her search for her idol Galileo and her love affair with the city of Florence. Maria acts as a symbol for the hidden theme within the Renaissance that Senior SING! put on display this year. As the messenger for the class of 2019, she perfectly portrays the image of the new generation thinker, one who doesn’t fit the stereotypical sense of a great scientist or artist of the time even. Maria isn’t an eccentric or out-of-the-world personality; she’s a humble nun with a beautiful mind. She is one who wants to be a trailblazer, but she also has worldly desires like getting married to Filippo. There is a certain degree of respect for the characters surrounding Maria that in turn elevates her own. Maria’s character revolves around the strong comedic, demonic, and iconic personalities throughout the show, but it is to Nam and the scriptwriters’ credit that Maria remains the center of the show, acting as a sponge and highlighter for everything the cast and crew tried to milk out of the Florentine Renaissance setting.

Elsayed, though not playing an equally as well-written character, does well as Filippo, who acts as the second half of a one-two combination. The dynamic of their romantic relationship serves as a hidden platform for the underlying discussion of traditional gender roles in the show. It is Maria as the female lead who acts as the source of ambition and initiative in the plot, while Filippo struggles to keep up with his partner’s sense of optimistic hope and belief in the city of Florence. Maria also has to assume the leadership role and convince an insecure Filippo that they made the right decision when they ran away from the church. This dynamic was summed up in the gondola scene to the Medici festival. Maria’s total immersion into the city of Florence is complete and culminates in a spine-chilling performance of “Shallow,” while Filippo can barely utter out enough words to express his discontent. And the cherry on top had to be when Maria corrected her idol and rower Galileo. The first interaction between Maria and Galileo put into perspective the nature of Maria’s talent and the beginnings of a shifting of the guard in the Renaissance.

In his second confrontation with the Inquisitor, who is better disguised than the CIA in a bright red cloak and hat, Filippo reveals that since arriving in Florence, he had been experiencing bad dreams. They weren’t of Mike Wazowski in tights, or even of Mr. Wisotsky in tights, but rather of demons, which take form as the Inquisitor unleashes a hallucination of them as partial punishment for Filippo’s abandonment of the church. Belly’s portrayal as demons, with simple outfits and an alluring veil and snake choreography, displayed the clever incorporation of dance crews into the show.

At the same time, the senior band showed their ability—and not just with the belly music. Throughout the show, it managed to keep up with the whirlwind of songs and dancing taking place. Most notably, Sean Takada was as expressive on his violin as Nam and Elsayed were on stage, adding another layer to the seniors’ dramatic creation.

With a simple inquiry of his state of mind, Filippo voices his hesitation to the Inquisitor. His hesitation to leave his church and Da Vinci’s dismissal of Filippo’s efforts to follow his dreams all but convinced Filippo that he had made the wrong choice to run away. Having played the pitiful Filippo like a fiddle, the mysterious figure revealed himself to be none other than the Inquisitor—no one expects the Spanish Inquisition. The Inquisitor's ability to thrive in the role of a villain in the show was on full display here; we see the maniacal and persuasive nature Lohier was able to capture throughout the show.

The rise and equal treatment for female figures in science and art began to rise as a theme within the show and was slowly but surely built up to, but its place in Galileo’s arrest scene was rushed. Galileo’s sacrifice of himself was quite out of character, despite having met Maria only a gondola ride ago. Rather than placing emphasis on having a female successor to the throne, more attention also went toward Galileo’s sacrifice of himself. Mood shifts occurred as we transition to next year’s science festival. The audience notices that Maria has completely replaced Galileo and attempts to fulfill his legacy with her ideas.

One year later, Maria enters the same confession box she did at the beginning of the play, but this time, she is seemingly more confident and mature. Maria confesses her continued unwilling feelings for Filippo and how she feels lost without him. As the listening priest forgives her sin, the audience notices that this anonymous man is, in fact, Filippo, who is remorseful and still longs for Maria. Filippo ended the show as confused and desperate for approval as before, whether it be from Maria, the Inquisitor, or Da Vinci; this is not surprisingly, as he acted this way throughout the majority of the show.

The ending was somewhat surprising and anti-climactic because of the love story between Filippo and Maria, which was abruptly ended with a quick scene. But Senior SING! left us with the lasting thought that in the midst of controversy, self-doubt, and a shifting of the guards, a young woman who had taken over the show had risen to Florentine prominence.