Arts and Entertainment

Trouble in the City That Never Sleeps

The Spectator reviews Soph-Frosh SING!

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Cover Image
By The Photo Department

Welcome to New York City: A bustling metropolis home to decrepit subways, street carts with hot dogs, haywire pigeons, and the works. Coordinated by Lianne Ohayon and produced by sophomores Inour Awad and Judy Chen and freshmen Eliza Oppenheimer and Caroline Stansberry, Soph-Frosh SING! takes place in Stuyvesant’s home, NYC. Especially memorable in the midst of an ameliorating pandemic, the show aimed to capture both the nuance and differences between people of different boroughs and the overall love for the city that unites them all. Though there were technical problems and other adversities, Soph-Frosh SING! made the best of what they had and gave us a glimpse of their potential as an in-person production.

Despite their valiant efforts, Soph-Frosh’s execution of their universal idea regretfully missed the mark. After an opening number about NYC (set to Dolly Parton’s “9 to 5”), the show begins with a familiar scene: the sidewalk next to a string of brick apartment buildings, with one sporting “The Shoebox” in orange graffiti. It is with the line “What kind of apartment is called ‘The Shoebox?’” that we are introduced to Hazel (Pimada Phongsuriya), the lead of the show. A newcomer to the neighborhood but previous NY resident, Hazel bumps into two of her apartment mates, Sydney (Eden DiLella) and Eva (Lea Esipov). Though their conversation ends on a good note, with them making plans to revisit nostalgic locations in the city, their dynamic is disorienting off the bat as they suddenly fight over favorite boroughs and their supposed love for the city after friendly introductions.

The next morning, the trio first decides to head to Brooklyn by subway, where the characters bring up their concerns that “something’s not right” about the dulled city, culminating in a duet by Hazel and Eva (“Part of Your World”). Though the vocals and music editing of the performance are one of the better parts of the show, the ambiguity of the concept itself downplays the otherwise earnest duet. This vague sentiment is also suddenly moved to the back burner as the trio reaches the famous Brooklyn Ice Cream Factory and meets Angelica (Kate Alvarez) and Tara (Emily Young-Squire), who are also waiting in line.

After the two’s random and inaudible music number (“End of the Line”), the cashier takes their orders. Though the grouping of the five characters, in addition to the other minor roles, begins to get chaotic, this blight is momentarily outshined by Angelica, one of the most vibrant and consistent aspects of Soph-Frosh SING!. From her costume, which consists of a tweed suit and small shoulder bag, to her gestures, Angelica exudes elegance but also arrogance, which Alvarez continues to pull off with ease for the rest of the show. Angelica’s character also contains nuance. Her reflective rendition of Why Don’t We’s “Lotus Inn” shows that people misunderstand her caustic personality, and she is kinder than she initially appears, which is why she decides to give money to the struggling Ice Cream Factory manager.

As the group continues along their tour, they continue to collect people, including Justin (Oliver Hollman), a Mets fan from Queens, and Cleo (Arshia Mazumder), a hip-hopper from the Bronx, to the detriment of the already convoluted story. Though the large cast probably resulted from their desire to add representation for all five boroughs, this size only serves to water down the meager personalities the supporting characters are initially given. This lack also applies to the main character, Hazel. Though her character was written to be quieter and more reserved, in the context of the other six characters on the same screen, Hazel does not stand out as she should.

Moreover, the plot of the show doesn’t have a clear focus or movement, as there are a bunch of tiny problems––the rent complaints, Yankee Stadium closing, Eva disappearing, or the elevator not working––some of which occur without explanation, but each problem is resolved very quickly, giving them no purpose to the story. The encompassing “mystery” about NYC, which the characters try to allude to as the city being more dull or slower than usual, is scattered. It is only mentioned a couple of times, so once it returns at the end as a “pivotal” plot point, its inclusion is confusing, as the audience is already having difficulty keeping up with the number of characters.

The solution is also hard to follow, as Cleo suddenly recalls a superstition about a switch in the Empire State Building that supposedly controls the life of the city. With the course that the plot has been on for the performance thus far, it seems like this idea will resolve the situation. However, after the group arrives at the top of the Empire State Building, it’s revealed that the switch doesn’t work, but instead, the solution is the power of happiness, which spreads from the ice cream shop that Angelica supported. It is unclear whether the happiness manifests in physical light or how it works at all. Though the plot attempts to go for an ending akin to “the people make the city,” hence the characters’ love for NYC is the source of its reinvigoration, this solution yields an anticlimactic ending. Hence, the end of the story catches viewers off guard, since the lack of buildup and confusing premise render the resulting solution underwhelming.

The big reveal of Eva as the villain is also expected and overplayed as she has been snarky for a large portion of the tour. Since Hazel is initially the one with qualms about NYC, it doesn’t make sense that she and the rest of the group feel betrayed by Eva not liking NYC. The love and hate sentiment that many people have about NYC was a nuance that Soph-Frosh SING! was, unfortunately, unable to maintain. The consensus of people loving NYC is already a bit unrealistic, but reflected in almost all the characters, it is monolithic and ingenuine.

Due to the many technical difficulties Soph-Frosh SING! encountered, the musical performances also did little to add to the development of the characters or progression of the story. Perhaps the hardest part of SING! to do remotely is music, and Soph-Frosh clearly struggled with the logistics of their online performances. Alongside the very hit-or-miss cast vocals, the most prominent aspects of the music were the audio cuts, poor mic quality, and out of sync music. The editing team clearly had trouble getting the timing and volume of the tracks in order, leading to some truly questionable instrumentals, frequently discordant or deafeningly loud. At one point, Eva goes to sing a song that is clearly important to the plot, only to be drowned out by the backing music and rendered completely unintelligible.

There was clearly a great deal of trouble working the Soph-Frosh dance groups, suffering from a similar set of problems as the band, into the new SING! format. The inability of the editing crew to synchronize the videos of the individual members created an uncomfortable effect, with some dancers a fraction of a second behind the rest. Step, as a group relying on strict rhythm and coordination, fell unfortunately flat, with their performance feeling painfully long and chaotic. On top of those difficulties, the remote performances clearly lacked energy, and most of the dance pieces felt lackluster and lifeless. These shortcomings came with the slew of technical difficulties that permeated all of Soph-Frosh. Other than the poor timing, the dance crews had severe trouble filming, with many dancers having their heads and arms left out of frame. Editing also scattered the performers in a seemingly random formation across the screen, reducing the already tumultuous dance numbers into an incoherent mess of headless bodies and cut-off limbs. The one group that seemed to transcend these issues was flow, which resulted more from their style letting them circumvent the shortcomings of the show’s video editors than any notable displays of choreography.

A high point in Soph-Frosh’s production was certainly their art, which, while simple, showed a strong effort and did a lot to make an otherwise visually flat show more engaging. Their digital illustrations captured an appropriately nostalgic and muted aesthetic, working as a charming homage to the iconic locations they depicted, and were one of the only parts of the show that matched the desired tone. Though it wasn’t enough to make up for the rigid, stale shot composition of the show (all eight characters in a straight line, every scene), the background art brought some much-needed life to Soph-Frosh SING!.

Soph-Frosh SING! had everything working against it. With the pandemic completely changing how the show is done and Soph-Frosh's inherently inexperienced Slate, a few blunders were to be expected. Unfortunately, Soph-Frosh SING! came not to be successful in spite of its flaws, but to be defined by them. Despite the undeniably difficult work of making SING! over quarantine, it’s a sad fact that every performance in Soph-Frosh SING! was overshadowed by the slew of technical issues that plagued the show from the opening number to the curtain call.