The coolest collaboration of photography and music is coming to Cabaret Theatre for one weekend only! 35 MM: A Musical Exhibition is our first mainstage musical of the year. With songs inspired by a series of original photographs taken by our very own Paolo Arceo, this 90-minute production gives each photo a story, a life, a song. Director Ajit J. Mathews and his incredibly talented cast of 5 takes us through a new groundbreaking theatrical concept in 35 MM: A Musical Exhibition.
In my opinion, the collaboration between the photographer and the director is what's most intriguing about this show, because otherwise there wouldn't really be a show. Paolo Arceo (Psychology and Theatre, Junior) worked with Ajit over the summer to get on the same page in terms of vision and the breakdown of each song, regarding the individual message and interpretation that Ajit wanted to convey. "Ajit wanted me as the photographer for quite some time now. This kinda had me scared because all I had was an expensive camera I didn't know how to use and a 99 cent iPhone editing app with no experience of real photography. This PUSHED me to know what I was doing and eventually create the photos I did today. So you can say I thank Ajit for my photography transformation in less than a year." Cabaret Theatre: Where Dreams Come True TBH.
It's one thing to have a vision, but it's another thing to be able to communicate it accurately to another person with the intention of collaborating with one another. On working with Ajit, Paolo said, "We kept good communication and exchanged thoughts, but I think that the looseness was important so I could incorporate my own style and creative freedom still having him as an aid. He's one of the smartest people I've EVER met in my life (intellectually and artistically), so it was good to have someone as genius as him there to help me out."
If we're talking about the actual process of taking the photographs, he had a system. "What I would do is just listen to the songs over and over, study the lyrics, and read Ajit's vision and perspective of each song. I would then narrow the message of the song to three adjectives and try to find a scene/object that embodies it. " I can't reveal any pictures specifically here, partly because I know I'm not supposed to but mostly because you should come see the show and look at them with your own eyes, fam. Seriously, it's so worth it.
As a listener, 35MM is probably the most challenging score I've heard performed in Rutgers Student Theatre. As a musician, even more so. I get to study with some amazing and talented people, and 35's co-music directors are two of them. Andrew Moore (Music Education [Voice], Senior) and Thomas Silkowski (Music Education [Saxophone], Senior) are the dynamic duo of music directors this season, which is only emphasized by the vocal quality of their musical numbers.
When you come see the show (which I know you'll definitely do because why else did you click this link besides wanting to see what typos I made this time), you'll notice that each cast member is i n c r e d i b l e. Not just as people, but as vocalists. The ranges are just insane. This isn't without a poop ton of work from both the performers and the music directors. As a future music educator and good friend of Andrew and Thomas, I wanted to know what the cast members thought.
Brandon Conti, who plays Voice 4 said, "Music rehearsals with Tom and Andrew have honestly made me a stronger performer and every critique they give is to help me develop my skills and be the best that I can be every time. They are fantastic people, who have been an amazing influence on me throughout the process."
Voice 3 is played by Andres Moledo, who said "Rehearsals were intense vocally because this particular show is loaded with obscure harmonies and strong belty parts so I really had to step out of my comfort zone and push myself to reach the level that the show demanded. The music directors really helped me to reach that level and I thank them both very much for their guidance."
Maya Mitterhoff, Voice 1, spent a lot of time working on her different characters, which Tom and Andrew really helped out with. "Our music rehearsals involved a lot of focus on story telling as well as technique. Tom and Andrew are so good at helping us get all the notes and rhythms down while at the same time teaching us technique and helping us properly emote through the songs. It's an intense process, and it's almost like we each had two private coaches throughout the rehearsals. We could not have done it without them."
They even had some great words from the director. "I could not imagine this show without Tom and Andrew as the music directors. This is by far the hardest vocals in a show that I've worked on, and the masterful hand with which Tom and Andrew led their music rehearsals was absolutely integral to the success of the show. The two of them pushed the actors to rise to the occasion and really gave them the tools to succeed with this score."
Before Tech Week, Cabaret Theatre did this awesome thing where they invited Ryan Scott Oliver, 35 mm's composer and lyricist, to the Brunz for a masterclass with this cast of 5. Sitting in the audience and hearing him announce, "These are some of the tightest harmonies I've ever heard a group do with this show" only further emphasized what a special place Cabaret Theatre is, and how lucky Rutgers is to have quality student theatre on their on campus.
I got some dope sentiments from a few of the cast members and honestly they're so cool, here are the words so you can read them for yourself.
Andres Moledo (Theatre, Freshman) is a noob to Cabaret, and we are so glad to have him! Playing Voice 3, he has a lot of different characters to play and a lot of singing to do. I know that as a freshman, I wouldn't have had the you-know-whats (guts, duh) to audition for a show in general. He didn't throw away his shot, though. "I originally auditioned for this show because I wanted to take a chance. The audition info called for strong singers which intimidated me and I couldn't find much info on what the show was about, but I really wanted to get involved in the theatre programs here at Rutgers so I decided why not give it a shot?"
From watching him perform, or watching any of these ungodly humans perform really, you'd never guess that he had any issues doing the thing. However, he found that the most difficult part of his role was being able to convey emotions without sacrificing his singing. "The cast is required to play many different characters throughout the show, so to jump into that character for this song has always been a struggle for me, but I eventually found a way to make the emotional transition work." Guys, real talk here, he literally sings a song where he's sitting in a chair holding a cardboard box and I felt feelings.
Voice 2, aka Jillian Hanna (Theatre and Psychology, Senior) absolutely slays the game in this show. Definitely no stranger to Cabaret or Rutgers theatre in general, Jill takes the stage as one of two strong and amazing women who belt notes that I only accidentally produce when I trip and fall in public, and that's not even considered singing. Her favorite photo in the set is "Hemming and Hawing, which is a collage of one of Paolo's friends taken at different angles. He's wearing makeup that makes him appear completely lethargic, bruised, broken. It seems like a symbol for the trials and tribulations of love - and not just romantic love, any kind of love. To me, it also shows how stress and hardships can take a physical form." Jill's investment and dedication to the story of each photo and song is so evident in her performance.
Voice 1 is played by Maya Mitterhoff (Music Education [Voice], Sophomore). I swear, every time I see this girl onstage I melt. She's got SO much talent and you've all gotta experience it. I asked her about her favorite parts of the show. "I am a sucker for a love story, and this song [The Seraph] is so beautifully romantic. It also has a lot of references to religion, and no matter what your beliefs are, everyone can relate to that heavenly feeling of being in love. My favorite song to perform is Leave Luanne. It's a thrilling story that has an ending I think we all can get behind. My favorite photo is Cut You A Piece because it's so cinematic and really a part of the world created by the song. It's an important part of the story telling. "
Brandon Conti (Communication PR Specialization, Senior) plays Voice 4, which *hint hint* might end up wearing a cape and pretending to be a vampire for a hot second (!!!). With high tenor vocals, Brandon tears up the stage (and backstage) with his dulcet tones and groovy dance movements. No surprise here since they had such a great conversation about crafting, but Brandon's favorite part of the rehearsal process was the masterclass! "The best moment in the rehearsal process was the Master Class with Ryan Scott Oliver himself! To listen to and learn from the man himself who created this work of art was very surreal. I honestly didn’t know what to expect when I first met him, but as I sat there and learned more about his life and his influences, it generated this new drive to try and make my performance better every time I go on stage."
Ajit J. Mathews (Accounting, Junior) is lajitimately one of the dopest dudes I've met at Cabaret, as well as one of the most talented people, on and off stage. With his fancy socks and long-sleeve shirt no matter how hot it is in the space, Ajit has transformed a black box and 5 singers into an unbelievably stimulating production in a few mere months.
If you're still on the fence about seeing this show, get ready to be inspired and intrigued.
"I think my biggest challenge as a director for this show was trying to make each song as distinct as a unique photograph. Paolo provided a set of beautiful and particular photos, and this show demands the same of each musical number, which is something I'd never faced as intensely with any of the other shows I've worked on. Unlike a musical, there are no constant characters or plot or themes that tie it all together, so I had no real safety net or handicap when creating each song's vision. I'd say the two keys to overcoming this were: the lyrics and Mary Berko. By picking apart the content of the song, I could find its heart and really craft a story and a setting inspired by the core of the music. And having Mary Berko as a collaborator in building the landscape of this song cycle was a huge blessing and her artistry and talent undoubtedly lifted this show to new heights."
35MM: A Musical Exhibition is the must-see event of this 2 week season before you drown in finals, so what are you still doing staring at this thing? BUY YOUR TICKETS. The photography is dope (way better than mine, tbh), the singing is fantabulous, and the dancing is fire. Don't miss out.