The cast of four pulled out all the stops in this sung-through musical
NDSU’s fall musical is the sung-through production of “Edges,” written by the duo Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, known for their work writing the music and lyrics for projects like “Dear Evan Hansen” and “La La Land.” This local recreation has a Covid-era twist, as it’s performed outside in the patio between the Memorial Union and Ag. Glenn Hill.
This past Friday, rainy weather brought the show inside the Askanase auditorium, requiring the performers to wear masks, making their vocal feats all the more impressive.
I walked into this production with no foreknowledge of the musical and, to be totally honest, very little expectations for what the show would end up being.
Well, I walked out fairly floored with the talent of the cast and a little stunned that I got to watch four individuals work so hard when I got my entrance ticket for free.
The story of “Edges” touches on the concepts of identity, love, humor and navigating the increasingly technological world. But the real attraction to this production is not the music or the story, but the four cast members: Sammie Bonko, Braden Miller, Karine Otteson and Drew Relling as they bring charm and effort to the piece.
The entirety of this sung musical was performed with only the accompaniment of a pianist, Drea Greenawault. While the cast members took turns singing certain numbers, Greenawault played straight through, and frankly, I’m sweating just thinking about it.
As far as musicals go, “Edges” was certainly more contemporary than most and the score required an extremely broad range of performers. With long vocal belts hanging in the upper and lower echelons of that range, the actors were able to make up for those notes that were — at times — outside of their personal capabilities, with an eagerness that was endearing.
The fact that these four individuals were able to carry an entire show by themselves was quite the feat, but they did so in a way that played on the strengths of the musical: its humor and informality.
While the first few numbers might leave the audience wondering where things are going, the song, “Be My Friend,” included the entire cast and instantly got performers and viewers alike a lot more comfortable.
Bonko got to show off her skill in delivering songs both entertaining and funny via the number, “In Short”; a bit about exes that featured a lengthy monologue that had one audience member in tears. And just when I thought I was watching the most heterosexual musical to grace this planet, Bonko’s, “Man of My Dreams” was the not-so-self-aware bop to carry some laughs through to the end of the show.
Miller gave a touching rendition of the song, “I Once Knew,” a ballad that proved even more powerful than the opening number, “Become” and its subsequent reprises.
And of course, the real songs to watch out for and a reason alone to go see the show: Otteson’s singing in “I’ve Gotta Run” and “Ready to be Loved.” Truly, she was giving big-stage, sold-out show-level performances for a crowd of about 30. After the final note of “Ready to be Loved,” I loudly took the lord’s name in vain, but it couldn’t be helped, it was damn impressive.
College theater often is at its best when the audience members can forget their watching musical theater majors trying to hit their marks and remember their lessons, and instead feel like they’re watching a story unfold. This musical did occasionally oscillate between these two extremes, but the acting is always what brought it back to the story.
Small-scale dance numbers, jokes made with good timing and all-out effort were executed well due to the acting skills of the cast.
The show required all four members to step into different roles and characters, so the ability of the cast and director, Jess Jung, to deliver a coherent story couldn’t have been easily done. Not to mention the ability of Otteson to do her entire performance in a pair of rubber Doc Martens and a tight leather jacket — perhaps the squeakiest outfit on the planet.
Bonko and Relling completed their roles with humor, keeping the audience engaged, and Miller and Otteson carried the heart of the show.
Go see the show
As I’ve already said, the cast is the reason to see this show, and they were giving 100% for an enthusiastic, but an all-too-small crowd. The fact that NDSU students get to see this show for free seems like a crime in and of itself, but the fact that students haven’t been showing up just blows me away.
There are performances at 7:30 p.m. this coming Thursday through Saturday. Bring your friends, bring your parents; hell, it’s outside, bring a blanket and some cocoa if it will make the experience more comfortable.
As for me, I’ll probably be seeing the show a second time, and I will continue to give praise to this small but vibrant show until the opportunity to see it is gone.