“Confessions of a College Musical Theater Group,” the title of Off Broadway On Campus’ spring show on Friday evening in Strong Auditorium, may sound like a placeholder title for the performance group’s biannual musical revue, but it actually held a lot of relevance.
Many of the musical numbers were accompanied by scenes, appropriated and amended from the original show to have a self-deprecating, UR-specific, humorous tone. This was exemplified by hilarious numbers like “The Internet Is For Porn,” from “Avenue Q,” and “Funky Fried Piece of Man Meat,” the latter of which (from “Crazy Like Me”) was memorable less for the song itself and more for the comedic chemistry between junior Lauren Conley and sophomore Mary Potash.
OBOC wasn’t just going for laughs, though. Backed by a pit orchestra led by sophomores Seth Dalton and Emanuel Cohen and senior Rachel Myers, the first and second acts were both introduced with enjoyably ominous numbers: “Façade,” from “Jekyll & Hyde,” and “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” from “Sweeney Todd.” It would feel unfair not to mention that the pit orchestra was so capable that a friend I was with didn’t realize OBOC wasn’t using recordings until the intermission.
The most immediately refreshing thing about OBOC’s show was the space the group had and how it was used. A giant white sheet was used as a backdrop, which would explode into whatever color was projected onto it. It was a simple trick that isn’t exactly underused in theater in general, but it was effective in establishing tone, setting, and style. This was particularly true in the set-up for a delightfully sassy performance of “Number 5 With A Bullet,” from “High Fidelity,” which had the five female performers walk on stage totally silhouetted by the backdrop.
What I found missing most in this show was context. Some numbers told a story all on their own, like senior Alexander Strand and first-year Sarah Craig’s neurotic performance of “Fine” from “Ordinary Days.” Another number that functioned well on its own was a sleazy, fun, and nasty performance of the murder song “Cell Block Tango” from “Chicago.” Others felt like they belonged in a larger story. The “Sweeney Todd” number left me wanting to actually hear the story that the song introduces. OBOC members might hate me for saying this, but I’d really love to see what they could do with a full play.
But lots of numbers overcame their lack of context and a full play wouldn’t allow quite as many performers to shine. “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” for example, was presented with absolutely no scene-setting or introducing. Now, to be fair, I have seen the musical it’s from, “Grease,” so I know the context of the song, but — being completely honest — I’m not sure it would have made a difference if I didn’t. First-years Isabelle Longfellow and Elena Robson electrified the number with such skill and sensitivity that even if you didn’t know anything about the play, you knew what you had to: that these women are defiant, alone, and suffering. I don’t even like “Grease,” but that number hit me like a train.
In a later number, the context was very real. The senior members, in commemoration of their final year with OBOC, performed Green Day’s “21 Guns” from “American Idiot,” turning the song into an OBOC Class of 2018 anthem.
The final number (disregarding a silly coda at the end of the show), was “No One Mourns the Wicked” from “Wicked.” It was a strangely sinister way to end the night, but gave an appropriately epic finale to an wonderful, energizing show.