Senior SING!: Fairy Tales are Women’s Tales

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Senior SING!

Fairy tales are women’s tales: Sleeping Beauty rescued by the gallant Prince Charming, Snow White’s maternal impulse toward the dwarves, and Cinderella forced to scrub the floors. These stories used to put us to bed at night, teaching young girls that they should strive to become objects of male attention and teaching young boys that every girl is an unambitious damsel in distress.
With Princess Esme’s (Lizzy Lawrence) strong-willed temperament and Prince Chauncey’s (Michael Holmes) ineptitude, Senior SING!, coordinated by Winston Venderbush with the help of producers Vicky Wu, Maddie Ostergaard, Namra Zulfiqar, and Dina Gomaa, was medieval with a twist, weaving an entirely new women’s tale.
The audience is immediately made aware of Esme’s predicament: her first queue to speak is cut off by King Bartholomew (Dennis Ronel), her father, whose focus is entirely on Chauncey’s coronation. Continuously silenced and overshadowed, Esme is disgruntled with Chauncey’s nonchalance toward the throne, yet she remains anything but demure or helpless.
It may not have been a girl sitting in a tower, singing to the birds, but Senior SING! opened up with visions of our childhood. Within a castle on a hill, stained glass reflected light onto golden thrones. With a stunning background and eagle statues, senior art, directed by Yuji Fu, Lauren Moy, Jasmine Zhang, and Miranda Luong, and senior props, directed by Sydney Dlhopolsky, made us feel like we were in the Kingdom of Wessex.
The coronation festivities began with a hymn-like rendition of “Some Nights,” as chorus, step, and cast gathered on stage, the sheer number of performers inspiring awe.
Amidst this flurry of celebration, senior latin, directed by Levy Agaronnik and Joshua Lishnevetsky, sensually materialized before the crowd, hips thrusting and bodies swaying. Their liveliness was pronounced and every movement emboldened with character, making them our favorite crew of the night.
Following King Bartholomew’s resounding “no” to Esme’s attempt to speak, Yorick the jack-in-the-box (Alec Dai) is brought forth as comedic relief. Taking a drink from Chauncey’s goblet, he collapses back into the box—poisoned.
“Clear the Senior Atrium!” is shouted across the stage, a reference to antagonisms between the senior class and administration, connecting the otherwise distant theme to Stuyvesant students. From the ensuing stampede emerges senior step, the castle guards, directed by Jason Chen, Samuel So, and Kelly Wang. Between their reverence for senior pride and the reverberations created by each stomp, their unity was on full display. Holding their S-E-N-I-O-R shields high, they ended with a blindingly fast sequence.
Once again, Esme’s tensions rise to the surface when King Bartholomew focuses his attention entirely on Chauncey. Reminding us of her misplaced anger, Esme remarked condescendingly, “Who would want to kill Chauncey?” This continuous use of foreshadowing gives the script a complexity not seen in years past, creating anticipation amongst the audience for a breaking point in their relationship.
In an attempt to protect Chauncey, the king calls on the services of Sir Komsyze (Evan Lieberman), a Monty Python-esque knight and sorceress Helloise (Emily Ma), Chauncey’s budding love interest. Far from being stoic bodyguards, this pair lead the siblings on an adventure to find a safe haven, but instead they come across a plague-infested village.
In the face of this suffering, Esme emphasized that a leader must shoulder the burden of his or her people. Meanwhile, Chauncey cowered at the people’s pain, shattering the traditional association between masculinity and strength or conviction.
The atmosphere darkened, the air became murky, and the black plague encircled Chauncey. Senior modern, directed by Nadia Filanovsky and Enver Ramadani, began their performance with a haunting execution of “Ring Around the Rosie.” Wilting flower petals fell to the floor as the dancers sought to embody the plague with each eery, coordinated step.
Donning black silk and green velvet, the powerful figure of Helloise stepped in to save Chauncey, who was overwhelmed by the reality of his subjects’ living conditions. Even supporting female roles, traditionally lacking depth, were able to manifest themselves into positive role models.
The next obstacle the travellers overcame was a snake pit: senior belly, directed by Shupti Biswas and Sabrina Pirzada. A mix of jazz and blues highlighted their sensuous, undulating torsos, only a small sample of the senior band’s talent, directed by Jean Joun and Sam Lazarev. Somewhat incongruous with last year’s performance, belly lacked male participation.
When a third obstacle appears, the path to safety threatens to become repetitive and tedious, but senior hip hop, directed by Jian Ting, Muhammad Rivaldo, Nina Uzoigwe, and Tony Zheng, managed to further engage the audience. Dressed as bandits in black, holding knives, and dancing fluidly, performers popped up in the aisles to create an electrifying moment.
Almost randomly, a dragon then appears in their path. With its four members, senior flow, directed by Wilson Wong and Ayman Ahmed, seemed to lack purpose. Last year, senior flow set the precedent of being much more than floating lights; this year, flow failed to innovate, and unlike the other crews, seemed to be carelessly thrown into the story.
Completely in character, Chauncey fails to protect himself, and his carelessness pushes Esme to her breaking point; she proclaims it would have been better if he had died.
Back at the castle, the Royal Family has troubles of its own. After interrogating several quirky characters, Esme becomes their prime suspect when her best friend Priscilla Marie (Lillian Carver) testifies against her. Marie is represented as a gossiping gold digger, and was executed brilliantly. Her nasally voice and frantic body motions lent themselves perfectly to the stereotype.
Making her first appearance as a developed character, Queen Christiana (Kate Johnston), shocked by this information, performs a heartbreaking medley of “Bohemian Rhapsody,” with the overlapping voice of Esme singing “Back to Black” as she confronts her hateful words toward her brother. Though Junior SING! attempted a similar feat, they were unable to achieve this level of cohesion.
Finally, our protagonists reached two forks in the road, and we appreciated the pun. Here, Sir Komsyze and Helloise each took different routes, leaving Esme and Chauncey to confront their culminating tensions.
Esme vented her frustrations: while Chauncey spent his childhood learning to joust, she was taught to dress pretty. The intent of her speech was to have the audience acknowledge how gender roles can be discouraging forces, transforming SING! from a celebration of creativity to a platform for student voices.
Through a duet of “Halo,” Chauncey and Esme are able to reconcile. As the lights and sound crew, directed by Jonathan Mikhaylov and Lela Ni, placed a simple spotlight on Chauncey and Esme, the audience showed their support with flashlights. Chauncey’s timbre was warm and rich and complemented Esme’s sweeter tones.
This tender moment is interrupted by a surprising plot twist. Overlooked for the majority of the play, Sir Komsyze stabs Chauncey and reveals that he has successfully framed Esme for this murder. Esme takes a stand by picking up Chauncey’s blade and fighting the trained knight, showing her courage and compassion.
All night Senior SING! had tip-toed around the fourth wall, and they finally breached it: Lawrence and Lieberman break character and call for stunt doubles. A dramatic fight scene ensues, and Esme emerges victorious. However, her success is short-lived; she is captured and taken to the castle for her execution.
Confronted with seemingly concrete evidence that his daughter killed his son, King Bartholomew grieves for both of his children through his moving performance of “Hallelujah.” When Esme attempts to explain the situation, she once again is silenced.
In the final minutes before her execution, Chauncey and Heloise miraculously arrive at the scene and reveal Sir Komsyze’s treachery. Chauncey comes to the realization that Esme understands and cares about the well-being of the kingdom more than he does. He forfeits his crown to Esme, showing the importance of humility and reversing the stereotype of men being best suited for leadership positions; her coronation is a feminist triumph.
The coronation festivities were born anew, and senior swing, directed by Levy Agaronnik and Joshua Lishnevetsky, excelled just as much as senior latin. Senior SING! seemed to make deliberate decisions that shaped their show, not only as a progressive, but also as a well-crafted story. In an almost cyclical manner, Esme and Chauncey’s long journey begins and ends with the passing of the crown.
Likewise, Senior SING! was able to incorporate pop culture references that modernized what would have been an archaic fairy tale. Though he was a recurring comedic relief, High Priest (Lowell Weisbord), with his rapping, dancing, and pop culture references, proved to be one of the highlights of the show.
By the end of the show, Senior SING! solidified the idea that fairy tales are women’s tales. These are the stories our children will grow up hearing: Michelle Obama, Angela Merkel, Sonia Sotamayor, and Queen Esme.

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