Independent student musical takes stage

The Maureen Forrester Recital Hall was swept up in drum beats and good vibrations this past weekend when Rooted: A New Musical saw its world premiere.

Created as “fun entertainment for activists” according to producer Laura McDonald, the musical followed a group of friends as they navigated the trials and tribulations of a year at university.

Through song and narrative, Rooted explored issues of privilege, academia and the power of community.

Written and directed by Janice Lee, the musical was created independently of any campus group or organization, with the exception of local grant support.

The do-it-yourself scrappy attitude that guided Rooted’s production process carried over into its performance and became its most endearing quality.

An audience expecting lavish sets, elaborate costumes and complex choreography would have been sorely disappointed with the musical Rooted.

The musical’s appeal was in its amateur spirit and, above all else, ability to engage its audience of social activists.

The producers clearly knew their audience, with asides on social issues and references to activist culture receiving vocal praise from those in attendance.

Nicole Ricard led the cast as Robin, a guitarist and reluctant poet looking for life beyond textbooks and classes.

Robin functioned as a narrator to the student-organized musical’s events, toeing the line between active participant and fourth wall-breaking observer.

With her charm and smoky voice, Ricard was suited perfectly for the leading role.

The cast was rounded out by a tight-knit ensemble, each representing a different aspect of university life and campus culture.

Lindsay Edwards played Eryn, an enthusiastic residence don and “big sister” to the cast, who was a joy to watch on-stage.

Sean Gallagher and Amy Hunter, playing couple-in-conflict Will and Mira, grounded the musical with their well-acted scenes and strong vocal ability.

Stefanie Wasserman, as the eager first-year student Jamie, was radiant in her performance and undoubtedly the strongest vocalist of the company.

The Rooted cast’s ability to function as a group regrettably acted as a double-edged sword, as ensemble numbers consistently outshone solos and duets, creating a strong imbalance.

This problem was in part due to the on-stage accompanying band that frequently drowned out the sometimes quiet soloists.

Solo issues aside, the music (as led by composer and music director Richard Garvey), was consistently lively and up-beat.

“Let’s All Flee To B.C.”, the Act I finale in praise of the free-thinking province, stands out as the musical’s most memorable number.

Despite any minor shortcomings, Rooted: A New Musical was an experience ultimately carried by the charm of its production, the charisma of its cast and the overall fun of its presentation.

For those who missed Rooted’s two performances, a post-show screening and cast discussion will occur next Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the Grad Lounge.