By Megan Raab
Rider’s School of Fine and Performing Arts started its spring 2020 season off with a bang at the Bart Luedeke Center Theater. “MAD About You!,” a cabaret directed by Franklin Trapp of Forestburgh Playhouse, was a celebration of love, loss and everything in between.
The stage was set, completely black, with a big, fluorescent heart mounted on the upstage wall. The heart was masterfully lit by junior technical theater major Shawn Jobin, changing to fit the mood of each song. The show opened with sophomore musical theater major John Viggiano singing the title song, with the addition of the full ensemble. It set the stage for a fun-filled, bubbly act.
The first act focused on the joys of love, featuring some amazing numbers. The peak of this act came near the intermission when junior musical theater major Dean Klebonas, joined with the ensemble, gave a powerful performance of Queen’s “Somebody to Love.” The ensemble’s harmonies were perfectly blended and supported the wide-ranged, passionate performance going on in front of them. Klebonas showed off his star quality.
To follow that number, sophomore musical theater major Aly Batty stepped into the spotlight to give a raw, vulnerable performance of “Unruly Heart” from “The Prom.” It was a beautiful, tender moment which lead into a lovely performance of “Marry You” by Bruno Mars to close the act.
The intermission gave way to a change of atmosphere, with the hearts on the walls now shattered and a playlist of angsty music filling the air. The second act focused on the heartaches and breakups that accompany love. It featured songs that were raw and emotional, and others that were more fun and uplifting. We got to see the male ensemble shine, led by junior musical theater major Nick Contois, in a super fun rendition of “Wash That Man Right Outta My Hair” from South Pacific. Contois’s lovely baritone was featured in many numbers and the audience could not get enough of it. Each of his songs was better than the last and he radiated love every time he was onstage. In the men’s number, the audience could not stop watching sophomore musical theater major Jack Wood, and so enjoyed watching him get further redemption in “Gives You Hell” by All-American Rejects.
By far, the highlight of the second act was junior musical theater major Sydnie Roy’s heartfelt rendition of “Where Do You Start” by Johnny Mandel. Her performance was striking. She was incredibly vulnerable and her sultry voice sounded beautiful with the band — she absolutely stole the show.
The actors all had great chemistry and the fun they were having was contagious. There were many moments where they came into the audience to spread the love and joy with the crowd, making them want to jump up and dance with them.
“It’s been a really collaborative process. Since there’s no script, we’re getting the chance to create the show, which is something you rarely get the opportunity to do,” Contois said about the rehearsal process.
Batty added, “My favorite part about being in this show is the wide variety of genres we get to sing. The cast is all so talented and they have been such a joy to work with.”
Their joy translated so well through the fun choreography and their radiant souls. “MAD About You!” was truly a great way to start the spring mainstage season.
Published in the 2/19/2020 issue of The Rider News.