By Lauren Minore
About 50 years ago on a dairy farm in the Catskill mountains of New York, a music festival attracted an audience of more than 400,000.
Rider students emulated this experience during “Summer of 69: A Celebration of Woodstock,” a cabaret commemorating the historic Woodstock musical festival on Feb. 15 to 17.
Upon arriving at the Spitz Studio Theater, the stage was set with five black wooden boxes and the band lined up against the back wall – allowing audience members to use their imaginations.
Although the scenery was simplistic, the colorful lights set the tone for a night of joyous singing and dancing.
Among the musical performances featured in the production were classics such as “Blackbird” by The Beatles, “Proud Mary” by Tina Turner and “Somebody to Love” by Jefferson Airplane.
“The whole show was filled with some of the greatest hits performed at the Woodstock festival, along with some history about the festival,” audience member and sophomore musical theater major Shealyn Kelly, said. “I felt like we were all able to just let ourselves release from anything going on in our lives and connect together through music.”
Cast member and sophomore musical theatre major Megan Raab said that this production had a shorter rehearsal process than a full-length musical.
“It had no direct storyline so we had a lot of freedom to bring the music and our individual character’s life in whatever way that meant to each of us,” Raab said. “Because of the short rehearsal process, we were really encouraged from day one to make big choices and not be afraid to bring as much of ourselves to our performances as we could.”
The cabaret featured a variety of musical performances which showcased the natural talent of the actors, rather than being hidden by flashy costumes or lighting effects. Actors were encouraged to wear their own clothing and jewelry by director Franklin Trapp.
Raab was featured as a dancer in the opening number, a mashup called “Get a Job/Mama Tried,” which combined two songs by the Silhouettes and Merle Haggard and The Strangers, respectively.
A crowd favorite included “Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin, performed by Kaelan O’Donnell, a junior musical theater major.
“Kaelan O’ Donnell is an absolute star,” Kelly said. “She made it her own. Her performance was absolutely memorable.”
Although Kelly was mesmerized by O’Donnell’s performance, audience members were captivated by the entire performances of the cast.
Audience members felt that Rider’s “Woodstock” was an enlightening experience that encompassed the soul of the original production in 1969.
“After leaving the theater, I felt so full of pure joy and love,” Kelly said. “I am so proud of everyone that performed in this production, [they were] such a hard working, dedicated and super incredible cast.”
Raab expressed a similar sentiment about her cast.
“The cast was really supportive and encouraging and created a loving environment. It really did feel like our own mini-Woodstock, with each rehearsal overflowing with music and love.”
Published in the 2/20/19 edition.