By Emily Rosenberg
With Suit Jacket Posse Performances and fall play “Clue,” the semester has been packed for members of the Hilltop players.
On Dec. 2,3, and 4 they’ll also showcase a series of songs in the performance Dark vs. Light Cabaret.
Senior biology major Lauren Mercer is Hilltop’s fundraising chair and she is directing her Krst show, the Dark vs. Light Cabaret. Prior to stepping up as a director, she was in the cast of past shows, “Legally Blonde” and “9 to 5” which was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Mercer said she chose the theme for the cabaret from her favorite musical “Next to Normal.”
“One of the biggest themes in the show is that even though the world is full of darkness, you can fight against it and find the light,” she said. “This idea of finding hope and happiness even during the most difficult times was really beautiful to me and I decided I wanted to base the cabaret off of the idea.”
The first act of the show revolves around the theme of darkness and includes “comical villain songs” along with serious songs about unrequited love, loneliness, and abuse.
The second act of the show focuses on the theme of light and features songs about love, hope and overcoming difficult times.
Some of the songs featured are “You Will Be Found” from “Dear Evan Hansen,” “Mother Knows Best” from “Tangled,” and “On my Own” from “Les Miserables.”
Mercer said, regarding the challenges of directing, there were a lot of small tasks and responsibilities behind the scenes that took up a lot of time outside of rehearsals, but she knew beforehand that directing would be a “huge commitment.”
However, she has managed to balance it with her schoolwork, she said.
She added, a highlight of directing has been getting to see every cast member “shine. “Everybody in the cast is so talented and passionate about what they do, and I love that I’ve gotten to see them grow and thrive throughout the entire process.”
Mercer said she is particularly looking forward to seeing the cast perform “You Will Be Found” because it has been difficult for her to teach as well as for the cast to learn. There are a lot of challenging vocal parts and she said she is proud of how the number has progressed.
Junior biochemistry major Tadiwa Chitongo is treasurer of Hilltop and is the producer of the Dark vs. Light Cabaret. As producer, his responsibilities are to make sure the show runs smoothly and to support the director.
Like Mercer, he said a highlight of the rehearsal process has been growing with the cast and witnessing the talent of all the members.
Chitongo said the type of music in the cabaret is unlike what Hilltop typically performs.
“Because of that, I feel it lets [cast members] act a little more candidly, so to speak.”
Mercer also said the cabaret is unique because of the multitude of different genres and musicals. Every cast member has a solo, which she said showcases everyone’s talent “in a way that is not always possible with a traditional musical.”
A song the cast will perform is “When I grow up” from “Matilda” which is an upbeat song about kids dreaming about what they will do when they are no longer under the control of their mean parents.
“It is very clear the cast is having fun which makes the number a joy to watch!” Chitongo said.
Among some challenges, he mentioned not getting needed costume pieces. Also, he said the venue was unexpectedly switched from DPAC to the Forum.
Also as producer, Chitongo led games at the beginning of rehearsal to get the cast’s energy up and release stress. These games included Mafia, Bippity Bippity Bop, Zip Zap Zop, and “even your normal game of Hangman.
“I think having these made the mood of rehearsal much lighter and it was the highlight of my semester,” he said. Several cast members also added the games were their favorite part of rehearsals as it is important for cast members to bond.
Sophomore elementary education major Mandy Taylor is a soloist in the show and is also performing a duet. Prior to the Dark vs. Light Cabaret, she had also participated in the “Musical Performance series” held virtually last year. She said she is “thrilled” to be performing in her first in-person show with Hilltop this semester.
Taylor added it has been “amazing” to sing with friends again after not having the opportunity for so long. She had been in choir and theater productions throughout high school but all in-person performances were suddenly halted due to COVID-19.
Mercer created a “box of positivity” when during rehearsals, cast members had the opportunity to write notes and provide some words of encouragement, according to Taylor. She said this was a highlight of rehearsals.
Senior Elementary Education and Liberal Studies major Jillian Carbone will sing in a few of the numbers and this will be her seventh show with Hilltop.
She said her favorite part of the show has been hearing everyone sing as “everyone is so talented!”
Carbone added typically the musicals Hilltop produces have a lot of dancing and elaborate blocking which wasn’t possible with COVID-19 restrictions. “I miss that aspect of doing a full musical.”
Carbone added she has met some of her favorite people doing Hilltop, three of which are her
roommates and she loves being in productions with them.
For Sophomore English major Olivia Copeland this will be her third performance with Hilltop after “The Nineteenth” and “Clue.”
As well as discussing how much she enjoyed learning the songs and singing with her castmates, she also touched upon how Stephen Sondheim’s work has impacted her theater career in light of his recent passing.
One of the songs in the show is “No One is Alone” from the musical “Into the Woods.” Copeland said she had performed in a full production of “Into the Woods” when she was in high school and became familiar with his “meticulous” style and passion for musical theater, which inspired her to push herself to perform better.
She added that as she is revisiting Sondheim’s work with the song in the cabaret, “I am reminded of an important lesson he illuminated in his storytelling: in times of darkness, remember that there is someone on your side. It is the people around us that are beacons of light.
“As I study to be a teacher, Sondheim’s direct, transparent instruction and high expectations of his pupils guides my teaching philosophy,” Copeland said.
Several members expressed the difficulties the ongoing pandemic has brought to their rehearsal experiences.
“Singing with a mask has been the most difficult part for me in regards to the pandemic, especially when we rehearse songs that require a lot of breath support and volume,” Taylor said.
Carbone added, “I understand why we need to wear masks, but it can be challenging to sing with them on because they create a barrier. You have to sing louder in order to be heard.”
Copeland said the pandemic prevented her from joining Hilltop until later in the spring semester of her freshman year. “Also, the looming burden of COVID precautions and anxiety over the pandemic has detracted from the experience of participating in theater.”
Mercer said it has been disappointing to see their shows put on-hold due to COVID-19. In March 2020, their spring musical “9 to 5” was weeks away from performance when the show was canceled due to lock downs across the country, and they weren’t able to have any in-person musicals during the 2020-2021 school year.
“Despite all of this, everyone in Hilltop has remained flexible and positive throughout this whole experience,” Mercer said. “I am very grateful that we were able to do any sort of performance this year, and I know that the rest of Hilltop is grateful as well.”
[Editor’s Note: Olivia Copeland is a staff writer for the Gatepost]