The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO in which students of high schools entered in this year's Gene Kelly Awards review other school's musicals.
A Journey to Moscow
The tension was palpable. Every member in the opening night audience of the CAPA "Anna Karenina" could feel that something wasn't sitting well in the heart of romantically confused wife, Anna (Elizabeth Bailey). The play started with a sudden snap into action when a train to Moscow comes to an abrupt stop after running over a villager. Flustered, the passengers try to collect themselves, and the stage is set for the rest of the play with the meeting of Anna and Vronsky.
Getting into the excitement of the play, we meet Kitty, a friendly and energetic woman who is torn between multiple men. Next we meet one of the many men who fight to be Kitty's husband, Constantin Levin. Their unpredictable relationship is the subject of many comedic moments in the first act. On the side, Anna is portrayed as a shy, innocent wife. Anna and Alexis Vronsky meet a few times after the train ride, and an attraction begins.
As the play progresses, Anna and Vronsky become more and more infatuated, eventually runing off together, Anna leaving a husband and son behind. These events cause emotions to run wild, each moment becoming more bizarre and unexpected than the last.
Despite the dark subject matter and difficult characters, CAPA managed a great production of this unconventional musical, and some students especially made it a winner. Bailey gave a convincing portrayal of Anna's dealing with her emotions and troubles as she becomes enthralled with another man and begins to feel trapped in a broken marriage.
Nomi Leasure (Kitty), a senior, provided comedy with her words of romantic helplessness and confusion. Always faced with the choice of one man over another, Leasure took Kitty to another level with her constantly animated face, quick movements and excited tone.
The two male leads, seniors Teddy McKenna (Levin) and Dennis Y. Robinson Jr. (Vronsky), both gave great performances as the companions of Kitty and Anna. McKenna, gave the quirky, self-conscious and hilarious Levin the nervous excitement that he needed. Always bouncing around, saying something and immediately pulling it back and expressing his love for Kitty in the most unconventional ways, such as confessing his love in an acronym on a chalk board, McKenna kept the mood appropriately light.
At his side, Robinson did a terrific job of expressing Vronsky's distress that mounted as he watched the love of his life slip away from him, eventually throwing herself in front of a train, reminding us of the first scene. Robinson showed his character's distress in a powerful way at his inability to please or even console his lover, sometimes delivering his lines in a frustrated and helpless tone.
The music and lyrics of "Anna Karenina" always helped to show how the characters were feeling. "I Shall Work," Levin's song about his choice to work out or remember Kitty, was a fun song that had everyone laughing. McKenna's pacing and panting, reading and writing, lifting weights and collapsing in a large chair all aided in showing his laughable excitement and his failed attempts at self-restraint.
A more serious song, "This Can't Go On," sung by Anna, her husband Nicolai and lover Vronsky, was placed right at the beginning of Act 2 and ushered in a less comedic mood. This song was extremely significant in positioning each character far apart from the other two, showing how alone they all felt. Brady Del Vecchio (Nicolai) used his fittingly deep yet beautiful voice to show how serious yet hurt his character was. The three stood still for the whole song, drawing attention to their faces, each expressive of their unhappiness.
Positioning continued to be important in a song sung between Kitty and Anna called "I Never Dreamed." The two had just announced their plans. While singing, they wore gigantic smiles and embraced frequently, their physical movements light and smooth.
As CAPA is a creative and performing arts school, students filled positions including Production Stage Manager, Assistant Director, Dance Captain and a majority of seats in the pit. Also, the backdrop, the beautiful scenery of Russia, was painted by students.
"Anna Karenina" would be a hard play for anyone to present well, especially high school students, but CAPA proved worthy of the challenge and blew the opening night audience away. From McKenna's off-the-wall humor to Bailey's convincing portrayal of Anna's emotional rollercoaster, CAPA's spring musical was an extremely exciting and thought provoking production.
Nico Satryan is a student at Winchester Thurston High School. He can be reached c/o Chris Rawson at firstname.lastname@example.org .