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2014 Christmas Album Reviews

Pentatonix: “That’s Christmas to Me”pentatonix-christmas-album

Pentatonix never fails to deliver excellent a cappella music. Out of this collection of Christmas songs, “Mary, Did You Know” stands out as a beautiful and emotional version of this classic. As usual, Pentatonix did an amazing job of converting classic, well-known songs into their incredible trademark a cappella sound. They offer a variety of moods, from a solemn version of “Silent Night” to the more lighthearted “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.” This album also brings a bonus for anyone obsessed with the movie “Frozen”: Pentatonix’s version of “Let It Go.” This album offers the typical Pentatonix energy and quality and will not disappoint any fans of this group.

 

Idina Menzel: “Holiday Wishes”idina

Menzel’s voice is beautiful as always and her range is often put on display throughout this album. The song that stood out the most to me was “Baby It’s Cold Outside,” which she sings alongside the amazing Michael Bublé. The music video was even better, showing cute children dancing in fancy clothes. This album has a lot of the classic Christmas songs, but also brings some not-so-commonly heard songs like “What Are You Doing This Christmas Eve?” In addition, there is a good combination of serious and jolly songs in this album. I found myself bouncing along to “All I Want For Christmas is You,” and later enjoying a very traditional version of “Silent Night.”  Menzel also sings “When You Wish Upon a Star,” for anyone longing to feel that classic Disney magic during the holidays.

 

Darius Rucker: “Home For The Holidays”darius

This album was good, but not my favorite out of the ones I listened to. Rucker sings a lot of the jazzy-sounding classics, like “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and “White Christmas.” He also gives many of the other songs on this album a jazz spin, which I quite enjoyed. However, most of the album is made up of classic songs that have been done many times before and are not executed too differently or exceptionally this time around. This album, because it has so many classics done in a classic fashion, will not fail to get anyone in the Christmas spirit.

 

 

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Michael W. Smith and Friends: “The Spirit of Christmas”

I must say, I was quite impressed with Smith’s album. It is full of some very good orchestral music, including a fantastic beginning to the album with “The Miracle of Christmas” and “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Smith does not stick to only Christian Christmas songs, which brings a lot more variety to the album. He has a host of guest singers on the album, including Lady Antebellum on “White Christmas” and Carrie Underwood on “All is Well.” Smith also brings a diversity of genres to this album. Everything from orchestral music to the soft jazz of “White Christmas” and the more traditional takes on songs like “What Child is This,” which in spite of being one of the simpler songs on the album still brings in a beautiful choral introduction.

 

LeAnn Rimes: “One Christmas – Chapter 1”leeann

In contrast to Smith’s incredible instruments in “The Spirit of Christmas,” Rimes seems to focus a lot more on exaggerated vocals and a lot less on the instruments playing behind her. There are many of the classic Christmas songs on this album. I did enjoy her semi-a cappella version of “Carol of the Bells,” though it was very reminiscent of Pentatonix’s version of this song in their Christmas EP “PTXmas” from last year, and, in my opinion, not quite as good. I also enjoyed hearing “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” which was very fun, and I did not hear it on any of the other albums I listened to.

 

 

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“Christmas at Downton Abbey”

This album definitely had a lot of classic music in it. For those who prefer older music, this is perfect. The songs are made to match the early 1900s European feel of the show, so most of the songs are like “Silent Night” and “The First Noel.” It features very classic vocals as well. The album also features some instrumental pieces, including composer and violinist Antonio Vivaldi’s “Christmas Concerto, 1st Movement.”

 

 

 

“Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever”cat

As can be expected, this album is rather silly and lighthearted. It has some of the goofier songs that are hard to find on some of the other albums such as “All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth).” Featuring songs from the movie “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever,” there are also several parodies of well-known songs. For example, the Nutcracker Medley is instead called “Grumpcracker Medley.” There are also some lovely songs that I had never heard before like “It’s Hard To Be a Cat At Christmas.” Even the traditional songs are presented in a rather quirky style with nontraditional sounds. This album is not to be taken too seriously and is more amusing than anything.

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“Mockingjay – Part 1″ movie leaves audience hungry for more

Going into the theater last night, I had some doubts about “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” mainly because I felt that it wasn’t necessary for the movie to be broken up into two parts. Most readers of the books feel the third installment of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games is the most boring one, and I feel that way as well.

My thoughts definitely changed as I watched the movie.

Director Francis Lawrence added a few more details and scenes to the movie, which I think helped the story. I am glad he made it into two parts, because the previous two movies took too many important details out.

It starts out with Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence), now having survived two Hunger Games, underground where District 13 is, confused and in recovery from the Quarter Quell. She is learning that District 12 is destroyed, and her best friend, Gale (Liam Hemsworth), rescued as many people as he could, including her sister, Prim (Willow Shields), and mother (Paula Malcomson).

I enjoyed how “Mockingjay – Part 1” emphasized the relationship between Katniss and Prim and Katniss and Gale more than the previous films. It showed more of how Katniss is always looking after her little sister, Prim, who she volunteered to replace in the first Hunger Games.

Before seeing this third movie, I was always “Team Peeta” and did not want Katniss to end up with Gale. But these two characters change dramatically in “Mockingjay,” as Peeta (Josh Hutcherson), thinks differently about Katniss and District 13’s revolt against the Capitol.

In the first two films, Gale had very little screen time, so I hadn’t formed much of an opinion about him. But in this movie, he’s always protecting Katniss and her family, comforting Katniss as she is recovering and showing his real feelings and emotions for her that will make you want to become “Team Gale” — and as always, he looks good doing it.

Throughout this dark and intense movie, two characters provide some comic relief: Haymitch Abernathy (Woody Harrelson), Peeta and Katniss’ mentor, who is now sober for the first time, and Effie Trinket (Elizabeth Banks), their escort, who is trying to transition from Capitol life to living underground in District 13 without her makeup, wigs and elaborate costumes. This is a major change from the book as she is only in it for a short time.

Lawrence portrayed Katniss perfectly in this movie, and I think she has improved with playing this character since the first film. She looked terrible and even a little bit scary — but it was great for the movie. You can see her pain and understand how messed up these Games have made her.

If you are planning to see “Mockingjay – Part 1” this weekend, I would recommend re-reading or re-watching the end of “Catching Fire” so you remember exactly what is happening because there is not a refresher in the beginning of the movie.

Also, if you are an avid reader of these books like myself, keep in mind it will not completely match up to the book, so you will also be surprised by some of the scenes.

Lastly, be prepared to have your knees to your chest with a nervous feeling in your stomach the entire movie as Katniss and District 13 attempt to bring down the Capitol and save their loved ones — or maybe that was just me.

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“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Review

The Indiana Wesleyan University Theatre Guild will be having its first performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” 7:30 this evening, Nov. 13. With IWU’s unique approach to this play, these Grecian lovers, bumbling laborers and mischievous fairies bring Shakespeare’s comedy to life in the school’s own own Phillippe Performing Arts Center.

The play begins outside the Black Box Theatre. In an ideal performance, the cast would perform this first part of the play in the main lobby of the PPAC, but on nights when the auditorium is being used, as on the evening I saw it, the beginning takes place in the hallway right outside the Black Box.

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Braden Hunt (sr) plays King Oberon and Sharla Ball (sr) plays Queen Titania.

With the audience standing, the bright lighting, the whirring of the drinking fountain and the green “Exit” signs and metal doors, it was difficult to suspend our belief and transport ourselves into Athens, Greece, when everything around us screamed “we are in a hallway.” The awkwardness of the unusual surroundings seemed to reflect in the actors as well, as they seemed slightly uncomfortable in the hallway setting. I can only hope that when it gets to be performed in their intended place of the main lobby that things come off a little bit better.

Right away, even in this awkward beginning part, Gloria Billingsley (fr) stood out in her character of Hermia. She was so delightfully animated that not even the glaring lighting or hum of the drinking fountain could upset her performance.

And boy did it put a smile on my face to see the next group of actors: Peter Quince and his band of “rude mechanicals,” as Puck refers to them. In the script, where some of the mechanicals with lesser lines seem to not be very distinct from one another, each of these characters had their own quirky mannerisms and personalities, which made them just so fun to watch.

Chelsea Haskett (so) especially stood out among them as Flute. With her knee-buckled walk and her tucked-in chin, she was the most amusing to watch. For such few lines, especially in the beginning, she really grabbed the audience’s attention.

Braden Hunt (sr), too, demanded our attention amidst the group of rude mechanicals, though his part was quite a bit more overt than Flute’s. As Bottom, Hunt was hilarious, boisterous and outrageous. With his wide movements and exaggerations of character, he also was a delight to see perform.

After about the first 30 minutes spent in the hallway, we moved to take our seats in the Black Box, or the “enchanted forest.” I was a little disappointed in the set, however, as it didn’t really look like an “enchanted forest” to me at all. There were no trees or plants to be seen. While the appearance wasn’t ideal, the actual design of the set was very unique and intricate.

The design of the set possessed some very cool features that allowed for fun, surprising touches, and very interesting and creative entrances, exits and interactions on stage. So while they used the design of the set very well and very creatively, it simply didn’t come off as an enchanted forest.

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Morgan Hause (fr) plays Puck.

The music didn’t help with that either, however, as it sounded more like African tribal music, more appropriate for “The Lion King” than an enchanted forest in Greece.

The actors portraying the fairies of this enchanted forest wore masks throughout the play, which was a great way to give them a more magical-like appearance and set their world apart from the humans’.

While I’m not sure about the use of masks in theatrical performances as a whole, since they cover up half of the face, which is a major tool for actors and a way in which the audience connects with them and sees their acting, the masks were well-done and the actors used them very well.

Puck, one of these masked beings, didn’t come off quite as I was expecting him to, seeming more like King Oberon’s creepy servant than the freewheeling, mischievous sprite that I thought him to be.

There was a 10-minute intermission before the last half hour of this two and a half hour long play. This last thirty minutes, which consisted of the play-within-a-play put on by the rude mechanicals, while fun, dragged on quite slowly.

The Theatre Guild did some really interesting, unique things with this play. As with any performance of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” it requires complex and intricate settings, costumes and carefully-crafted character interactions. And as with any Shakespearean play, it is no small feat to put on. The Theatre Guild and everyone who was involved in the play did a great job and really made it their own, a unique artistic creation to IWU that I recommend everyone see.

Showings are 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13-15 and Nov. 20-22 and 2 p.m. Nov. 15 and 22 in the Black Box Theatre in the PPAC. Admission is $7 for students, $10 for IWU employees and senior citizens and $12 for adults.

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‘The Guys’ pays moving tribute to tragedy

by Mallory Tucker

“People who are ordinary in an extraordinary situation — that’s what this is about.”

Knowing vaguely that Anne Nelson’s play “The Guys” was about the events of 9/11 and based off her own experience, I walked in on a very different hour and a half than I was expecting at Indiana Wesleyan University’s Black Box Theatre.

Ashley Nossett (sr) portrays Joan, a journalist, and Seth Lawrence (sr) plays Nick, an FDNY captain, during a rehearsal of "The Guys."

Ashley Nossett (sr) portrays Joan, a journalist, and Seth Lawrence (sr) plays Nick, an FDNY fire captain, during a rehearsal of “The Guys.”

Expecting a New York City stage scenery, I was surprised to be opened up with Ashley Nossett (sr) who plays Joan, a distressed editor on the Upper West Side of NYC, standing in the middle of a living room.

The set consisted only of what you would find in an average living room, along with rustic newspapers hanging from the ceiling at a distance.

The play features a two-person cast. The male lead, Nick, came out shortly after Joan’s introduction. Nick, a grieving New York City Fire Department Captain played by Seth Lawrence (sr), was seeking a writer to help him write eulogies for several men on his crew who died during the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

One by one, Nick and Joan slowly analyzed each deceased life of the FDNY crew members in order for Joan to write an effective eulogy for Nick to read at the funerals.

One specific thought ran through my head throughout the entire duration of the play:

“Lawrence cannot be a senior in college!”

Had I not known Lawrence was playing a part in a play, I would have bet money that he truly was the captain of a fire department in the uniform he wore on stage. Lawrence looked the part perfectly, not to mention double his actual age. Kudos to the costume and hair/makeup designers.

The setting of this play is approximately two weeks after the attacks on 9/11. Contrary to what I was expecting, “The Guys” displays the agonizing anguish and grief the events of 9/11 caused friends and family of the lives lost during the attack, rather than the initial incident itself.

Throughout the play, the scenes flashed back and forth between Nick and Joan’s conversation and Joan’s soliloquies.

Suddenly, a scene would break and the spotlight would shine upon Joan as the audience was given insight on her perspective of the tragedy as an outsider looking in. Nossett did a remarkable job professing her long lines to the audience with such a dramatic flare that could keep a person absorbed for hours.

10410432_846805905343262_4116076101690966037_nIt was apparent to me that the play was not only portraying the detrimental effects of 9/11 on survivors or survivors of the deceased, it was a play about the effects of the tragedy on Americans as an entirety.

The set and the costumes were basic, but I was impressed at how powerful and emotional Lawrence and Nossett made the play despite the simplicity.

“The Guys” is about such a critical event in American history and required a serious tone for the bulk of the performance. The solemnity made it difficult for me to relate to the limited bits of humor the script entailed.

Though lacking in humor, I was far from disappointed by the dramatics.

I believe the two-person cast did an incredible, professional job as they spoke for ninety minutes straight with no break. They managed to portray an inspiring amount of emotion for the audience to experience.

Multiple sniffles rang through the audience, including my own, as the power of the story spoke to each of our hearts.

I left the theatre thinking hard about my own experience and memories from 9/11. “The Guys” is a play IWU can expect to be proud of.

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