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Torn musical preaches the meaning of life

Observer Scene | Monday, November 8, 2004

“What if we could tear back the veil between the coexistent physical and spiritual realms? What if we could witness firsthand the colossal battle that is fought for our souls on a daily basis?” This question has been pondered ad nauseam by philosophers and scholars alike, but rarely by college students on a Saturday night. “Torn: the musical” provided the opportunity to do just this Saturday night at Saint Mary’s O’Laughlin Auditorium. This hip-hop musical, produced by 3rd Dimension Performance group based in Chicago, presents a story familiar to many twentysomethings. Protagonist Jay Alexander, played by triple-threat Ted Williams, is a successful young professional who has just started a new life with the woman of his dreams. Though Jay appears to have it all, he feels something is missing. After bumping into an old friend, he is forced to face the painful realities of his pseudo-perfect existence. What follows is a quest to find eternal fulfillment and a battle to hold onto the one thing most precious to him, his soul.Primarily structured around interpretive and hip-hop inspired choreography, “Torn” takes one on a ride through the fundamental meaning of life. Should we live for our jobs and making money to keep other people happy through material things, or should we live for ourselves? After seeing this supposedly earthshaking performance, people are forced to think about their spiritual lives and their significance in this world. The story and message, while new and often overlooked, was not very well structured and at times was lost in the chaos of a dance or song. The first act presented the audience with a question, and rather quickly spelled out the answer. In a typically dramatic performance, there is a large build-up of emotion that leads to a climax. However, in “Torn,” there was a short build up, boring climax and an entire act of filler scenes that felt preachy and repetitive. The lighting and costumes were well produced and aesthetically pleasing, combining everyday wear with almost alien accessories. With a minimal set design, the dancers were able to take center stage, displaying an array of moves from simple jazz to martial arts to more intense hip-hop step. At times the dancers seemed slightly out of step with each other, which was even more emphasized by the centrality of each piece on stage. It would have been more interesting if the dancers interacted more rather than dance parallel to one another.The music, largely written by Ted Williams, was simple and conveyed emotions successfully. However, the pattern of dialogue-full song-dialogue was too choppy and overly simplistic. Most musicals will blend and interweave dialogue with sung verses. “Torn” did not flow, but was fraught with frequent endings and beginnings to repetitive and predictable scenes. The dialogue was lengthy and unwitty, but could be easily improved with some careful editing.The message was frequently portrayed with Christian overtones, which to a larger audience felt more like a Sunday school program rather than a musical drama. Overall, the performance was well-done, minus a nagging microphone problem and random slide shows which only confused rather than clarify. The entirely black cast was refreshing and naturally talented, and many members could sing, dance and act. However, if this production wishes to take its message to a larger-scale audience, major restructuring of the plot line and preachy overtones need to be addressed.