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Winter Scene Selections

The holiday season is in full swing! Here are some of Scene’s reflections and suggestions to begin this holiday season.

“Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” 

Rose Androwich, Scene Writer 

I’ve always loved the movie “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York.”Every season brings the essential films and TV episodes that you have to watch. Eventually, I wear down my Mom and my four siblings into watching that movie every year. Last year, my roommate Ari’s parents went out of town. Since she lives 30 minutes away, we decided to have a sleepover at her house. Everyone got to pick a movie, and it’s no surprise which one I picked. I loved the feeling of getting to share one of my favorite holiday traditions with my current roommates and my best friend Kayla. Bringing your traditions to college is pretty great, and “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York” is the best “Home Alone” movie for me.

Moral Utilitarianism and Disney’s The Santa Clause

Andy Ottone, Scene Writer

If you kill Santa, you become Santa. This simple rule was established in Disney’s “The Santa Clause.” But, murder is wrong. This simple rule was established by society and logic. However, in comes moral utilitarianism: morality is defined by how much good and positivity your actions bring into the world. I’ve never studied ethics. What does this have to do with Santa? Killing is bad. Killing Santa? Even worse. That’s depriving people of joy and happiness and Christmas magic. From a utilitarian standpoint, that’s an incredibly bad action. However, since you replace Santa Claus, you are maintaining an equal amount of good in the world as you are now tasked with his duties. Therefore, not only do your actions cancel out, you yourself are bringing more joy into the world, creating a net moral positive in your individual case. This is why, if given the opportunity, you should kill Santa Claus. 

Hot chocolate 

Sophia Michetti, Scene Writer

As we come into the full swing of the festive season, it’s time to break out the quintessential holiday drink: hot chocolate. Hot chocolate is the perfect accessory for your gloved hands in all settings, creating the perfect mood and keeping you warm as you look in awe at the Christmas lights set against the perma-cloud sky. Everyone’s favorite winter drink is also the perfect way to get that much-needed sugar rush as you prepare for finals in the library. If you’re feeling extra spirited, you can even start listening to Tom Hanks’ classic bop “Hot Chocolate” from “The Polar Express” to maximize the joy hot chocolate brings. Although South Bend’s unpredictable weather may not give us a white Christmas this year, we can always rely on 20-minute GrubHub lines to provide us with those warm, chocolatey feels. 

Pop Christmas music

Alysa Guffey, Editor-in-Chief

It’s finally after Thanksgiving, which means it’s acceptable to blast Christmas music from early in the morning to late at night. Let’s all agree – holiday classics like “All I Want For Christmas Is You” and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” always hit. But, what about when you want something a little fresh, a little different to jam to? Enter, the ultimate short list of modern Christmas pop songs: 

  • “Like It’s Christmas” by the Jonas Brothers
  • “Santa Tell Me” by Ariana Grande
  • “Officially Christmas” by Dan + Shay
  • “Christmas Time” by Bryan Adams
  • “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” by Michael Buble
  • “Christmas Isn’t Canceled (Just You)” by Kelly Clarkson

“Once Upon a December”

Maggie Eastland, Assistant Managing Editor

Do yourself a favor and go listen to “Once Upon a December” by Christy Altomare right now. This is a slept-on song (and movie if you like watching those) that deserves to be relevant. Seriously, why aren’t we talking about Rasputin and the Romanov family more? But I digress. This wintry fairytale melds elements of your favorite princess movie with the history of Russian monarchs and a mysterious fantasy quest. Personally, I like to see a princess movie done well. Sorry Disney, but over-dramatic snow queens will never beat this 20th Century Fox masterpiece. It’s the perfect background music or movie that gives you all the elegance and magic of Christmas without the in-your-face Santa Clause.

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‘Black Panther’ two, in a theater near you

Little did I know, when I took up a suggestion at my favorite Observer department meeting on Sunday to write a review for “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever,” I’d be enjoying almost four hours of my Monday afternoon, time I ought to have spent doing ethics homework, at the Cinemark in Mishawaka. Though I’m quite sure this was the first time I have ever gone to a movie theater alone, it’s not that I’m in any way movie theater adverse. I enjoyed watching “Minions: The Rise of Gru” in theaters with my friend Nate over the summer as much as the next 20-something-year-old. So, when I came across the opportunity to review a sequel who’s antecedent, 2018’s “Black Panther,” I had yet to watch, I jumped on the chance. It just didn’t cross my mind that they still released movies that weren’t on Netflix.

I know this is becoming a farfetched review — but please hear me out. Take Gregory Peck’s advice in “To Kill a Mockingbird”: “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around.” I took the story because I was greedy. I have yet to write for scene since fall break. As a liberal studies major, I encounter enough literature without appropriate context or foreknowledge all the time. Try understanding a lick of Dante without a multifaceted grasp of Medieval astronomy — I had no idea. Try understanding the Gospels before reading all 46 books in the Catholic Old Testament. It wouldn’t be the worst. Some points, like love your neighbor as yourself, stand alone.

Upon entering the theater, I did know that the lead actor of 2018’s “Black Panther,” Chadwick Boseman, had passed away. Therefore, I was not surprised that funerals and goodbyes were thematic points of emphasis. Two moments of silence were demarcated during the two-hour, 43-minute run time, at the beginning and end, when images of Boseman in character were flashed about the screen. Boseman was the first Black actor to star in a Marvel Cinematic Universe film. A Cincinnati Reds fan, I had enjoyed watching Boseman play Jackie Robinson in the 2013 film “42.” The man carried a tragic colon cancer diagnosis for the final four years of his life — spending his brightest moments in the spotlight knowing he was good for dead.

I hand over all credit to the movie producers for creatively maneuvering the death of the real-life and fictional Black Panther. Strong female African American actors were the unequivocal answer. Shuri (Letitia Wright) knocked it out of the park in terms of superhero style. “Wakanda Forever” was par for the course in terms of my experience of Marvel and comic movies in general go — a familiar action arch. The emotional rawness of Boseman’s death on top of the universal joy of watching women triumph in roles typically played by white men (e.g., Superman, Batman, Spiderman) had me thinking when I left the theater, as if I had just left a drama.

Speaking briefly on the plot elements I have deciphered from the notebook I scribbled upon in the dark theater, a mythological element named vibranium seems to be central to the movie conflict. I was blown away by the underwater kingdom of the Talokan — very Gunganesce. I would have liked to see Namor disintegrate into pieces on that dessert and it’s not possible for Shuri to have survived that spear wound. The fact that Talokanil could lure all those sailors to drown themselves hit home to me as a reference to Sirens. The film, at its best, incorporated cultural elements from indigenous peoples of Africa and the Americas as well as the West. No doubt, most of these references flew over my head. But, because I could sniff all the allusions I was missing, I knew it was a good movie.

Title: “Black Panther: Wakanda Forever”

Starring: Letitia Wright, Tenoch Huerta, Angela Bassett

Director: Ryan Coogler

If you like: “Black Panther” (2018)

Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5

Contact Peter Breen at pbreen2@nd.edu.

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Slaughter Beach, Dog: Arrested by beauty

I’d never thought I would see people cheering over a melancholic harmonica solo, but here I was, cheering with them.

Last Wednesday night, Slaughter Beach, Dog and Advance Base played their second sold-out Chicagoland show at SPACE in Evanston. Located right between Northwestern University and Loyola University, SPACE’s crowd of approximately 250 was full of college kids dripped out with silver nose piercings, dyed hair, flannel button-downs and Slaughter Beach, Dog T-shirts. (You know, the stereotypical Midwest emo uniform.) Everybody was excited and nobody was on their phones. Standing there in that crowd, I felt the people here could’ve been good friends with me if I had made some different choices four years ago.

The opener, Advance Base, is a solo project of a Chicago-based singer-songwriter, Owen Ashworth. He meekly entered the stage with his Omnichord — an expensive synthesizer that functions a lot like an electronic harp — and geared up for the set. He was solo up there, and he had the beard and build to make him look like the loneliest lumberjack in the world. He sang in a conservational tone like he’s some wayward soul you’d find in a dive bar somewhere, who tells you the stories of his travels over a beer and a cigarette. It’s only fitting that he sings about places, filling his charming electronic discography with odes to Dearborn, Milwaukee and our very own South Bend. (Check out “Rabbits.”) He describes his own work as heavy-hearted and nostalgia-obsessed. He’s right. He’s a man in his mid-forties with an Omnichord and a dream, and I admire him for it. At least, he’s still making music. 

Advance Base’s performance was bittersweet and incredibly appropriate for the Slaughter Beach, Dog crowd. The band’s history is tinged with sadness. Two of the band members, frontman Jake Ewald and bassist Ian Farmer, used to be in a popular band called Modern Baseball with their friend, Bren Lukens. They were just like your cool college friends, but they finally made it big. Modern Baseball was a significant name in the pop-punk/midwest emo/indie rock scene in the 2010s. They have a million monthly listeners on Spotify and even have their own documentary. The band had been together since Ewald and Lukens met in high school but eventually went on hiatus in 2017 when Lukens decided to take a break for mental health reasons. I assume they miss Lukens as much as the fans do. 

Since then, Ewald and Farmer have moved to work on Ewald’s originally independent project, Slaughter Beach, Dog. The band does fantastically on their own and takes a left turn from Modern Baseball’s legacy of angsty college rock. Most of the songs written by Ewald now are about domestic bliss and growing into your late 20s. They’re a band that makes me feel excited to grow up, even if it comes with growing pains. 

Slaughter Beach, Dog started and ended their setlist with the first and last songs of their 2020 album, “At the Moonbase.” Both songs are, to some extent, meta and self-referential. Ewald writes about his life as a musician, which allows him to play with the crowd while he performs. In “Are You There,” Ewald sang, “Is there anyone in the audience currently living in vain?” Somebody screamed yes.

In “Notes from a Brief Engagement (at the Boot & Saddle),” Ewald sang “I look at the drums / I look at the crowd / Adjust my frames and they slide back down” as the crowd watched him do exactly that the entire night. In “Notes” he also sang about the “beautiful, beautiful kids from the college” with some winks to the audience. The dynamic between the audience and the band was symbiotic and playful, and enhanced the live performance.

Other crowd favorites were “Gold and Green,” “Acolyte” and “A Modern Lay.” They’re some of the more popular songs out of Slaughter Beach, Dog’s discography. “Gold and Green” is a cute tune about gardening. Ewald’s voice raised to a falsetto in the line “following sister stomping plastic,” sending the singing crowd into a high-pitched chorus. “A Modern Lay” is a barroom-piano-driven “escapade through the great American bedroom” that acts as a brief anthology of love stories. “Acolyte,” my personal favorite and the most popular, is almost like a marriage proposal, but it mostly just describes a simple and blissful life. Most people knew the lyrics and sang along, even in the parts where Ewald whistles.

When the crowd wasn’t singing, it was because the band was playing an unreleased song. “Float Away” was catchy and quintessentially Slaughter Beach, Dog. It’s a teaser for the upcoming album we’ll never release, Ewald joked. I’m hoping they actually do release it. It’s a banger.

After the band had finished performing “Notes” and walked off-stage, fans shouted for an encore. Only Ewald conceded. He asked the crowd what he should play and was quickly overwhelmed by shouts of song titles. Many of the people around me begged him to play “Intersection,” a song that Ewald originally wrote for Modern Baseball and recently rerecorded on a live album. He grabbed his acoustic guitar and harmonica, looking like a modern Bob Dylan underneath the spotlight. He sang “Intersection.” Ewald’s lyricism shone through with this stripped-back acoustic performance, letting the guitar take a backseat to gutting lines like “I should not say I love you / but I feel it all the time.” He paused for a moment, let the words sit there in silence, then blew into his harmonica to cheers from the audience. I stood there, stock still, with my mouth open like an idiot or a baby bird.

Ewald told us earlier tonight that he got a video of his baby nephew from his sister. She was singing to her baby, and he had huge moon-like eyes and a little bit of drool coming out of his mouth. He’s just like you, Ewald joked. His nephew was awed by the transformative power of music, just like we were. 

“That’s what music’s all about. That’s why we’re all here,” Ewald said. “We’re all arrested by beauty.”

The rest of the band came back onto the stage for the encore, picking up the pace with hits “Your Cat” and “104 Degrees.” The encore feels different. Ewald is beaming a million-dollar smile, his wedding ring glinting from the stage lights as he grips his microphone. He nods to his old friend, Farmer on the bass, shaking his head to the beat. The keyboardist is killing it. The drummer and the guitarist are golden. Suddenly, I am singing along, “and at once / I am entranced,” and I feel the joy coming out of all of us like we’re radioactive. If you’d bottled that air, I promise you’d bottle happiness. The way they all head-bang in unison, you can tell they used to play in a rock band. They still do.

Contact Claire Lyons at clyons3@nd.edu.

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Lindsay Lohan returns in Netflix’s ‘Falling for Christmas’

Lindsay Lohan is an icon, and her nearly decade-long break from acting made her return that much more exciting. Lohan chose to make her comeback in Netflix’s holiday rom-com “Falling for Christmas.”

The film follows Sierra (Lindsay Lohan), who is the daughter of a successful hotel owner. She is offered a job by her father that she doesn’t want to take, but Sierra wants to be known for more than her last name. Her boyfriend Tad (George Young) is a successful influencer and thinks she could become an influencer, too.

While with Tad, she gets into a skiing accident and is found by struggling inn-owner Jake (Chord Overstreet). The two had previously met when Sierra yelled at him for spilling hot chocolate on her expensive outfit.

The film is entertaining to watch, but there isn’t much value outside of that. It is slightly better than similar Netflix films, such as “Love Hard,” but that is to Lohan’s credit more than anything else.

Lohan provides such a feeling of nostalgia on the screen, and her talents as an actress enhance the film. The storyline may be cliché, but good acting goes a long way. Lohan’s acting showcases the changes Sierra undergoes throughout the film. Sierra starts out the film relying heavily on the help of others. When she is at the North Star Lodge, she doesn’t know how to make her own bed, do laundry or even make breakfast. She learns from Jake and begins helping him manage his inn.

Her character arc comes full circle when she is back at her father’s hotel. Instead of wearing an expensive sequin dress, she chooses jeans and a T-shirt. She makes her own bed, astounding the hotel workers who previously knew her. Tad also finds her in the kitchen cooking breakfast moments before she chooses to break up with him.

Lohan’s performance wasn’t all that made this movie entertaining to watch. The trope of the idiotic fiancé found in Tad is highly entertaining. The funniest thing about him is how much Sierra’s dad (Jack Wagner) makes his dislike about Tad apparent and that he never catches on. Later, his reaction to being dumped is to invite a hotel worker on an expensive vacation with him. Tad was the most comedic character throughout the film.

Something that was not a strength of the film was the romance between Jake and Sierra. The story of them falling for each other has been used in 20 other films, and the chemistry was hardly convincing between the two. Rom-coms are most defined, though, not by their unique storylines but by the actors in them. Normally, Lohan would have been a good actress to use to compel viewers to watch.

Currently, it feels like Netflix is simply using a talented actress to gain viewers’ attention. Lohan is hardly the first actress who Netflix has attempted to use to attract viewers. Vanessa Hudgens starred in Netflix’s trilogy “The Princess Switch.” The acting is never the problem with these films, as shown by who they are hiring.

Netflix is not the place to make your comeback after seven years off of the screen. In an interview with “Who What Wear,” Lohan said that she wanted to do this film to make people feel as though she hadn’t left. This is not the “Lohanaissance” that was expected of the long-awaited return. Lohan is a household name because of her iconic roles, and one can only hope that this Netflix role will provide her a chance for better ones.

Movie: “Falling for Christmas”

Starring: Lindsay Lohan and Chord Overstreet

Director: Janeen Damian

If you liked: “Love Hard”

Rating: 2 out of 5 shamrocks

Contact Rose Androwich at randrowich01@saintmarys.edu.

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Was ‘Zootopia+’ what we expected?

In 2016, Walt Disney Animation released its 55th animated film, “Zootopia.” Many fans of the film have been patiently waiting for a sequel to the movie to pick up right where the film left off. However, Disney decided to take a different approach to the “Zootopia” world and announced they were going to release a web-television series that is simply titled “Zootopia+.”

Released on Nov. 9, 2022 on Disney+, “Zootopia+” is actually a series of short films that take place during certain scenes of the movie. Separated into six, each one runs for just under 15 minutes. Many of them parody film genres such as film noir, musicals, romantic-comedies and action, and it parodies television shows like “The Real Housewives” and dance competitions. The films include many of the characters from the original, including Bonnie Hopps (Bonnie Hunt), Fru-Fru (Leah Latham), Officer Clawhauser (Nate Torrence) and of course, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman). Most of these short films expand on many of the characters from the original film’s plot — such as the preparation for Fru-Fru’s wedding — and reveal a lot of the characters’ backstories, like Mr. Big’s (Maurice LaMarche) backstory in coming to America. 

The series was developed to actually have ten episodes, but due to an order from corporate to release a six-episode series, the directors Trent Correy and Josie Trinidad were kind of limited. The idea of the series was that they wanted to explore secondary characters from the film instead of just expanding on the main characters’ backstories and personalities. The creators brought back composer Michael Giacchino for the short film about Duke Weaselton (Alan Tudyk), but also brought in Curtis Green and Giacchino’s son Mick for the rest of the music for the series. 

The series, though short, has several positives going for it. First off, the animation is absolutely breathtaking. Being that this is a Disney project, the animation doesn’t let up, and it doesn’t become too dated, either. I also love most of the stories that the series centers on. I thought that the episode about Fru-Fru’s wedding was very clever, in that there is an expansion for how the wedding was prepared and it even shows a bit of what it is like for wedding preparations to not go the way they were planned. I also loved the episode on Mr. Big’s backstory, as it resembled “The Godfather: Part II” to a tee, and I was also very interested in Mr. Big’s story and what purpose he served in the film. I also thought the order of the episodes coinciding with the film was a nice touch.

While the series had the aforementioned positives, there were also some negatives that make it lose a lot of points in my book. Firstly, many of the short films were not really necessary, or they just made no sense whatsoever. One example is the one about Duke Weaselton, because it was just totally out-of-place. I was so confused when it turned into a musical all of the sudden. I also was not a big fan of the one with Clawhauser and Chief Bogo (Idris Elba). It was not necessary to the story, and it was a huge detractor for me. But the biggest problem I had with the series was that I didn’t particularly want a series of short films that just took place during the events of the first movie. I would much rather have had a direct sequel to the original film than just a series of shorts reiterating the events.

In conclusion, I am very split down the middle on this series, as it has a lot of positives but also has that one major negative that is it being a not-totally-necessary continuation of “Zootopia.”

Title: “Zootopia+”

Streaming: Disney+

Directors: Trent Correy and Josie Trinidad

Starring: Bonnie Hunt, Alan Tudyk, Idris Elba

If you liked: “Zootopia”

Shamrocks: 3.5 out of 5

Contact Nicole Bilyak at nbilyak01@saintmarys.edu.

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Book Nook: The infamous and upcoming Percy Jackson adaptations

I recently watched the 2005 film “Pride and Prejudice,” based on Jane Austen’s 1813 novel of the same name. It was excellent. Many movie adaptations of books struggle to convey their lengthy events in a completely different medium, but this is not the case with “Pride and Prejudice.” The writing succeeds in staying true to the book and creating an enjoyable movie. Readers of the novel will appreciate the actors’ interpretations of their respective characters. However, you could watch the film without reading the book and immensely enjoy it.

This made me think back to my days of watching the Percy Jackson film adaptations, which were terrible. They were incredibly loose adaptations, and the antithesis of everything the “Pride and Prejudice” film did well.

The novel series Percy Jackson & the Olympians by Rick Riordan is about a 12-year-old half-human son of the Greek god of the sea, Poseidon, who goes on adventures with his demigod friends and saves the world multiple times. It consists of five books covering Percy’s life over a few years at a magical camp for demigods on Long Island.

I loved the book series. It was a staple of my middle school experience. I would stay up extremely late to read about how Percy and his friends defeated monsters. I would read the series at the dinner table with my family, which was admittedly rude. But I was so absorbed in the writing, I physically could not put them down until I was finished. The characters had so much depth, the plot was fast-paced and the references to Greek mythology were incredibly interesting.

The film adaptations of the first two books in the series, “The Lightning Thief” and “Sea of Monsters,” were a disappointment. They changed key elements of the original Percy Jackson we know and love, like the characters’ personalities and the monsters they encounter. Reading the series and knowing how badly the movie portrayed the storyline was painful. But the films don’t just fail as adaptations, they fail to be good movies. Even for people who didn’t read the books, the movies were just plain unenjoyable. They could not stand on their own if they were not tied to the Percy Jackson series.

The pacing in the movies was jarring and the emotional development of the characters felt awkward and forced. Although the acting was decent, the characters felt one-dimensional at times. The focus of the films rested much more on the action and fight scenes than anything else.

Disney+ plans to release a television series adaptation of Percy Jackson. The good news is that Rick Riordan is on the writing team for the show. Hopefully, his influence will result in a series that stays true to the books, only deviating from the original plot in ways that are entertaining, improve upon the novels and translate their events for the silver screen.

The episodic format is also promising for the upcoming Percy Jackson release. TV shows typically can better adapt their source material because they have a longer runtime compared to movies. “Pride and Prejudice,” similarly, had a TV series adaptation on the BBC that was much more faithful to the original story. 

Despite this, I am still scared of how it will turn out. The Percy Jackson movies have permanently lowered my expectations.

Contact Caitlin Brannigan at cbrannig@nd.edu.

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Remembering Stephen Sondheim

On Nov. 26, 2021, the theater world mourned the loss of composer Stephen Sondheim. Sondheim, 91, passed away due to cardiovascular disease at his home under the loving care of his husband Jeffrey Scott Romley. One year after his passing, we look back at his career through his works, those he inspired and the legacy he has left behind.

Sondheim’s debut in the theater world was actually not as a composer but as a lyricist. His first two Broadway credits were for “West Side Story” and “Gypsy.” The first piece that he both composed and wrote lyrics for was “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” which earned him his first Tony Award for Best Musical. He continued to serve as both composer and lyricist on further shows of his such as “Company,” “Follies,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “A Little Night Music.”All of these shows were critical and commercial successes.

However, every show Sondheim wrote didn’t necessarily receive praise. Both “Anyone Can Whistle” and “Merrily We Roll Along” were commercial failures, though both have seen softer reception in recent years. After both shows failed to make an impact, Sondheim swore off songwriting and proclaimed he’d pursue different art forms.

Both times, he came back to the theater. 

In 1984, “Sunday in the Park With George” debuted, earning Sondheim a Pulitzer Prize. The revitalization of his career continued with “Into the Woods” in 1987; “Assassins” in 1990; “Passion” in 1994; and his last production, “Road Show” in 2008. A few months before his passing, Sondheim confirmed he was working on a new musical titled “Square One,” but it has since been shelved by his collaborators.

Sondheim in his lifetime mentored many up-and-coming composers in the theater industry. Composer Jonathan Larson received guidance from Sondheim on his project, “Superbia,” after they met at a workshop. Sondheim’s influence was so impactful that Larson’s autobiographical musical “Tick, Tick… Boom!” features Sondheim as a character. Sondheim took another budding lyricist under his wing. His promising Broadway debut landed him a job adapting “West Side Story” into Spanish with Sondheim. Many know him today as Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the widely successful “Hamilton” musical and composer of “Moana” and “Encanto.”

Sondheim’s legacy can be seen in his consistent presence on stage and on screen. Sondheim’s “Company” gained popularity after a revival on the London stage, where the main character was played by a woman instead of a man. This revival moved to Broadway where it won the 2022’s Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical. “Sweeney Todd” and “Merrily We Roll Along” are opening on Broadway in the 2023 Broadway season, and an “Into the Woods” revival is currently in progress.

On screen, there have been many adaptations of his works, including two versions of “West Side Story” and feature-film adaptations of “Into the Woods” and “Sweeney Todd.” An adaptation of “Merrily We Roll Along” is currently in development, but won’t hit the silver screen for a while. The “Merrily We Roll Along” film is directed by Richard Linklater and production plans to spend 20 years shooting the film to reflect the time span of the musical.

If film adaptations aren’t your speed, I recommend listening to cast recordings of the shows he has produced. If you’d like to learn more about his life, a notable documentary “Original Cast Album: Company” shows Sondheim’s work as a composer by documenting the production and cast recording of a Broadway show.

Contact Andy Ottone at aottone@nd.edu.

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‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ season five: Never giving in

Any fan of the Emmy Award-winning, “The Handmaid’s Tale” could not deny their anticipation for the premiere of the show’s fifth season on Sept. 14. Streamed on Hulu, “The Handmaid’s Tale” expands upon Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, telling the story of June Osborne’s life after being forced to become a Handmaid under the theocratic country of Gilead. As a Handmaid in this dystopian world, June Osborne was faced with bearing children for the Commander whose house she lived in under the guidelines of his wife. I think it’s safe to say the show is set on a pretty wild premise, but fans have shown dedication to watching the characters’ strength against a belief structure that sees them as property.

The fifth season of “The Handmaid’s Tale” bluntly opens with a simple question: What now? In season four, fans saw June (Elizabeth Moss) finally escape Gilead and return to her husband and friends as a refugee in Canada, but her intense need for revenge against the vile Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) was at the forefront of her mind until she (literally) tore him apart in last season’s finale. After being cleared of any charges from that murder, June has to deal with the question of whether she is able to move on with her husband and young daughter.

This season deals heavily with forgiveness and our attempts at change. June and her husband Luke (O-T Fagbenle) do their best to readjust to living as a married couple, but they are still pulled into Gilead when they are reminded that their older daughter is still there. There’s a particularly striking scene in the second episode where we see cuts between scenes of June watching a ballet performance and scenes of Serena Joy Waterford (Yvonne Strahovski) conducting a performance of her own at her husband’s televised performance, which is a very clear way of telling the audience that their rivalry isn’t going anywhere. Moreover, Gilead never leaves June as we see rising sentiment for Gilead’s theocratic structure in Canada itself, making the characters’ safe place no longer so. Though the characters living in both Canada and Gilead attempt to change their living conditions, everyone finds it’s not that easy.

And some characters are meant to stay in contact with each other. June would love nothing more than to never see Serena Joy again after all of the abuse and hate she faced from her in Gilead, and yet, she finds herself helping the Commander’s wife to have a baby in a barn this season. However, even though Serena has put June through so much pain, June ultimately decides that change can only happen if we stick to our principles in every situation.

The directors’ passion for the story this season is just as deeply embedded in the show as June’s beliefs. Though the show invites various directors to this 10-episode season, Moss directs multiple episodes, including the finale. While constructing scenes of June fleeing Toronto with her daughter while Gilead’s influence grows, Moss was deeply thinking of the current refugee crises in our own world, showing how a dystopian show like “The Handmaid’s Tale” can help us think through our own present-day problems.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is dark and twisting, but you can’t help but be amazed as the actors beautifully tell a story of human strife and strength against collecting vices of governments and society. The show allows us to see what happens when we make all the wrong choices in our world, but it still conveys that we should never give in to letting injustice take over our lives.

Title: “The Handmaid’s Tale” Season Five

Starring: Elizabeth Moss, Yvonne Strahovski, Madeline Brewer

Favorite episodes: “Ballet,” “Safe”

Where to watch: Hulu

Shamrocks: 4 out of 5

Contact Sophia at @smichett.nd.edu.

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Not-so-Royal Shakespeare Co. gives incredible performance

On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the Not-So-Royal (NSR) Shakespeare Co. performed an only slightly abridged “The Winter’s Tale” (circa 1609-1611), which, with its almost symmetrical split into two halves of dark tragedy and comic romance, illustrates — perhaps more clearly than any other Shakespearean play — the genre of tragicomedy.

The tragedy of King Leontes seems, at first glance, irreversible and terrifying, like that of Shakespeare’s greatest tragic protagonists. He suffers from irrational jealousy, much like Othello, and tries to destroy the person on whom all his happiness depends. Like Othello, his jealousy stems from a characteristic perversion of the masculine and fear of inadequacy, founded on meager fantasies. Unlike Othello, however, Leontes does not need a diabolic tempter such as Iago to poison his mind against Queen Hermione. Leontes is annihilated by his own fantasies. 

Leontes confronts Hermione. The Observer | Emily Hannon

It is horribly frustrating for the audience to perceive such unjust conclusions come to fruition, and NSR nicely portrays the suddenness of Leontes’s speculations with a red light flashing and haloing around him as he broods with his thoughts. Dominic Keene, who plays Leontes, does a remarkable job of demonstrating his distraught and emphatic madness.

Although Hermione is graciously fond of Leontes’s dear friend Polixenes, urging him to stay longer in Sicily, she does so with just the cordiality necessary for the occasion and encouraged by her husband. In any case, Shakespeare removes from Leontes the motive and occasion of a plausible distrust of his wife. All observers in the court of Sicily are incredulous and shocked by the King’s accusations. Even so, Leontes is not an unsympathetic character. Like Othello, Leontes cherishes his wife and realizes with horrifying intensity the fearful cost they both must pay for his suspicions. They sacrifice not only his marriage but his enduring friendship with Polixenes, his sense of pride in his children and his delight in the warm consideration of his subjects. Whatever the psychological cause of this obsession, it manifests itself as a revulsion against his wife’s entire behavior. In contrast, Hermione, played by Nandini Sadagopan, stands proud with honor, glistening with the tears only an innocent sufferer could illume. 

Indeed, all of Shakespeare’s later plays feature journeys of separation, apparent deaths and tearful reconciliations. “The Winter’s Tale” uses a more formal structure to evoke the antithesis of tragedy and romance. It is sharply divided into contrasting halves by an interval of 16 years. The first tragic part takes place almost entirely in Sicily, while the action of the second half is mostly limited to Bohemia. In the court of Sicily, we see tyrannical jealousy producing a perpetually stormy winter spiritual climate; in Bohemia, we witness a pastoral landscape and the shearing of sheep evoking the sweetness of the year.

Leontes plays with his son. The Observer | Emily Hannon

The two halves of the play are intensified by parallels: both begin with Camillo (Sammy Kacius) on stage and proceed to scenes of confrontation and jealousy in which, ironically, the innocent cause of jealousy in the first half, Polixenes (Ryan Mantey), becomes the jealous tyrant of the second half. The parallelism reminds us of the cyclical nature of time and the hope it brings for renewal as we move from tragedy to romantic comedy.

The view of human depravity is pessimistic as if infected by the melancholy spirit of great tragedies. And because humanity is so bent on destroying itself, restoration is both more urgently needed and more miraculous than in the festive world of earlier comedies. Renewal is mythically associated with the seasonal cycle from winter to summer.

The cosmic order is never really challenged, however, even when human suffering is very tangible and injustice to women especially apparent. Leontes’s fantasies of the universal disorder are chimerical. His wife is indeed chaste, Polixenes true and the King’s courtiers loyal. Despite philosophical questions Camillo must endure in his conflict to either obey the king or murder a friend, NSR once more makes a brilliant staging decision, having Polinexes playfully scare Camillo with a teddy bear as their conversation exudes dramatic irony. Eventually, Camillo refuses to carry out Leontes’s order to assassinate Polixenes, not only because he knows the murder is wrong, but also because history offers not even one example of a man who attacked anointed kings with success.

The cosmos of this play is such that crimes are invariably and quickly punished. The Delphic oracle defends Hermione and gives Leontes a stern warning. When Leontes persists in his madness, the death of his son Mamillius follows as an immediate consequence. As Leontes simultaneously realizes his wife is dead, he paradoxically congratulates the long remorse he must submit to, as this confirms a pattern in the universe of just causes and effects. Although, as a tragic protagonist, he discovered the truth about Hermione too late and therefore had to pay for his mistake, Leontes has at least regained faith in Hermione’s transcendent goodness. His nightmare over, he accepts and embraces his wife’s suffering and death as necessary compensation.

Paulina scolds Leontes. The Observer | Emily Hannon

The transition to the novel is therefore anticipated to some extent by the first half of the play, even if the tone of the last two acts is noticeably different. The old Shepherd signals a very important change when he tells his son about a cataclysmic storm, and the ravenous bear is pitted against a child’s miraculous discovery. When Antigonus is ordered to consign Hermione’s newborn baby girl to the wilderness, NSR adds a perfect image of his helpless estate by having Leontes threaten him with a sword.

Antigonus reflects on his quandary. The Observer | Emily Hannon

Time comes to the stage to remind us of the playwright’s conscious artifice. He can carry us 16 years as if we had only dreamed in the interim. Shakespeare exhibits the improbability of his story by giving Bohemia a sea coast and by bringing on stage a live bear or an actor dressed as a bear. NSR — thankfully — opts for the actor dressed as a bear, who chases Antigonus amid hilarious roars off the stage. The narrative uses many devices typical of the romantic novel: a baby abandoned and reared in the wilderness, a princess brought up by shepherds, a prince disguised as a young peasant, a voyage across the sea and a scene of reconnaissance. Love is threatened, not by the internal physical obstacle of jealousy, but by the external obstacles of parental opposition and an apparent social class disparity between lovers. A twinge of forbidden love and Camillo’s scheming dimension of his character haunts the atmosphere of the second half, but is obstructed by lovely scenes; at one point, for instance, NSR has Perdita distributing beautiful flowers all around the audience. Interconnectedly, Prince Florizel (Mike Hanisch) and Perdita (Christina Randazzo) do well in their ecstatic passion for one another.

Comedy easily finds the solutions to such difficulties, through the disentangling of illusion. This comic world also appropriately includes rustic shepherds, demure shepherdesses and Autolycus, the roguish traveling salesman, whose machinations contribute in an unforeseen way to the good outcome of the love story. Autolycus is, in many ways, the genius who presides over the second half of the play, a character as dominant as Leontes in the first half and one whose pleasurable function is to do good against his will. Sam Rush does a tremendous job of playing this humorous figure. In addition, Andrew Arcidiacono and Tony Perez provide fantastic comedic interpretations of the Clown and the Shepherd. In this paradox of trickery converted surprisingly into a benign ending, we see how the providence of Shakespeare’s tragicomic world uses the most implausible and extravagant events to achieve its own inscrutable design.

Autolycus tricks the Shepherd and Clown. The Observer | Emily Hannon

The conventional romantic ending is filled, however, with sadness and mystery that take the play far beyond what is usual in comedy. Mamillius and Antigonus are really dead, and this irredeemable fact is not forgotten in the play’s final happy moments. Hermione, though avenged by the gods, suffered public shame, the death of a child, separation from her other child and prolonged isolation from her husband; she had to bear the consequences of Leontas’s frailty and thus redeem her husband through his suffering. Her husband, putting her aside, must discover and learn to esteem the woman he once chose and who is now aged; he must reconfirm his marriage to her, even as he learns to accept his daughter’s marriage to a younger man.

All of these crucial twists hinge on Shakespeare’s most remarkable detachment from his source, Robert Greene’s “Pandosto”: Hermione is brought back to life. All observers regard this event, and Perdita’s rediscovery, as grossly implausible. The very title of the play, “The Winter’s Tale,” reinforces this sense of innocent improbability. Why does Shakespeare emphasize this enigmatic paradox of unbelievable reality, and why does he deliberately mislead his audience into believing that Hermione is, in fact, dead, using a kind of theatrical trick not found in any other Shakespeare play? The answer may well be that, in Paulina’s (Eliza Chaney) words: we need to reawaken our faith, accepting a narrative of death and return to life that cannot ultimately be understood by reason.

Rationally, we are told that Hermione was kept in hiding for 16 years, in order to satisfy the oracle’s condition, that Leontes must live without an heir (and therefore without a wife) until Perdita is found. We are drawn to an emblematic interpretation, keeping in mind that this is more of an evocative allusion than a complete truth. Throughout the play, Hermione was repeatedly associated with “Grace” and with the goddess Proserpine, whose return from the underworld after 13 months signaled the beginning of spring. Perdita, also associated with Proserpine, is received by her father as spring is received by the land. The emphasis on the father-daughter bond so characteristic of Shakespeare’s later plays explores familial relationships.

Paulina has a similarly emblematic role, that of Conscience, patiently guiding the King to a divinely appointed reconciliation. Paulina speaks of herself as an artistic figure, performing wonders of illusion despite rejecting assistance from evil powers. NSR has the characters playfully mime the scene as a servant tells of the reencounter between the families and the equal, leveling force of love eliminating class boundaries. These iconic allusions do not rob the story of its human drama but lend transcendent significance to this bittersweet story of sinful error, affliction and unexpected redemption. All of this to say, NSR did an absolutely fantastic job with yet another Shakespeare rendition.

Contact Marcelle at mcouto@nd.edu

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‘Legally Blonde’ at SMC: A stunning showcase of female empowerment

When I heard that Saint Mary’s Theatre Department was planning a production of “Legally Blonde,” I was excited to say the least. The feeling of nostalgia watching this musical combined with the way Saint Mary’s College has empowered women was an amazing combination. 

From the opening scene when the Delta Nu sisters perform “Omigod You Guys,” I was in absolute awe of the music, the set, the costumes and everything in between. The music within this production never failed to impress me throughout the show, and the vibrant dance numbers added to the fun. All of these outstanding elements were demonstrated an immense attention to detail.

The portrayal of Warner (Rylan Chromy) brought justice to the ex-boyfriend we love to hate. He wore a condescending smirk with his character and constantly called Elle (Delaney Nold) “a Marilyn.”

Warner’s character in the musical was fascinating especially when it came to the creativity in his interactions with Vivianne’s character. Vivianne (Natalie Biegel) was not Warner’s fiancé in the beginning of the musical, but instead, his girlfriend. She ignores Elle’s wish to support each other as women and uses derogatory language.

The character development Vivianne undergoes is amazing. She stands up against Warner when he thinks Elle is sleeping with Professor Callahan (Steve Chung), and she encourages Elle to stay. Vivianne tells her that women have to stick together. The contrast to the film propelled the theme of women empowering women.

Enid (Catherine Cushwa) feminist views were kept within this production, but the musical went further. Elle’s decision to dress as a bunny receives criticism from Vivianne, and when Enid becomes aware of this, she starts an argument. The changes within the dynamic between Warner and Vivianne made resulted in his unfortunate fate that was enjoyable to watch.

The creative liberties taken in the show were not limited to the character’s but also within the musical numbers. Paulette (Tenley Edvardson) included a beautiful number of her Irish dancing accompanied by an ensemble. The number was beautifully done, and fleshing out Paulette’s story to include a love for Ireland was an amazing addition to the show. 

The musical numbers were not only beautiful but the production played into the humorous components of the film. In a number titled “Gay or European?” was broached with sensitivity, but it was highly humorous to watch. The scene ended with Nikos (Ayden Kowalski) admitting that he was both gay and European. 

[Editor’s note: Ayden Kowalski is a Scene writer for The Observer.]

The production invites laughing wholeheartedly and evenhandedly at a wide range of stereotyped characters. Elle is a reflection of the stereotypes placed on her. She is not viewed as being serious and her value is related to her looks, and, in the end, she reclaims the insult initially used against her by Callahan. 

The use of the production title “Legally Blonde” comes about only within the musical. It is a number that Elle sings when she chooses to leave Harvard. The lyrics reflect Elle’s story, she sings, “Some girls fight hard, some face the trial, some girls are just meant to smile.”

She overcomes the perceptions others have of her, and watching Elle’s journey throughout the musical is heart-warming and empowering.

Play: “Legally Blonde”

Where: Saint Mary’s College 

Starring: Delaney Nold, Rylan Chromy, Brenton Abram-Copenhaver

Director: Mark Abram-Copenhaver