Cast members of "Lavender Life" bring the cabaret setting to life. -Courtesy of Kylie Westerbeck

For a show that solely takes place in a 1930s speakeasy, Rowan Lab Theatre’s “Lavender Life” greatly exceeded expectations, portraying a vibrant, youthful tale of American LGBTQ+ women at the time.

Running this past weekend in Bunce Hall’s Studio Theatre, this production was entirely student-run.

“Lavender Life” transcends traditionally strictly plot-based musicals. The show ran much like a cabaret, featuring a potpourri of songs and quotes from outside shows and historical events.  The show featured no dialogue outside quotes from notable individuals such as Margaret Mitchell or Margaret Atwood. However, the show was performed in such a way that it was easy to understand who was in love with whom, their feelings for one another and their feelings regarding their exterior world. The show flowed so that the quotes, although such, would be mistaken for dialogue if the program had not indicated otherwise.

Although featuring just 10 student actors, the show was not lacking in talent or power. Each of the 10 individuals shone in their own way. Actors in this show were faced with a challenging show operative: some characters had relationships with one another, but the only unifying factor of the show was the fact they each spent a night in a speakeasy together.

One particular standout was Sylvia Fox’s song “My Heart Belongs to Daddy.” Played by junior Nicole Cusmano, her sultry voice and ability to embrace her character’s sneakiness was remarkable.

Kit Andrews was another funny and outstanding asset of the show. Senior theater major Sara Rabatin, who plays Kit, did an outstanding job. She embraced her character’s full of life attitude and nailed her song, “The Lady is a Tramp,” lighting up the room.

Junior Allison Abiva played her character, Stella Stein, with undeniable grace. Stella, who spent most of the show taking notes about the characters, perhaps as a journalist, was clearly a character meant to be more shy and hesitant. But she embraced Stella’s growth well in her song “You’d be Surprised.”

The show featured countless beautiful moments, but a few standouts include characters Em (played by junior theater arts major Abigail Gardner), Sylvia Fox and Stella Stein’s trio, “In the Still of the Night.” The three’s voices complemented one another in such a way that the song was the right amount of nostalgic and impactful.

Leaving many audience members in tears was the show’s final moment in which Rose Ellen Wilson, played by senior theater arts major Juliet Gallagher, bids her lover, Adriana McNutly, farewell.

Rose’s husband John Wilson, played by freshman theater arts major Nick Flagg, places a wedding band angrily back on Rose’s ring finger and takes her away. This leaves Adriana McNutly, played by Molly Jo, understandably heartbroken as the show ends with her crying, center stage. The moment was perfectly tense, dramatic and impactful, fully demonstrating through action the injustices and trials women of the LGBTQ+ faced during the time.

Ultimately, director Chris Roche did an outstanding job putting together the production. It exceeded expectations and beautifully wove together stories with carefully selected vocal pieces.

Corey Everly, the show’s musical director, was a genius on the piano throughout the show. He too acted almost as a character, playing in the speakeasy on piano. Singers were accompanied only by him. He was an excellent accompanist for the cast’s talented vocalists.

Molly Moore’s set design made for a well-rounded show. From the careful draping of lights on the ceiling and smell of lavender as guests entered the theater, Moore left no detail out, and created the perfect atmosphere for these women to tell their stories.

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