Chamber Singers concert breathes life into a musical about the oppression of Jews in Italy during WWII.
There is always a choice.
This was a key theme on Saturday night in Munson Chapel, where the Chamber Singers performed a concert reading of the musical “Bravo” in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the ensemble.
“Bravo,” which was written by Cristian Geuerrero, Andrew Moorhead and Steven James Schmidt, is a historical drama that invited the audience to look inside themselves and see what prejudices lie within them. The musical, set in Siena, Italy during World War II told the story of five Jewish children hiding from fascists. The plot unfolded as the children were taken into hiding by Franco, a farmer, and Peter, a 21-year-old German Jew.
Renzo, the protagonist of the musical, acted as a mirror for the audience as they followed the story of a prideful, poor, little boy decide between the Blackshirts, a group of armed fascists, and the people he had grown up with.
The musical itself is connected to APU, as Schmidt is not only the co-lyricist and composer of “Bravo,” but an alumnus of APU and the Chamber Singers ensemble itself. This led Chamber Singers Conductor Michelle Jensen to stage “Bravo” for the APU audience.
Producing a Perceptive Show
It took five years for “Bravo” to come to life. The effort was evident through the way each song directly correlated and foreshadowed intricate themes of the story. Act one opens with the song, “Life Is for the Taking” — a haunting illusion to the end of the musical, where five characters meet their tragic end.
“The first time we heard the ensemble: instant goosebumps,” said Abby Carter, who played Caprice —a fierce, Jewish twin sister to Emilio.
Trapped and Waiting
In act one, the close relationship of an Italian boy named Renzo and and a Jewish American named Bianca is introduced. However, the friendship is put in danger when Jews are sent into hiding and Renzo, an adult Italian Blackshirt, attacked Bianca.
Bianca is brought to a farm where other Jewish children are hiding from the Blackshirts. However, this safe haven turned out to be a trap after Renzo found Bianca and debated the decision of whether or not to reveal their location.
This trapped world was reflected in the song “Wait,” which was filled by dark tones and a percussive snapping as it transitioned into the hopeful tones of “Resist,” where the characters begin to talk about how to fight oppression.
The characters of the musical were multi-faceted and relatable through the illustration of their struggles with success, oppression, dreams and suffering.
“As a writer, I become more and more impacted by diving into characters like that,” said Schmidt. “It helps me in my day to day life.”
The title of the show dealt with the psychology of a child when they receive praise. Renzo was told bravo when he did well in drills as a child. Similarly, 12-year-old Emilio is told bravo when he properly recites his readings for his bar mitzvah as a form of praise.
The first act ended on a hopeful note, as the children believed they were free after Mussolini’s fall. But the audience intuitively knew it would not last.
The opening act began with a scene between Peter and Franco celebrating the fall of Mussolini. The possibility of love blossoms in both, as it is revealed that both Peter and Franco are gay. This goes to show the diversity of these characters who represent Jewish faith, immigrant stereotypes and people with disabilities.
The musical etched closer to its climax as the Germans descended into Italy. The ironic song “Perfect World” comes into play as the choir whispers run, and the percussion created a steady beat of suspense. It is then revealed that Renzo has joined the German’s cause with his Blackshirt brothers and Bianca has been found.
Nearing the End
As Julietta looked at the last signs of sunset and told Bianca, “I don’t want to die,” the audience found out that Julietta is only 11-years-old.
This shocking revelation transitioned perfectly into “Dawn,” where the choir surrounded Renzo as he made a decision between saving his friends and elevation from poverty.
The song started to slowly build as it talks about the darkness that surrounds everyone. Beautiful chords were met by a slow build as it climaxed. However, mid-way through the song, it turns hopeful with bright notes, “You can wait here for the sun or reach into the dark night and bring the stars down and make the sun rise.”
Renzo made the decision in the end to stick with love, showing his willingness to fight for what is morally right. He saved Caprice and ran to the ransacked house, to find that Bianca had survived. At the end, four characters die and they break the fourth wall to tell their stories. Franco and Emilio were shot, Peter died in a labor camp and Julietta was put to death in the gas chambers.
“They could have charged money for this performance. The music was phenomenal, the choral background was astounding and it was so moving,” said Izzy Sanchez, an acting and honors humanities major.
The concert reading ended with a standing ovation and not a dry eye in the audience.