CommFest 2018's "A Starry Night": Reviewed

Photo Courtesy Northwestern

Photo Courtesy Northwestern

By Zoë Huettl

Stephanie D’Abruzzo and Ana Gasteyer opened “A Starry Night” with a funny, sometimes cynical song both about the “dystopian hellscape that is [D’Abruzzo’s] soul” and the return of many alumni to campus for the event. The fundraiser, CommFest 2018’s dazzling finale, had its bright moments, but it failed to transcend the ha-ha-we’re-taking-your-money attitude. The music numbers were beautifully produced and Colbert was charming and very engaging, not mention the enchanting set. However, the show seemed more concerned with including as many famous alums as possible instead of showcasing Northwestern talent both old and new. While I enjoyed much of "A Starry Night," I can’t help but think that it could have been much more.

The show started off strong with a video cameo of Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert in armchairs in front of a fire. Of course, hilarity ensued. D’Abruzzo’s and Gasteyer’s song was funny, but a little on the nose (“We can sing/they have cash”). The transition to Colbert’s monologue was clean, and he delightfully made 4/20 jokes, recited Shakespeare with a Chicago accent, and threw shade at Rahm Emanuel. This monologue was Colbert’s sole opportunity for comedy; he spent the rest of the show occasionally introducing acts. His only non-monologue memorable moment was a story about Henry Lennix during the White House Correspondents Dinner Colbert hosted in 2006.

Another highlight was “If You’re Out There” which featured THUNK and Adam Kantor. The song was well arranged, and both THUNK and Kantor sounded wonderful. Watching current students collaborate with successful alumni showed just what “A Starry Night” could have been if a bit more student talent was involved. “Philosophy OD” was a great moment of lightness and intelligent humor. Lucy Godínez’s “Breathe” was absolutely stunning and one of the high points of the show. Her sheer vocal power was astonishing, and it provided a wonderful snippet of “In The Heights” that didn’t feel out of place or jumpy.

Other wonderful numbers were “Seventy-Six Trombones,” which involved the Trombone Choir and the Marching Band, both very appropriate and very well executed cameos. Heather Headley was another highlight: her beautiful voice and interpretation of “If It Wasn’t for Your Love” beautifully underscored a sweet tribute to Gary Marshall and her “Home” from the Wiz was a lovely end to a show that occasionally stumbled.

These stumbles were mostly in timing and length. The alumni introductions slowed the momentum of the show and felt aggressively scripted. Additionally, some of the solo musical numbers were put one after the other in the program, which lead to awkward transitions and long stretches of alumni-only time that could have been better used in duet or group numbers. Gregg Edelman was followed by Brian D’Arcy James, and later Tony Roberts was followed by Richard Kind. In both instances these solos were a little lacking. They seemed to rely heavily on star power for audience engagement, and I feel as if it missed the mark. In these moments, the fundraising goals and famous faces overshadowed any attempt at creating a cohesive, flowing night. Bringing more student involvement to these songs could have lifted and freshened them.

Overall, “A Starry Night” was a show with stunning moments and some slumps. The star power present was impressive, but sometimes it wasn’t quite enough to sustain the energy throughout the entirety of the show. Despite that, though, students and alumni definitely shined for a performance that showcased the talent in Northwestern’s School of Communication.

Noah Franklin