Book/Musical Review: Dear Evan Hansen

Dear Evan Hansen is a popular Broadway musical created by Steven Levenson, Benj Pasek, and Justin Paul. Its powerful storyline, incredible soundtrack, and the talented cast has made it the winner of six Tony Awards and a favorite of theater aficionados across the world. Dear Evan Hansen is also very unique and innovative, as it addresses issues such as teen suicide, depression, and social anxiety. It speaks to the audience in a new, powerful way and has increased awareness of the mental health struggles that people of all ages may be facing. Dear Evan Hansen has been re-made by numerous off-Broadway production groups across the world and has also been adapted into a novel in collaboration with Val Emmich.

Dear Evan Hansen follows the life of its title character, who struggles with extreme social anxiety. His therapist recommends that he writes letters to himself, discussing the positive aspects of the day. At school, Evan has few friends but develops a crush on a girl named Zoe Murphy, who becomes the subject of many letters. Zoe’s twin brother, Connor, has a reputation for being rebellious and aggressive and is angry when he finds Evan’s letter about Zoe in the school printer. Connor takes this letter with him, leaving Evan in fear of what he may do with it. A few days later, Evan finds out that Connor committed suicide later that day with Evan’s letter still in his pocket. This causes Connor’s family to believe that Connor and Evan were close friends, which develops a bond between Evan and the Murphy family. Connor’s mother feels guilty for his death, whereas Zoe struggles to feel grief due to Connor’s awful behavior towards her and their family. With the help of his friends Alana and Jared, Evan starts the Connor Project, which is an online community dedicated to remembering Connor’s life. As Evan grows closer to Zoe and the Murphy family, he begins to drift away from his mother, Heidi, and his old friends. Alana and Jared find out that Evan never really knew Connor, and threaten to share this information with the Murphy family. Evan then claims that the letter to himself was actually Connor’s suicide note, which gets posted to the Connor Project. As a result, many begin to blame the Murphy family for Connor’s suicide and they become the subject of hateful, threatening messages. Evan realizes he must come forward and confess and tells the Murphy family about his deception. He explains that he did it because he believed it would help them cope and because he felt like he needed friendship. Later, he also reconciles with his mother, who promises she will help him through his pain and always be there for him. 

A year later, Evan contacts Zoe, who agrees to meet with him at the orchard that has become Connor’s memorial. Evan apologizes again, and Zoe forgives him, telling him that he brought her family closer together. After Zoe leaves, Evan writes himself one last letter in his mind while looking around the orchard and reflects upon what he has learned from this experience and the impact the Connor Project had on people across the country.

Dear Evan Hansen is an incredibly powerful musical and book that really speaks to today’s younger generations. Not only does it help readers learn empathy for those dealing with mental illness, but also provides solace for those who are experiencing something similar to characters in the book. It has encouraged people to reach out to others and offer one another support and friendship during difficult times, because, in the words of Evan Hansen, “we’re not alone, none of us.”

-Katie A.

Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded for free from Overdrive.

“thank u, next” Review

Pop singer, Ariana Grande, released a new song called “thank u, next” on November 3. Though I’m not a huge fan of Grande, I love how her song is not only catchy but empowering and eyeopening.

Ariana became engaged to Pete Davidson not long after breaking up with singer, Mac Miller, in early 2018. Miller died in early September from drug overdose and though Ariana was engaged, she still felt the heavy pain from losing someone she once loved. Davidson and Grande broke off their engagement in October but, Ariana embraced the single life, singing about it in “thank u, next.”

In a society that encourages “clapping back” and stirring up drama, Grande’s song is refreshing and genuine. Rather than wanting to throw shade at her exes, Ariana wants to thank them for making her a stronger individual. They all hold an important and special place in her heart because “one taught [her] love / one taught [her] patience / and one taught [her] pain” and now, “[she’s] so amazing.” Without these past relationships, Ariana wouldn’t be the person she is today.

In my opinion, another important aspect of the song is Ariana’s focus on self-love and self-betterment. While her exes taught her love, patience and pain, she also taught herself love, patience and how to deal with pain, which ultimately made her a better person. Grande explains that she found someone else to love, referring to herself as that “someone else.” Grande promises that the self-love she holds for herself is “gon’ last” and she “ain’t worried bout nothing.'”

Self-love and appreciation is a noticeable trend among today’s youth. Feminists advocate strength and success without the aid of men. Mental health victims strive to put their health and progress first. Social media posts remind individuals (whether they are fresh out of a relationship or have been single for awhile) of their self worth and hype them up. Grande’s song advocates this confident self-love and explains that no one should feel ashamed for putting themselves first.

Grande reveals herself as a self-aware, vulnerable and mature artist through this song, which are rare qualities to find in modern day artists. She teaches listeners that not all relationships are meant to last but they all can teach important lessons. Heartbreak can be a negative or a beautiful part of life and Ariana believes that it’s up to the individual to make it positive.

-Jessica T.

Looking for music by Ariana Grande? Visit Hoopla for an extensive catalog of her music free to download with a Mission Viejo Library card. 

School of Rock Movie vs. Musical

Both the movie and play School of Rock is about a guitarist Dewey Finn who has been living off of his friend Ned who is a substitute teacher. Ned’s girlfriend gets annoyed that Dewey keeps living off of them and tells him that he has to pay rent or get kicked out. So he poses as Ned to become a substitute teacher at Horace Green, an expensive well known school. Instead of teaching his class normal things, he teaches them about rock and roll, turning them into a rock band to preform at the battle of the bands which Dewey hopes will earn him some money and be his breakthrough.

Both the movie and the musical were very good and where very similar. The movie, which was the original had a couple classic rock songs in it, which I really enjoyed. I actually enjoyed the movie even though I normally don’t like children’s movies. It was different then everything else I had recently seen. It was really nice seeing something that was different then every generic movie that has been coming out. So, even though it is 15 years old it is still a great family friendly movie.

I saw the musical first and when I saw the movie pretty much the same story line, which I liked. Because, it meant that the musical adaption of the movie didn’t take to many liberties and didn’t completely change the meaning of the story. Though, the musical did have some differences, it was obvious that it was purely just to make it work as a musical adaption. They had also added some modern day jokes and themes into the musical which kept it interesting. It was also nice that they had kept some of the original songs from the movie as well as adding some originals. They also had all the kids playing their instruments live which was cool to see.

Overall, I really enjoyed both the movie and the musical. Though the entire story is a bit childish and dumb. It was different and I liked that. I would totally suggest seeing the movie and the musical if you have a chance. I found it as something that was just kind of fun to see.

-Ava G.

The Falling Between Us by Ash Parsons

Image result for the falling between usWhen I first grabbed this book, the color stood out to me on the New shelf.  I read the inside cover, and it sounded like a good read. I wasn’t disappointed. I love reading good books with a lot of music involved.

The Falling Between Us is a story about Joshua Blackbird, a boy from a small town who becomes famous with YouTube. At first, I was getting a Justin Bieber vibe from it. The story is told from the perspective of Roxanne Stewart, who is his best friend and ex-girlfriend. She’s been on tour with him. But the fame isn’t all fun and games, and the glamour of what it looks like.

Joshua starts having to deal with the bad side of fame. Between the crazy fans and paparazzi, the evil family and management, and his “girlfriend” for the press, who can he trust? Roxanne met him when she was six, but didn’t really meet him until their 9th grade English class. Now, Roxanne and Joshua’s drummer, Speed, are his only two true friends.

One night on a boat, Joshua swims off and after a long search, is announced dead. Roxanne is devastated. Is she able to piece all the clues together before it’s too late?

This isn’t your typically story of when a teenager becomes famous and gets tired of it. I would have to say that some parts of the ending were not written well, but overall this was a good read. For the second book by author Ash Parsons, I wasn’t disappointed.

-Rebecca V. 10th grade

The Falling Between Us by Ash Parsons is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library

Familiar by Liam Payne and J Balvin

Now this song is a major Summer 18 banger. If you remember Despacito, this song has a similar vibe, Latin roots etc, yet this one is one hundred times better. Don’t believe me? Have a listen.

So in case you don’t know, Liam Payne is the most successful and most talented (according to vocal range and musical ability) ex-member of One Direction, in fact, he is the only male on the list of “The Only Good Vocalists Born After 1989.” Liam explained numerous times how he wanted all of his fans to have a song of his that they could relate to in a sense, he sang this one for all of his Latin fans. There is a bit of Spanish on this song sung by J Balvin.

This song is just such an upbeat, happy, danceable song. The opening notes just take you to summer and make you want to dance. Here’s a bit of the lyrics from the song.

Can we get famili-famili-famili-familiar? (familiar)
I’m feelin’, I’m feelin’, I’m feelin’, I’m feelin’ ya (familiar)
What’s on your mind for later tonight?
Let me be the one to fill it up
Can we get famili-famili-famili-familiar?
I’m feelin’, I’m feelin’, I’m feelin’, I’m feelin’ ya (feelin’ ya)
What’s on your mind for later tonight?
Let me be the one to fill it up
Can we get

You can just hear how smooth Liam’s voice really is in this song.  So go ahead and give it a listen, so in the Summer when everyone knows it and loves it, you can say you liked it before it was famous.

Let Me by Zayn Malik

This is a perfect song to set the summer mood. It is by ex-One Direction member Zayn Malik (who was the second most talented member and the second most successful member).  Whilee the song is such a carefree, fun song, it has a much deeper meaning.

In case you didn’t know, Zayn dated model Gigi Hadid for 2 years before splitting in March, this song was written before then, and for her, he states,

“I was in love—and I think that’s pretty evident. I was aspiring to be in love with someone for the rest of my life and the rest of theirs, as we all do.”

Here’s a bit of lyrics from the song:

Baby, let me be your man
So I can love you (I can love you)
And if you let me be your man
Then I’ll take care of you, you

For the rest of my life, for the rest of yours
For the rest of my life, for the rest of yours
For the rest of ours

You can really hear what a huge range of vocals Zayn Malik possesses. He is one of the few male singers that can actually hit a high note and it is very evident in this song.

A cool part of the song is the music video for it, it serves as a thriller. It is actually part two of a series of videos, part one being the music video for Dusk Till Dawn. In part one, Zayn is on the run with a suitcase, yet we aren’t sure what is in it, there is a huge explosion and a car chase. Zayn is much past his boyband One Direction days and anyone would enjoy seeing the video.

But now onto Let Me. In part two Zayn has finally reached a destination, but he is still on the run. I won’t spoil it for you, but there is a lot of action but the meaning of the song still hones true in the video (you have to watch it to see)

It is such a bop! It is sure to be a huge chart topper. Don’t believe me? Go and listen to it yourself, you’ll be glad you did.

Quest For A Popstar by Katie Hamstead

I literally could not read this book, at all. It was so darn cringey, well, I know I called The Football Girl the cringiest book I ever read but  nope, it is now this one.

So let’s see… the book was written as if by a 12 year old, which was a turn off in the beginning. But I thought to my self “Skylar, it may get better, just think of all those other great books that you hated in the beginning but then loved.” Nope, nope, nope. That didn’t happen here in the slightest. But here is the part that I stopped reading:

“I grit my teeth. There are guys in the group who look worse than me and didn’t get such severe criticism.”

And with this, I DNF’d. I do not need to read a book with a female character playing the “Oh look, the man is treated better than me, must be because I am a woman.” No thank you. If you don’t want to read a book that a Junior High school student wrote, do not read this.

-Skylar N.

Film Review: Coco

Coco was a wonderful film for everyone. It was about a young boy named Miguel who decided he wants to be a musician. The only problem was his family is against music.

I liked the movie really much. I thought it was visually stunning and told a very great story. It had basically any Pixar movie standard that you would see in other Pixar movies.

In the movie Miguel finds out that his hero is his great great grandfather. He then was inspired to go and compete in a music contest. He then takes his great great grandfather’s guitar and is sent to the Land of the Dead. In order to get back to the ordinary world Miguel has to get a family blessing. The only problem is that he wants to be a musician and all his relatives didn’t like music. He then realizes his great great grandfather could get him a blessing. In the story Miguel meets a man named Hector. Hector helps him go on his journey in finding his great great grandfather. In the process of finding his great great grandfather Miguel has many crazy encounters with many crazy characters.

The movie was very enjoyable. I thought it was both visually stunning and had a good story. The moral of the story was that in order to be a family you have to support one another and you shouldn’t force a life on your son or daughter that they don’t want.This movie reminded me a lot about The Book of Life. Which was another movie set in Mexico about the Day of the Dead. I liked The Book of Life which helped me like this movie.

There was one scene in the movie that needed so much detail to make it the scene it was. If I know one thing it is that Pixar tends to overdo a lot of their scenes which is always a good thing. There was also very bright colors that made the visuals even more better than they already where.

I really enjoyed Coco and would recommend seeing it.

-Max U.

Opera, Opera, Opera!

Would you pay $26 to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton on Broadway, live?

I know few Orange County friends who love opera, let alone are willing to see one. This may be because Orange County has few operas. I’ve been looking! The Segerstrom Center for the Arts has some performances, but Costa Mesa is pretty far. Moreover, it only has concert performances (full shows done without staging or costumes in front of an orchestra).

Recently, I discovered my favorite opera, Carmen, broadcasted live for free on the Santa Monica Pier from the LA Opera. The LA Opera is the grandest local opera house, and witnessing something this professional live was moving. Dancers were hired from the depths of Spain for a genuine Spanish vibe, and costumes shimmered and poofed in all their Spanish glory. Tickets are at least $90 for a “cheap” theatre seat, in which performers can barely be seen or heard; free showings are unheard of!

My friends and I zoomed to the pier and fangirled over the huge stage and thick French accents. The music can be found in our playlists; we hummed along the whole time. The opera is risqué, funny, and dazzling. If more people had access to opera in Orange County, I’m sure we could love and appreciate it the way this crowd did on the Santa Monica Pier. It was so enjoyable!

The Live at the Met series is broadcasting full operas live from the Metropolitan Opera House in most Regal movie theatres. This is the best opera house in the country! I’ve never seen a bigger stage, and the cameras show so much detail I can see reflections in the characters’ eyes. Tickets are around $26, with over 10 operas this year! More than the average movie ticket, but very cheap compared to live tickets, often at Hamilton prices ($855+). Only internationally famous and experienced singers have been cast! If you’re an opera fan like me or are ready to behold these regal performances, please come and support the art by attending. Few people know about it, but more should.

This is the same as $26 to see Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton live on Broadway, in the movie theatre!

The Orange County School of the Arts is also doing L’Enfant et Les Sortilèges in the spring, so look out for that!

Meanwhile, I will be hunting down local operas. I’m determined to find performances in Mission Viejo! Operas can be expensive, but I’m working on finding deals so teens can experience this difficult and powerful art form at an accessible price. I’ll keep you updated!

What local opera productions do you know of? Please comment to let me know!

-Jessica F.

Drake

Rappers nowadays are only singing about money, girls, and gangs. Absolutely no purpose or feelings behind what they sing about in their videos. This makes it hard to believe there are any rap singers out there worth listening to. With such a strong opinion about music these days, I’m very picky when it comes to listening to music. But, I can optimistically that the artist Drake is not like the others.

Aubrey Drake Graham is 30 years old and was born October 24th, 1986 in Ontario, Canada. He started off in the teen drama “Degrassi” and moved onto music around 2009. His hip hop and R&B music is known all around the world for the catchy, upbeat songs. He sings about his hometown Toronto, ” the 6″ along with his family and friends. His most recent album More Life has been played on the radio, spoken about on TV, and even been featured in magazines! Drake is known for his charm, his way with words, and his ability to touch your soul with his music. Predictable, at least 80% of all his fans are girls and more are to come. He is an amazing rapper and a great musical influence. His songs range from let’s get crazy and dance to let’s sip some wine and cry. Drake is the way to go if you’re trying to get down at the club or lay in bed and think about life.