FringeArts performs at Penn Museum
The giant Sphinx was used on the set as 'a God of Time'
September 15, 2013, 2:48 pm · Updated September 15, 2013, 9:42 pm·
Elizabeth Lim | DP
With a skilled cast and a heartwarming message, the award-winning musical “Jennifer the Unspecial” made for an engaging evening at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology this weekend.
The museum’s staging of the musical — with performances on Friday and Saturday — came as part of the 2013 FringeArts Festival, an annual city-wide program sponsoring artists and performers to create entertaining and intellectually challenging work.
“Jennifer the Unspecial” followed the story of a downhearted eighth grader as she slowly learns to believe in herself. Traveling through time by accident with some of her classmates, Jennifer encounters key historical figures before they’ve achieved fame.
The musical’s writer and executive producer, Matthew Mezzacappa, emphasized the show’s key message that “history is right here.” Jennifer need only follow her heart, he added, and “she can be like Beethoven.”
Performed in the museum’s Lower Egypt Gallery, the giant Sphinx acted regally on set as “a God of Time,” Mezzacappa said. In this way, he added, the show neatly combined the everyday and the fantastic to present its ideas.
While college students were not the musical’s primary target audience, “Jennifer the Unspecial” aimed for a universal brightness of appeal to give it a distinct relatability. Growing out of a wealth of inspirational sources — including “High School Musical,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and musical’s composer Cynthia Wong’s breakup with her boyfriend — the show speaks to everyone individually, Mezzacappa explained.
Though there were not many children in the audience, the youthful coming-of-age storyline seemed to resonate with many present. One adult member of the audience even exclaimed, “That took me right back to high school!”
Despite a strong moral idea acting as one of the musical’s principle elements — that Jennifer should love herself for who she is — much of the musical had a light-hearted and comic twist. Stereotypes of high school life alongside nods to contemporary culture lent the show its intended humor.