Piano Power in “Velvet Determination”


By Christopher Popple

Growing up in a backwater Colorado town, young Cynthia had only one real passion in life: to play the piano and become every bit the musician her old man was. She makes it her mission to attend the prestigious Manhattan School of Music in New York City. Many obstacles stand in her way, including all the stresses of New York life, but, as is true of many artists, the greatest hurdle she has to overcome is herself.

Cynthia Shaw greets her audience with a beaming grin brighter than the stage lights above her. She has the enthusiasm of an elementary school assembly performer who teaches children about U.S. history. This energy adds to the comedic tone, as Ms. Shaw keeps the mood upbeat even during more serious moments.

After botching her audition for the Manhattan School of Music, Ms. Shaw has an emotional breakdown. She’d made a fool of herself in front of New York’s most influential musicians, lost her teacher’s respect, and now has to concede that all the nasty gossip her peers spread about her abilities might be true. When she’s done scolding herself, Ms. Shaw looks to the audience in horror, gets up, and walks away with her head bowed. A few seconds later, she’s smiling and moving on to the next part of her life. Her unbridled optimism leaves no time for anxious moments to simmer.

Ms. Shaw doesn’t take herself or others too seriously, portraying each character with a cartoonish exaggerated voice and persona. The man who tells her about a famous New York music store is a snooty auteur who takes a drag of his imaginary cigarette between each line. Her judgmental first piano instructor is as cold as she is haughty.

Most scenarios, from being forced to practice on a busted piano next to a boiler room to walking fifty blocks in New York City, are played for laughs. Though I enjoyed the lighthearted tone, I couldn’t help but wish for the heartfelt stories to find more breathing room amidst the laughs. Ms. Shaw is an excellent pianist; she performs snippets of songs throughout the performance. These songs complement the scenes well. When she plays a full song, it’s very gratifying.

Ms. Shaw’s final audition and eventual acceptance to the Manhattan School of Music complete this story. But her acceptance is by no means the end of her journey. It is simply an important milestone in an ongoing saga, which makes the sudden nature of the ending fitting. I hope to see where Ms. Shaw’s dream will take her next.

Velvet Determination ~ A Young Pianist’s Journey to New York
Written and Performed by Cynthia Shaw
Sept. 27 at 7:30pm, Oct. 5 at 9pm, Oct. 7 at 4:30pm
Director: Page Clements
Photo: courtesy of the production
United Solo 2018
Theatre Row
410 West 42nd Street
New York City

CHRISTOPHER POPPLE is a Monmouth University graduate and budding reviewer.



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