U of T Spotlight—formerly the Hart House Players—gathered on Wednesday evening for their first cabaret of the school year.

The strongest part of the event was the variety of acts. I have been to too many of these types of things where all anyone does is sing covers of Top 40 songs. Here, though, the audience was entranced by original music, covers, remixes, stand-up comedy, poetry, and short fiction. The audience turnout was substantial and extremely supportive, and for the most part everyone stuck around to see all the performances.

The evening was divided into two parts: first, the performers who had signed up ahead of time, and following a short break, the open mic.

The first half featured performers Zachariah Musiq and Julia Orsini, who showed off their remixes and Liza Minelli covers, respectively. Musiq is obviously a crowd favourite, and with good reason. Orsini also gave a strong performance, especially given that the microphone gave out on her right at the beginning of her song.

My personal favourite was Leanna Guenther, a singer-songwriter from Rotman. She sang three original songs that widely ranged in tone. Though the subject matter of the songs remained similar, Guenther tackled each specific issue slightly differently than the one before, from comedy to tragedy to somewhere in between. I also happen to be a sucker for smart lyrics, and it is usually the quality of lyrics, rather than a singer’s voice or style, that will win me over. This is one of those cases—Guenther is a good singer, and her acoustic guitar indie-pop style appeals to me, but above all, I was seduced by her lyrics.

I was impressed that Patrick  Mannone chose stand-up comedy as his medium—I don’t know if there is anything more challenging than stand-up. He had some hits and some misses in terms of jokes, and by the end of his set it felt a little as if he had given up on transitions, and we were just jumping from joke to joke without any connecting material. But maybe I’m not in any position to judge.

After a break, U of T Spotlight moved on to the open mic portion of the evening. I was a little disappointed that so many people left after the first half, including the performers. I understand that people are busy and free evenings are rare, but it seems like good form to me to stick around to hear what other people are working on after they stayed to listen to you. I also found that the open mic was the stronger half of the event, so if you ever find yourself at one of these cabarets, don’t be the person who leaves halfway through.

Three of the open mic performers delivered spoken word pieces, all of which had beautiful imagery and were quite polished. My favourite from the second half was a musical genius, who matter-of-factly sat himself down at the piano in the corner of the stage and improvised. Following him, Victoria Beales wrapped up the night with a piece of short fiction that lulled listeners into a blissful pre-bedtime ease.

Before the event, my guess was that the signed-up performers would have been a little more polished given that they knew in advance they were performing. There were only minor technical difficulties, and Sammy’s Student Exchange actually makes a pretty comfy venue.

My final verdict? Stay for the open mic.

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