ASHES of Fate Review

Students prepare for and perform in ASHES of Fate, the original musical produced by Anastasia Lewis '24 for an FMST senior capstone. Photographed by Vaidehee Durgude '25

I’ve been paying attention to “ASHES of Fate” since the beginning of last semester, reading biweekly newsletters made by Amanda Roessler ’24 on the production progress and occasionally hearing bits from those involved. Last weekend, this all-original musical was finally put onto stage, and I was more than excited to show up as an audience member on the Saturday night’s show.

What first appealed to me was how “ASHES of Fate” wove a captivating fantasy realm on stage. From the moment the curtains rose, I saw cloaks and daggers along with suspicious eyes dodging one another. Characters started to sing an opening song first separately and then in union. “The only way to kill me is to get real close,” a catchy and thematic melody that would reoccur in the later scenes. Music composed by Mark Reyes ’24 enhanced the emotions and sentiments in the script, while bringing life to the imaginary world. I also noticed an unknown character played by Zeyu Xie ’27 suddenly assassinated in the alley. All these elements from the opening scene immediately transports us to a world brimming with danger and intrigue.

But while “ASHES” attempted to create a vivid imagery on stage, it also reminded the audience that we were just witnessing a fantastical tale in a theater through many interesting alienation techniques. For example, the character of the narrator played by Whitney Grinnage-Cassidy ’24 was constantly breaking the fourth wall, and directly commenting on the characters’ behaviors, saying lines such as, “Wait! You’re not supposed to do this until page 137,” or “What? Are you really falling in love with each other just because of a single dance?” These constant interruptions brought so much fun to the play. 

At the same time, I feel like having the narrator involved in the performance was also important to the final message that “ASHES” wanted to tell us. From my perspective, the narrator was really trying to twist the plot to another direction, to a somehow happily-ever-after ending, but they seemed to fail at doing this. In addition, the character Sabine’s effort of trying to distance herself from her own child only brought her closer to another child in her life. Thus, I take “ASHES” as a cautionary tale about the inevitability of our fate. 

However, while watching the performance, I was wishing for deeper exploration of the main characters’ motivations. I was told after the show that “ASHES” stands for “A Story of How Everyone Suffers.” While I empathize with the struggles of Ash and Avi — one coerced into a life she despises, the other abandoned by family, both yearning for love — I found Sabine’s storyline perplexing. She sings in the second act, “I had a dream once. I had love once.” Yet, I struggled to grasp what events have led her to abandon belief in dreams or love, what drives her into the job of this assassination organization, and why she decides to adopt Ash after distancing herself from her own child. If I have the chance, I would be very interested in discussing these questions further with the playwright Anastasia Lewis ’24. She wrote in the Playwright’s Note, “In all the fairy tales I’ve read and all the musicals I’ve witnessed, I still find myself searching for a reflection of my own story… to be the creator of a world where the ending wasn’t about finding happily ever after, but a quest for the journey.” I’d like to learn more about what she wants to express through this musical.

Yet, despite these narrative confusions, I still enjoyed the experience of watching the “ASHES” performance. Flipping through the program afterwards, I couldn’t help but admire the dedication of Lewis and her team, who poured three years of effort into bringing this vision to life. “I wrote up a syllabus for the course, and there were proposals and emails — lots and lots of emails,” she explains in “ASHES of Fate: An All-Original, Student-Led Musical with a Twist.” “ASHES” gained approval for a student-led class through the film & media studies department. Having original music, live band, singers and dancers, as well as an integrated media team, “ASHES”’s interdisciplinary cooperation and the inclusion of many students who have no prior musical experiences reminds me and my friends of the joy of performing arts. Afterwards, when I was talking to my friends, Xinyun Li ’27 said to me that she really hopes to become a dancer and choreographer in one of the theater shows in the future. Personally, seeing how so many Swatties came together and got creative with “ASHES” has really inspired me. It made me want to dive into my own creative projects, hoping they’ll bring people together as well.

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