At Beijing’s China World Hotel, a crowd of 150 members of WashU’s Chinese community were on their feet singing and dancing along to the 2008 Beijing Olympic theme, “You and Me.” On stage, the WashU Musical Revue — which included students Eddie Campell, Hayley Emerson, Taylor Emerson, Elvin Hu, Sarah James, Brandon Krisko, Hanna Marias, Ebby Offord and Alessandra Silva — sang the song in Chinese and English. As soon as they finished, they launched into “We Are Family,” a disco song from Sister Sledge.
“It killed,” says Eddie Campell, the revue’s drummer and a senior in environmental biology in Arts & Sciences. “It was so good. It got everyone dancing and laughing.”
This was the second of two concerts in China for the group. The first had been in Shanghai. Provost Holden Thorp, who played bass at the shows, organized the concerts with help from the Performing Arts Department (PAD), which auditioned students for the group. The aim was to connect with students and alumni in China.
“We want to make it clear that we’re very appreciative and welcoming to the students who come from China to WashU,” Thorp says. “We felt that, given a lot of the things that are going on in the world, it was more important than ever to have a message of solidarity.”
That showed in the song selection, which included tunes such as
“No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods, “Season of Love” from Rent,
“You Will Never Walk Alone” from Carousel and other well-known musical numbers.
“The songs that we chose were really about family, about connection,” says Jeffery Matthews, the show’s musical director and professor of the practice in drama in PAD.
The group practiced together for just 30 hours before departing for China in late May.
In both cities, the cast was greeted by an audience of prospective students, alumni, current students and families. “The audiences were very enthusiastic,” Matthews says. “One audience member ran out and bought us flowers!”
After each show, there was a reception, and cast members interacted with audience members. “We want to build bridges,” Thorp says, “not walls.”
The 2008 Beijing Olympic theme and “We Are Family” closed out each show. “So you have a message of ‘We Are Family’ from the Chinese side and ‘We Are Family’ in the most American possible form of disco,” Thorp says with a laugh.
The message resonated with the audience. “The whole performance hall just fused together like a family,” says Elvin Hu, a former Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts student and Beijing native, who taught his fellow bandmates the Chinese lyrics from the Beijing Olympic theme.
In all, the students were in China for a little more than a week, allowing them time to sightsee. For many, it was their first trip to Asia. For Ebby Offord, a junior majoring in drama in Arts & Sciences, it was her first time abroad. “It was something that I never thought I’d be doing,” she says.
Between meeting new people, performing to eager crowds and seeing a foreign country, the trip is one that the students will never forget. “This sounded like one of those things that you always read about, but you know you’ll never get to do,” Campell says. “I felt a little bit like a rockstar.”