estern University engineering students are notorious for their cult-like community, perpetual state of sleep deprivation and 40-hours-a-week class schedules. Frankly, the magical world of art seems far removed from their mathematics-centred reality.
These long-standing stereotypes are shattered in Rick Blues, an entirely engineering directed, written and performed musical presented by Western Engineering Musical.
Promoted as an adaptation of Footloose, Rick Blues follows the story of third-year engineering student Ben, as played by fourth-year software engineering student Kian Paliani.
Upon returning from a year-long internship, Ben learns that Rick McGhie, a Western University legend, is banned from playing at The Spoke by the University Students' Council as a result of an infamous yet unnamed engineering prank. To engineers, Rick McGhie's lively Wednesday night sets represent a longstanding tradition and weekly source of pride and joy. The audience joins Ben on his journey to restore the reputation of engineering at Western, repeal the USC's decision, and restore Rick McGhie performances back to former glory.
Nicholas Paul, a first-year engineering student, hopes to convince Western of the artistic talents of engineering students in his role as supporting lead William.
“It demonstrates to the rest of Western that we’re not all — to quote the status quo — 'pompous geeks,' " says Paul. "It demonstrates to the rest of the school that Western engineering students have too much work, but we know how to have fun and we are artistic.”
Jonathan Beaton, a third-year engineering student and the director of Rick Blues, credits the support of the engineering community and the Faculty of Engineering for the musical's creation.
“We got some funding from the faculty, which is really nice and has helped us book the space,” Beaton says. “I had a great moment earlier when Andrew Hrymak, [dean of Western Engineering], came up to me and said, 'I really enjoyed the show.' It was great to hear from him."
Outlets for creativity and artistic development are essential for students like Megan Green, a second-year mechanical engineering student and Calculus TA in the musical.
“I was really excited [for the musical] because I didn’t have a place in the engineering space where I could do something artistic,” Green says. “We can sing. We can dance. We can act. To see [engineers] performing like this and bringing everyone in to a story is a different side of engineering that people don’t usually see.”
In its first year, the Western Engineering Musical is underwhelming as a theatre production but ultimately succeeds in weaving a story of friendship and faculty pride.
The opening notes of “Rick Blues”, set to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”, fall flat and fail to express Paliani’s true vocal prowess. Don’t be fooled by Rick Blues’ sparse set, weak first song, and general low production value: past the first song, it is an instant hit with the crowd.
The audience clapped along to renditions of classic tunes like “Can You feel the Love Tonight” by Elton John. Rick Blues takes inspiration from popular ’80s and ’90s songs to create instantly recognizable hits. As the curtains closed, the crowd gave a standing ovation.
“This was a chance to give something to the Western engineering community and the Western community as a whole — this was something we could all bond over,” Beaton says.
As an entirely engineering-produced musical, Rick Blues defies the odds and shows Western the creative potential of engineering students.