An EDM DJ who loves his therapist. A musician who feels the need to give up on their dreams to support their parents. A student who feels trapped between their identities. What do these people have in common? They are all represented by the cast of “(No) Pressure: An Asian American Musical” as they try to answer the question “what does it mean to be Asian American?” through song, dance and deep conversation.
The story follows five college students on their journey of self-discovery as portrayed through a song competition at their school, Potomac University. Ted, played by Wyatt Nako (CAS ’26), is an aspiring musical artist who is torn between pursuing a “safe” nine-to-five job and chasing his dream to be a singer and guitarist. Arlene (Nirvana Khan, SFS ’24) is a pre-med student who loves to sing but finds it hard to strike a balance between what she loves and building her resume. Genji (Jesse Lin, SFS ’23) is a trust fund kid trying to navigate life and love while feeling lost and aimless. Cynthia (Samhita Vellala, CAS ’25) is a student trying to reconnect with her Asian roots and define what it means for her to be Asian American. Finally, Lexi (Alyx Lee, CAS ’25) is a queer first-year looking for friends and a community in college.
Hot-shot record label CEO Griffin Seo (Harry Tang, MSB ’25), a famous Potomac University alumnus, runs a schoolwide talent competition with a $1,000,000 prize and an offer to sign with his label. Ted seizes this opportunity, recruiting singer Arlene, who then enlists her boyfriend Genji, to play the piano. At the same time, Lexi finds a friend in Cynthia, and the duo decide to enter their slam poetry in the competition.
The larger-than-life Seo dramatically brings the two teams together, ordering Cynthia and Lexi to make their poetry more marketable and work with Ted, Arlene and Genji to create a song with their writing. Drama ensues as Ted and Cynthia argue over creative differences. There is trouble in paradise for Genji and Arlene as well; the couple eventually breaks up after a fight about Arlene’s transfer application acceptance to Columbus University.
The musical reaches its climax as Genji brings the band back together and they create a sample recording for Seo. Their sample is accepted, and the newly formed band, (No) Pressure, performs live for Seo as one of the finalist groups. Though (No) Pressure does not win the prize, another record label recognizes the group’s potential, and Ted secures a contract as an artist under that indie label.
From the not-so-subtle allusions to Georgetown — Twilight Tea as a stand-in for Midnight Mug being one of the more overt — to the frank exploration of different Asian identities and common narratives faced by Asian students at Georgetown, “(No) Pressure” is a beautiful piece about Asian American students, by Asian American students.
The play explores the many different experiences Asian American students at Georgetown have, describing people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities and interests, as well as the various challenges they face. It discusses issues like making friends as a first-year in college, rekindling hidden Asian roots, trying to grapple with choosing between family and passion and more. It is messy, brutal and rough at times — just like life.
Still, the musical manages to balance the more emotional scenes with ones that are lighthearted and fun, reflecting many students’ college experiences. Characters like Ted’s therapy-loving EDM DJ roommate Carl (Jean-Paul Nguyen, CAS ’24), and Griffin Seo with his larger-than-life personality and sharply dressed entourage help manage the pace of the story and act as a welcome counter to the dramatic breakup and fight scenes.
“(No) Pressure” keeps the audience engaged throughout its 2-hour and 30-minute running time and shows the true heart and spirit of the Asian American experience. It gives audience members the space to consider their own identities and the impact their college experiences have had on their self-perception. Unlike many other performances, the producers and directors actively encouraged the audience to cheer and clap along throughout the performance, creating a safe and comfortable environment.
The musical is completely written, directed and performed by students, with professional-quality music and stage design. The live band of students, complete with a student band director, elevates the show with its jazzy and percussion-heavy performance that perfectly matches the tone of each scene.
Overall, every aspect of “(No) Pressure” exudes hard work, determination and grit, and the musical is truly a triumph. It grapples with difficult subjects with levity and grace, showing the audience that there is no single answer to the question “What does it mean to be Asian American?” However, it does bring us one step closer to being able to answer the question for ourselves based on our individual experiences.
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