Zoomusical

Nothing says grandeur like musical theatre. This is the art style that calls for gigantic set pieces, including entire restaurants, New York City skyscrapers, ships, ballrooms, barns, or even 19th-century French barricades. Sound design is at its height, oftentimes with as many as 20 actors on stage with a hot microphone. A conductor and band or even a full orchestra are packed in underneath the stage, reading sheet music in the dark under a tiny desk lamp. And all this doesn’t even account for the people working during production, which include a composer and lyricist to write the show, a musical director and accompanist to teach the band and actors the music, a choreographer to teach the dancers, a sound engineer to mix everything together, and a director to tell everyone what to do and when. Musicals take a lot of people, time, and money, and they sometimes make millions (some even billions: The Lion King, The Phantom of the Opera, Mamma Mia, Cats, Wicked, and Les Miserables, just to name a few) of dollars at the highest level.

Every single one of these things came to a halt last year. For me, a lover of musicals, this was terribly sad. Other than being simply sad though, this multi-billion dollar industry had to stop dead in its tracks. Actors, designers, stage managers, and all of the people listed above lost their jobs. However, not all was lost for creatives that were trying to do work this past year.

By the logic of my first paragraph, the concept of a musical on Zoom would be an oxymoron. But, as they say, the show must go on, and many musicals have already been adapted for the online platform. Just one example of this is USC’s student-run musical group MTR. They licensed a show called Unprecedented, written by a recent University of Michigan grad over the past year about the pandemic. The show is being pre-recorded and shot over Zoom. Actors are being sent microphones, costumes, set pieces, and cameras through the mail by the production teams, and the subject of the show is actually about quarantine and having relationships, and doing work living at home.

Other companies are working to adapt already existing shows to fit the online format. Northwestern University’s musical theatre program always has an end-of-year show, called Waa-Mu, which is usually a huge production and shows off the department’s talents. It obviously could not happen in person this year, so the show was made to fit Zoom live. Different from MTR’s show, this project actually was being performed live rather than being taped, so performers and musicians figured out a way to actually sing live and work around the delay by using click tracks.

By no means can online theatre hold a candle to the huge billion-dollar Broadway productions or even college-level productions, but the pandemic has brought out the best in terms of workarounds to the online issue. Producers and designers have never had to get more creative, and performers have had to adapt, hardcore. Although the situation hasn’t been ideal, the pandemic has really inspired companies to create new and interesting musicals.