Pandemic Reflections: What Watching Musical Recordings Can Reveal

This article isn’t going to be about the one-year pandemic necessarily. I’ve talked about my thoughts on work going remote on my personal website. With that said, Broadway has opened. So has the West End. They may be showing off new shows, perhaps established ones. Even so, there is a sense that things will not be the same. You can reduce seating and order people six feet apart, and ensure that everyone wears masks and does not eat in the theater.

It’s hard to measure the loss for the people who had to hang up usher uniforms, cancel auditions, or apply for unemployment. This great fear emerged — if the pandemic didn’t stop, or end in a reasonable way, would show business end, in a sense? I love the theater and have been privileged to see shows in person. The pandemic took away that huge luxury, and I imagine it’s much worse for the people who worked hard to put on the shows. Tech crews are so amazing and underappreciated.

The strongest memory definitely has been the day when we transitioned from in-person office work to remote copywriting, marketing, and communications. At first, it felt like this would only last a few months, and everyone would be laughing about the scare. That is not what happened. It’s been more than a year, and the anniversary passed. Hand sanitizer at least is available, as are store-bought masks so that we aren’t putting a burden on hospitals. We always remember to cover our webcams when necessary and benefit from colorful tape just for that occasion.

To deal with this, a friend has introduced me to video-sharing on the weekends. What’s more, with Broadway having been closed for ages, it was a time to dive into musicals that we had maybe not considered. He found that Broadway stars had gotten together and recorded Ratatouille the Musical for charity. It was an idea born on TikTok that blossomed over the year, as people added more songs to the original, and penciled out a storyline.

Insights From One Year Of Songs

What I have learned from these various experiences, and finding someone as interested in musicals as I am:

1) Great actors cannot save a shoddy script, but they will always try their hardest. A for effort can make the difference in that some of the footage is watchable. It means that you appreciate the actors for trying to convince us that they are wrestling a real person and it is a blow-up doll. We tried so hard to take it seriously, but we could not. Sorry, Reeve Carney, because you are amazing and I hope they bring you back for an encore.

2) If someone has great pipes, they can own a song so you want to listen to their solos on loop. I’ve fallen for how Tim Minchin sings “Heaven on Their Minds” after watching The Show Must Go On’s recording of the 2012 staging of Jesus Christ Superstar. As a result, YouTube keeps recommending it. I then listen to it, and the cycle continues.

3) The lack of applause can be startling. Zoom musicals have no applause, did you know that? There may be a pause where you can clap, but you are clapping alone. Even musicals recorded this year lack an audience, to protect them. It’s why older recordings are reassuring when you can see an audience there, sitting, clapping, and otherwise reacting. I feel for the cast when they come up for a curtain call, and we can’t give them a standing ovation. One can hope that we find that lost love or ways to show our appreciation for the show. If the NBA can have virtual guests attending and showing their support, Broadway could maybe do something similar.

4) Musicals recorded before the start of the pandemic are like time capsules — mind, I am referring to the 2012 Jesus Christ Superstar version. I wasn’t sure if it was from 2018 in the age of police brutality, but it turned out that the Occupy Movement had inspired the costume design and anachronistic elements. That muddies the issue about how Jesus Christ was a social activist, way ahead of his time, and inadvertently advising people that they needed to stand up to their oppressors while not succumbing to senseless violence. It also makes Caiphas, Judas, and Annas less sympathetic about their fears of the Romans quelling any rebellion and wiping out the town.

5) You want to create memes. All the memes. I have one in progress on my phone from a 2000 film musical whose clip was recommended to me on YouTube feeds. My friend made one based on a cardboard camera prop that we joke about from time to time. So far none of them have gone viral, but you can never tell what will strike that human connection.

6) A good musical makes you admire the special effects, and feel empathy for the actors with suffering characters — when you see the ABC Broadcast of The Little Mermaid, you want to do more than give Ariel’s actress Auli’i Cravalho a hug. No, you want to make sure that the wires supporting her floating-swimming on the stage stay steady, and don’t fail on her. They are quite detailed, and you want them to stay intact. Likewise, a good version of Jesus Christ Superstar will have you praying that it’s just makeup on the actor.

7) You will always find something new if you have a friend who is interested in musicals, or vice-versa. When you see the original ending to Little Shop of Horrors with full context and close to Halloween, it brings a huger impact of what could have hit the screen that many years ago. A newfound appreciation for Rick Moranis’s acting talent emerges.

8) Snack food will not easily take you to the theater. Mind, the musical where I enjoyed the venue the most was Waitress before the pandemic, where the theater sold overpriced chocolate and lemon miniature pies in jars. They were delicious and went well with the rest of the show. At home, I’ve been baking more and trying out baked donuts. Haven’t tried pie, to see if it recreates the effect of sitting in a nice dress.

9) You want to write the LGBTQ rewrite of classical musicals and are unsure how to pull it off. — Yes, this is a real thing. I do want to do this after seeing genderswapped versions of Chicago. One 2015 rendition had a bunch of men singing the “Cellblock Tango” about cheating gay or bisexual exes, and Chita Rivera sang for Billy Flynn, looking great in a tuxedo. She was the original Velma in the show, and got to steal the show with her pipes. You have to admire a lady that can rock a tux.

10) You can’t wait to return and laugh. I know that it will be nice to see the stages open again, and know they are doing fine. Getting to learn about official shows from my friends, and surprising them when they don’t know classical mythology just before tragedy strikes, is quite a big thing.

If you can, donate to theater funds that support actors and crews that have been put on furlough. Broadway Backwards is still in business, and ready to help.

A 2016 MBA graduate and published author, Priya Sridhar has been writing fantasy and science fiction for fifteen years, and counting.

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