Put on a musical during the era of masks and social distancing? Impossible, you say? Not for the intrepid team that makes up the Nonesuch Players. With the type of can-do spirit celebrated in countless Broadway musicals, they brought Rivers a show full of joy, humor, hope, and good old-fashioned razzle dazzle—all in the virtual space.
Bring Back the Broadway Lights
was an all-singing, all-dancing musical revue knitting together songs from Broadway shows closed by the pandemic. A cast of 32 students made their way through numbers as different and distinctive as “You’ll Be Back” (Hamilton
), “You Learn” (Jagged Little Pill
), “You Will Be Found” (Dear Evan Hanson
), “Friend Like Me” (Aladdin
), and many more. It all came off without a hitch, thanks in no small part to the herculean efforts of director Zoë Iacovelli and her team.
So how do you mount a musical when COVID protocols forbid in-person singing and when dancers must be masked and no less than six feet apart? “You get creative,” says Iacovelli, with the-show-must-go-on understatement. Essentially, the students recorded themselves singing their parts alone at home, and the recordings were woven together through the magic of editing, provided by a professional. Dance numbers, choreographed to allow proper distancing, were recorded in the wide open spaces of Kraft Dining Hall. What the audience saw was a seamless pre-recorded show with students harmonizing, dancing in sync, providing patter between songs, and generally behaving like people putting on a show and appearing to enjoy the experience.
Behind the scenes, it took tremendous flexibility to make it all come together. Iacovelli says that her background in theater prepared her for the need to pivot and adapt seemingly endlessly. “Being part of so many shows really taught me to never be too married to an idea, to always be flexible and ready for a change. It’s an ability not to be frustrated by challenges but to see them as an opportunity to use your creativity in a different way,” she says.
Initially, says Iacovelli, she was concerned that the musical wouldn’t attract many students this year and that it would be difficult to create the necessary esprit de corps among those who did participate. But, she reports, nearly as many students participated this year as last, and the group came together as a team, bonding during in-person rehearsals a couple of times a week and texting via a group chat in which all 32 cast members participated. “That blew my mind,” says Iacovelli. “They were really connected.”
And Zoom (“which I had never even heard of a year ago,” says the director) did offer a couple of advantages over a live show. “In a musical, not everybody gets to have a big solo, much as I’d like them to,” says Iacovelli. “But in this show, the way we’ve constructed it, every kid is seen, every kid is shining, every kid gets to express themselves and be themselves.”
For seniors, whose last turn on the high-school stage was preempted by the pandemic, the production was especially poignant. Seniors Schuyler Bartlett, Cecily Bua, Maggie Leeming, Hannah Long, Josh Rocha, Tayja “T” Sallie, Meredith Shah, Calvin Smith, and Maddie Wambach all had their moment in the spotlight. And underclassmen in the cast shared a special video salute to these soon-to-be graduates, thanking them for their leadership and friendship.
The livestream “aired” at a particular time on the two nights of the show, Feb. 18 and 19, the better to replicate the immediacy and ephemeral nature of live theater. But for those who’d like an encore or missed it the first time around, it can be viewed here
. Speaking a week or two before the performance, Iacovelli voiced her hopes for how the final product would come across. “We’re trying to hold onto as many of those feelings you get on opening night as possible. It’ll be different, but hopefully no less magical,” she said. It may be some time before performing arts programs can return to normal, at Rivers and elsewhere, but the lessons in resilience have been priceless. As Iacovelli said, “If we can tackle this year, we can tackle anything.”