Virtual spring musical now rehearsing, with original script

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This year’s virtually held school musical, The Sunrise, will premiere an original story about having hope, inspired by the coronavirus pandemic and the toll it has had on many individuals. he musical will be displayed virtually for viewers. 

The main members who will be assisting with this production include English teachers Ryan Dunbar and Kevin Schwab as co-directors, music teacher Kevin Heathwood as the pit band director, who will also play a big role in editing, Richard Louis-Pierre, who will run vocal rehearsals, and science teacher Katherine Cooper, who will assist with choreography. 

“We were building a lot of momentum the past 2 years, with the creation of the first-ever student pit orchestra at Townsend, the adding of Mr. Schwab and myself to the production team, and coming off a very successful production of The Wiz in 2019,” said  Mr. Heathwood. “We were rehearsing for the Addams Family Musical last spring when things got shut down, and we wanted to carry as much momentum as we could with this so that next year we can bring the same team back, returning students, and of course new faces. Theater is a way of life, and keeping those traditions going is very important.”

This year, a revue (a loose theatrical entertainment performance) will be created with a variety of songs, scenes, and dances from different musicals. Mr. Dunbar said, “We decided to go with a revue because it’s a bit easier to coordinate in a remote setting than a full musical. Additionally, the revue structure allows us to feature much more of our student talent – in fact, we currently have 30+ singers, actors and dancers in the cast, and we are working to ensure each has a moment to shine.” 

Another distinct feature of this year’s production is that it will be largely original in comparison to spring musicals from previous years. “Most years there is not a theme that we program around but rather we select one musical and put our own interpretation of the already written material,” Mr. Heathwood said. It was decided by staff that for this year, the theme would be tailored to the struggles of the pandemic to leave viewers with hope, optimism, and positivity. “The songs were handpicked by Mr. Schwab, Mr. Dunbar, and myself and we are using an original script written by Mr. Schwab to tie the songs all together. The inspiration came from trying to figure out how we were going to put this show on given the constraints of remote learning and social distancing,” he said.  

Due to the volume of student participants and schooling circumstances, members are currently rehearsing through Zoom. The primary departments for the revue include the Pit Orchestra, Scene Work, Vocals, and Dance. Mr. Dunbar said, “Whether they’re getting guidance on their scene work, mastering a few difficult bars of music, working out the steps to a dance number, or executing a vocal harmony, all students in the show will be given opportunities to hone their respective crafts in a virtual setting.” In addition to this, students will also get the chance to partake in assisting in editing once all departments begin to finalize the production.     

“Joining high school, I wanted to explore and pick up new interests. I thought participating in the spring musical would be a great chance to try something new and out of my comfort zone,” freshman Karen Lin said. “As my freshman year was already fully remote, I didn’t want to end it with any regrets or missed opportunities,” she said. Freshman Sally Zheng also said, “[Practicing for the musical is] always something to look forward to at the end of a school day.”

Junior Cate Nguyen said that she joined the musical’s cast because she had participated in the school play as a freshman and as a sophomore. “I felt that the time that I spent with my cast members and practicing for the school play were one of my favorite moments,” she said.

Once the casting process had been decided, the beginning of rehearsals was underway. “We had our first overview of the working script with the main cast reading out their lines. Our directors introduced the sequence of the play and the general idea of the storyline,” Karen said. “Many details are still to be determined. So far, it’s very enjoyable and the cast is incredibly talented. I’ve never been too interested in theatrical plays before so I’m not familiar with the environment, but the actors were extremely impressive and I’m glad I get to share this experience with the entire cast.”

“I hope the participants [gain] a sense of accomplishment and that viewers [will] take away the main theme of staying hopeful through our music choices, dancing, and acting,” freshman Emerald Yee said.

By mid-May, the members plan on completing and sending their performance recording to Mr. Heathwood for editing. The final show will be posted on the school website, potentially along with a short live video. It is set to premiere on the school YouTube channel on June 2. 

“For the audience, we hope that The Sunrise will bring you some hope and inspiration. This is meant to reflect the feelings we’ve felt over the past 13 months and what looking forward is going to be like,” said Mr. Heathwood. “Things were darkest before the dawn, but now the sunrise begins.”