Four University students have combined their writing and music composition talents into a comedic musical for their music composition class’ final project. Music, Theatre & Dance professor Lynne Shankel’s composition class had the foursome create a Zoom-produced thirty minute musical about love amid a pandemic. “Who’s Your Daddy” will premiere Friday, Dec. 17 online.
The process began with Shankel handing the group different images pertaining to coronavirus and 2020. Of the images presented to them, Music, Theatre & Dance senior Andrew Plinio said the group had a consensus on what they wanted audiences to feel after watching the show.
“We’ve had enough depressing material happening in real life that we didn’t really want to write a show that would also highlight that,” Plinio said.
The show is framed as a paternity court TV show (think Maury Povich). Jill and her love interest, and possible father of her child, Jack, tell their sides of their romance. Jack wants to be the father. Through a series of flashbacks, the musical follows Jill through a breakup, and Jack’s romantic pursuit of Jill. Finally, back at court, the father of the child is revealed.
Though a musical theater major, Plinio and the three other co-writers are not acting in the musical itself. Shankel emphasized the importance of the foursome staying on the writing side of the musical. So, they asked their friends.
Music, Theatre & Dance and Literature, Science & Arts junior Anna Rosengart knows only one of the actors in their musical.
“I really do not know how we convinced them. I think one person is Andrew Plinio’s friend. Another person owes Andrew Gerace a favor,” Rosengart said.
Though majoring in data science and jazz studies, Rosengart also found her way to this composition class through a love of music.
“There’s some funk. One character has a standard blues progression. So there’s some jazz,” Rosengart said. “Austin’s really influenced by Billy Joel, so you can hear that in some of the songs that he performed.”
Music, Theatre & Dance senior Austin Dubois came for the songwriting, having written pop or rock music in his free time.
“I had never written musical theater before. But I’ve always loved musical theater, and I sing it for class,” Dubois said.
Music, Theatre & Dance junior Andrew Gerace, a columnist for The Michigan Daily, rounds up the creative brain behind “Who’s Your Daddy.” Each member wrote a song individually and wrote a song with another group member. Forming bonds with their prospective writing partners virtually proved challenging.
“A partnership is a very rare thing. It takes a very specific energy and work ethic in order for a partnership to work. One of the hardest things was how these partnerships were going to work because it was new every week. It was good practice,” Plinio said.
Once the group had their dating during quarantine concept, what Plinio described as the “bare bones” of the project, there was a focus and direction. Then, they could proceed into the specifics — music and lyrics.
Each member wrote three songs individually. Then, they worked on the finale together. One of DuBois’ favorite moments is called “CV Mess,” a play on the pharmacy chain CVS. In that scene, the two romantic leads are in a CVS. Jill is with her ex-boyfriend, awkwardness ensues, and he gets her the last roll of toilet paper.
In one of “Who’s Your Daddy”’s flashbacks, a hookup scene unfolds between Jack and Jill. However, presenting this added an additional hurdle for the writers. Plinio described how an action as simple as holding another actor’s hand is challenging to translate virtually.
“Normally on stage, probably you would like to start kissing the other actor, and then, the scene would change. But, we obviously can’t do that. So, we’re just trying to play with ideas of how to make it funny. At the same time, I think that also lends itself to the comedy of it all,” Plinio said.
Due to COVID-19, music will be performed both live over Zoom and pre-recorded to account for the sound delay over Zoom. During the creation process, Dubois described sending voice memos back and forth to his fellow writers.
Despite these technical challenges in production, “Who’s Your Daddy” focuses on the lighter side of the pandemic-related mix-ups and misunderstandings.
“I highly recommend everyone come see the show,” Dubois said. “It’s very funny. People will be able to relate to that, especially as college kids with the whole dating scene right now.”
Though the musical was born out of a final project, the foursome noted the inspiration in writing and creating through the darkest moments of 2020.
“I think that something that I’ve taken away from this class is how to grab an audience’s attention, or how you make them laugh,” Plinio said. “I just want to laugh and bring joy. We need that now.”
Daily Arts Writer Nina Molina can be reached at email@example.com.