There is nothing quite like going to the theater: A single performance showcases months of tireless work from a cast and crew who have poured their hearts and souls into putting on the best performance possible. It is passionate and authentic, and the audience gets to experience every triumph and failure of the show firsthand.
This is the allure of live theatre. Movie musicals are great in their own regard, sure, but there’s something special about the uncertainty of the stage. When you watch a movie, it never changes — every scene represents the best take, and mistakes can be taken out in post. When a show is live it’s unpredictable, unedited and unique; every mistake made becomes a part of that day’s show, and no two performances ever feel the same.
So what happens when this individualism is lost? When the concept of “live theatre” no longer exists as we know it? Can performers connect with an audience they cannot even see?
“In times of crisis, theatre is resilient,” said executive producer and Music, Theater & Dance senior Henry Pedersen as he introduced the “MUSKET Alumni Concert,” which premiered virtually on Sept. 25. The event was a fundraiser with proceeds benefiting Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids, which is also the major supporter of the Actors Fund in New York City.
In all its years of performing, MUSKET has never had a concert quite like this one. Far from the Power Center stage they usually call home, alums of the group spoke and sang from their own homes across the country. There was no light or sound crew, no live orchestra to back them up. Without stage makeup or costumes, it was just people sharing their love and appreciation for MUSKET, Broadway Cares and the music that brought them all to the stage in the first place. Was it simple? Yes — but it was through this simplicity that the concert felt personal.
There are unique advantages and challenges that come with performing virtually. For those who are used to performing live, it is dispiriting not to have the synergy and cheers of the audience — performances are meant to be experienced, not merely watched. But on the other hand, performers are given the opportunity to connect with the entire audience in a way that is just not feasible in a live performance.
When was the last time everyone at the show got to see the performers up close? The format of the concert allowed performers to make eye contact and share intimate moments with every member of the audience indiscriminately. There was no dancing and no chorus to back them up; each performer sang, and without the rest of the company it was the talent and emotion that took center stage.
Nick Blaemire, a MUSKET alum who graduated from the University in 2006, sang “Look at the Sky” from “Urinetown” while sitting outside with only his own guitar for accompaniment. As he sang the titular lyric of the former he looked up at the sky, back at the camera and then down at his guitar. It was acoustic and intimate, reminiscent of a singer in a cafe more than a Broadway show.
Those who spoke in between songs took the time to speak about causes that mattered to them: From mass incarceration to the importance of art education, speakers seemed to profoundly connect with the audience. By forgoing the typical production value, singers and speakers alike gave off a domestic charm.
In a particularly poignant moment, 2020 graduate Lauryn Hobbs sang “Home” from “The Wiz,” which she was never able to perform on stage after the show was canceled this past spring. When she belted, her voice was too powerful for the home audio equipment to handle, and it begged to fill the acoustics of an auditorium.
That auditorium may feel hopelessly far away, but the online platform allowed for a type of performance that would have never aired otherwise. It was musical theatre stripped down to its core, and this in itself brought its own kind of magic.
Contributor Hadley Samarco can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A previous version of this article misspelled Henry Pedersen’s name.
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