The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Musicals During COVID: A Look at WIS’s 21st Century Broadway


With COVID-19 putting everyone’s lives on hold, most activities during the past few months have been altered or put on pause. This includes the annual Upper School fall musical, which was replaced this year by a collection of various performances by students, called 21st Century Broadway. It featured students performing songs from musicals exclusively after the year 2000 in a pre-recorded Zoom performance on Nov. 20 and 22. The songs being sung ranged from musicals such as ‘Heathers’ to ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ to ‘First Date’.

All of the elements of 21st Century Broadway were thought of before the start of the school year, when the administration decided that WIS would not be able to put on any live shows this year in the Black Box Theater. Even having an online show live would open up a host of technical difficulties and issues for the performers. “I would never want to do a performance with that factor,” said John Munt, vocal teacher and director of the musical. Because of various other factors, such as not having the rights to a musical for this year, dialogue and dancing were out of the picture, leaving 21st Century Broadway as the best – and safest – option.

Not only did the performance highlight students’ singing, it also displayed works of visual art created by other students.

Digital artwork paired with Akin Ogunmodede’s performance, created by senior Hank Harris

“Because I didn’t have a co-director, I wanted more student involvement with the creative aspects of the show,” said Munt. The artworks were displayed alongside the singing and had been created by students specifically to match each song. Among the students who created art are senior Hank Harris, sophomore Ella Bown and freshman Lucia Brandt. Due to there not being a set, the works of art were made to complement the singers’ performances and pull the event together.

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The musical review that WIS put on is quite similar to the events being hosted by Broadway and the National Theatre of London. Award-winning Broadway composer Andrew Lloyd Webber has been live streaming his musicals for an online audience, while the National Theatre put on weekly shows throughout the early spring and summer. While these alternatives to live shows vary slightly, it is clear that the world of musical theater is adapting to the current situation and shifting online in an effort to continue performing.

Because 21st Century Broadway differs so much from a regular musical, the experiences of both Munt and students taking part have all changed, both negatively and positively. Students agree that a musical review is the safest approach to take part in musical theater this fall, but nevertheless miss the live performances that WIS usually hosts. 

“The feeling of being on stage during the live performance is something that’s unbeatable,” senior Aidan Thomas said. Thomas sang “Freeze Your Brain” from “Heathers”. 

Others miss the social side of the musical that comes with rehearsing every day after school: “I miss doing it with my friends,” sophomore Isabel Restrepo said.

Sophomore Isabel Restrepo performing “Safer” from “First Date” by John Munt

Because of less frequent meetings and having them all online, interaction has been minimal, especially between students. “The saddest part about it is that we don’t have that interaction that we have when we’re all rehearsing together. It’s been very one on one,” said Munt, who would usually be the musical director and co-direct alongside Upper School Theater Arts teacher Kerri Rambow.

However, with the uncertainty created by COVID, having the chance to perform at all is something that singers value. 

“The best part is having the opportunity to keep [performing] in this very crazy world,” Restrepo said. 

Thomas agreed, saying that keeping some aspect of the musical has been much better than not having it at all. Not only can people continue to perform, there is much more variety in a musical review than there is in a regular musical. This appeals to a much wider audience, and with the total of 12 different musicals being performed, 21st Century Broadway is an interesting and engaging experience.

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