High school musical productions face uncertain show dates due to COVID-19

The Walt Whitman High School Drama in its production three years ago of "The Curious Savage." Many high school drama clubs have had their musicals and shows postponed or cancelled due to coronavirus closures.

By Maya Brown

Samantha Carey, a senior at Walt Whitman High School, pictured herself smiling with tears of joy rolling down her cheeks, as the red curtains closed with applause from the audience in the background. The end of the school year is when high schools put on their spring musical productions. However, as theaters shut down to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, high schools had to join them too. And on March 18, Carey learned that, this year, curtains won’t close for her, at least not the way she had imagined.

Carey, who plays Agatha in “Guys and Dolls,” a musical romantic comedy written by Jo Swerling and Abe Burrows, began practicing in February with two to four-hour sessions every day. She memorized exchanges during 17 scenes with about 34 other classmates, learned detailed choreographies to 14 songs and the notes and lyrics to the musical score. She was looking forward to the opening show dates, April 3 and 4. But the spread of the coronavirus has put a pause on the show and postponed it until further notice. 

“This is my last show ever at our high school, and to hear it’s postponed later into the year when we have other senior events we need to now reschedule and plan, I was completely stressed,” Carey said.

 When she first heard about the state-wide shutdown of all public schools, Susan Radin, the director of the production, was distraught. She immediately began to brainstorm rescheduling ideas. But then, another shutdown of an additional two weeks was announced. 

“The latest shut down has increased my disappointment for the students and encouraged us to devise other ways for the students to be able to share their work in the future,” Radin said. 

With no official announcement of cancellation date, Carey still believes the show will go on, but it won’t be an easy transition. 

“You can practice alone all you want, but coming back together after this long expanse of time and not being in school will be a challenge,” Carey said. 

Hundreds of hours go into production, including character development at home, according to Geraldine LaPenne, a former director of two musicals at Freeport High School —“The King and I” and “Hairspray.” 

“A month-long break from the momentum built during rehearsals will surely have an impact,” LaPenne said. “However, given the kind of dedicated people involved in these types of production, they’ll be able to reset and make magic happen.”

When Elijah Hollingsworth, a senior at Freeport High School, heard of the postponement of “Newsies,” a musical in which newsboys go on strike, he was upset and immediately thought about all of the hard work the ensemble went through. Hollingsworth has the lead role this year. 

“Defeated is an understatement,” he said. 

These safety concerns have even affected Broadway productions. 

Following limits on large gatherings in New York, America’s theater industry suspended all plays and musicals from March 12 through April 12. The industry took action after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced an executive order ending all public gatherings of more than 500 people. 

Other student performers have also missed their opportunity to showcase all of the long hours of practice they have put in. Shoshana Herskowitz, the music director of the Suffolk Symphonic Choir under the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra, said that her choir had to cancel numerous events, including a concert at Carnegie Hall and an upcoming concert tour in Italy. 

“I think that it’s normal and valid to be both disappointed and sad,” Herskowitz said. “These are unprecedented circumstances and that the long term overall health and well-being is what has to come first.” 

Carey is one of those students that is disappointed, as it would have been the last show of her high school career.

“The emotional and satisfactory feeling of singing my last song or watching the curtain close for the last time, would close off this chapter in my life and open myself to a new one,” she said. 

But students will have an opportunity to showcase their work through an alternative option, including the possibility of a summer event through the use of online platforms, Radin said

“We need to use this experience as a learning experience and a building block for the future because the best is yet to come,” she said. 

About Maya Brown 7 Articles
I am a sophomore journalism student at Stony Brook University pursuing a career in Broadcast Journalism, with a passion for social justice, immigration and politics. I have interned for the Long Island Herald, the Office of Communications and Marketing at Stony Brook University and Long Island Weekly Community Newspapers. While at school, I am the Assistant News Editor for The Statesman and frequently practice both print and broadcast news.