By Cameron Morsberger and Molly Farrar
Classical show tunes and modern Broadway hits soared through more than 100 homes this weekend as theater lovers gathered remotely to listen to Boston University students belt from their dormitory rooms.
BU On Broadway, an on-campus musical theater organization, hosted a showcase Saturday night featuring 15 performers, many of whom were new to BU or new to performing in BUOB.
Caroline Bohnenberger, director of “The OB Online Showcase” and a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences, pitched the program to BUOB in August as a means to continue hosting shows amid the pandemic. She said the new virtual format presents unforeseen positives.
“Performing-wise, I feel like this show is the perfect opportunity to bring in new people and to hear new voices, especially from our freshmen and our new students,” Bohnenberger said. “Audience-wise, so many people, their family members and their friends were able to see the show, which wouldn’t have probably been the case if it was live.”
Bohnenberger had worked technology for past in-person performances with BUOB, and had acted in BU’s Stage Troupe — another theater group — but she said she enjoyed venturing into the directing side of shows for the first time.
“We didn’t run into too many problems logistically trying to plan stuff. It actually went super smooth,” Bohnenberger said. “The only thing that I thought was missing from the rehearsal experience was having the immediate verbal feedback.”
All 15 singers, selected for the show after submitting audition tapes, worked with a BUOB musical director to choose an appropriate musical number to perform live, Bohnenberger said.
After each performance, audience members turned on their microphones and cameras to applaud and cheer on singers to simulate an actual performance.
The “virtual cabaret,” held over Zoom, sold 125 tickets, but the event was free to watch.
CAS junior Lucas Taylor, one of the showcase’s producers, worked to create the show’s playbill. Because there was no cost to attend, he said the group encouraged guests to donate to The Actors Fund, which helps actors and artists support themselves.
Having been with BUOB for three years, Taylor said tech typically does a photoshoot before each event and socializes with performers during rehearsals, neither of which was possible this year because of COVID-19. Despite those losses, he said he deems the show a success.
“I think everyone was a little bit surprised with how well this went, because last semester everything kind of got canceled,” Taylor said. “This will give us the ability to move forward to future semesters and still have people who are auditioning for shows.”
The group had planned on staging “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” in March, but arrangements were postponed and ultimately canceled due to the University’s move to remote learning and new restrictions on gatherings.
Kenleigh Merritt, a sophomore in the College of Communication, was excited to return to performing, even if it was in her dorm room. During the showcase, Merritt sang “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” from “Songs for a New World,” the backing music playing from her phone.
As a transfer student new to BU this Fall, Merritt said she hasn’t yet had an in-person opportunity to familiarize herself with BUOB, but had been aware of its reputation.
“I know the On Broadway group is super successful and they’ve done wonderful shows every semester,” she said. “It made me emotional to be able to perform again, because it’s just been such a hard year or so of not performing.”
For producer Alex Shores, this was his first year in BUOB as well. A freshman in COM, Shores worked with Taylor to develop a promotional trailer for the showcase. Though he was unable to see his first show unfold in person, Shores said he was lucky to meet the group online and see everything come together via Zoom.
“I wish I could have been there in person,” Shores said. “[Taylor] talked about how you can go to the rehearsals, usually take video and stuff like that, and I think you miss out on a lot of that because of COVID, but it was an amazing experience.”
Later this semester, BUOB hopes to hold its annual “MISCAST” — a light-hearted, often gender-swapped end-of-the-year show in which members perform a host of different songs typically sung by the opposite sex.
Bohnenberger said bringing music and the arts to BU this semester was important to her and the group, especially because large-scale organizations will likely not be holding normal shows any time soon. BUOB’s passion for performing on campus, Bohnenberger said, drove the group to innovate and work around the obstacles imposed by COVID-19.
“We need to adapt and we need to adjust the way we do things in order to keep on doing what we love,” Bohnenberger said. “And what we love is theater, and we love spreading the arts and the songs to people.”