This year’s production by Sheffield University’s Performing Arts Society (SUPAS) is a little different from those that have come before – doesn’t that just sum up 2020! The idea of a musical done remotely seems like no easy feat. How on earth would that work? SUPAS were clearly thinking the same thing because the premise of this production is the preparation for a musical during lockdown, and therefore the fact that this is all on Zoom does not feel subordinate to any other setting, nor is it once questioned.
The musical is split into 15 minute episodes that are released in intervals on SUPAS’s YouTube, and at the time of this review, parts one and two had been released. The full show will be available by 12 December.
The musical kicks off with a breath-taking rendition of ‘There Are Worse Things I Could Do’ from Grease performed by Charlotte Beeden. It is sung with depth, character, and an incredible vibrato, especially on the higher notes, and the song establishes high hopes for the rest of the production. Initially, it is unclear what this scene is for, however it later becomes apparent that it is an audition tape for the three producers who form the main cast, played by Olly Battersby, Erin Stewart and Rhiannon McQuone.
The first part is a mixture of classic slapstick show-business catastrophes such as a broken shoulder in the dance audition and a compilation of (purposefully) awful singing auditions, tying together well the clichéd disasters of auditions and stage performance.
The audience’s worst fears are embodied as part one ends with a scene in which one of the producers forgets to turn her camera off when she goes to the loo during an audition. The plotline here is slightly predictable and unoriginal, however, it does not stop it from being entertaining, nor does it stop us as viewers from having a reaction and feeling second-hand embarrassment.
As part two unfolds, the audience becomes interested in a storyline which follows one of the people auditioning for the part of Captain Von Trapp. He initially forgets the second word of the song Edelweiss, which is, of course Edelweiss, and whilst funny, we also have no hopes for his audition. He simply doesn’t seem to be anything special. However, after being given a do-over, he miraculously pulls it out of the bag with Stars from Les Miserables. It is a moving performance and an incredible audition, George Bowley’s voice hits every single note, and has the deep, assured tone one would expect from a Captain Von Trapp. Despite the slightly corny story line, this scene stands out in particular because the talent of both the acting and singing are excellent.
It is a clever and funny 30-minutes, reminding us of the all-too-familiar Zoom difficulties that we are still tackling today. It was packed with fun, jokes, and relatable gags whether that be because they are about the musicals we all know or because they play to our individual frustrations with organising anything remotely.
However, there are certain elements of the execution that knock it down a few pegs. It could be sleeker. There were certain dialogue scenes which could have been tighter, and most scenes do not need to be as long as they are, especially some of the singing ones.
Nonetheless, the production is rife with talent, whether that be in the music: the composers, the piano part, the flute; the performers: the singing, the acting; or the production: the script, the tech work. It brings excitement for future remote productions.
4 / 5 stars