“You Will Never Walk Alone” is the latest streaming concert from choral performers from Sarasota. The revue of inspiring Broadway standards is based on a number of musicals including “Carousel”, “A Chorus Line”, “Les Misérables”, “Man of La Mancha”, “Sound of Music” and “Sweet Charity”. The music is uplifting. The story behind it is too.
This virtual concert is an idea by Joseph Holt, the artistic director of the choir group. He first conceived it in the early months of the pandemic when planning the 2020-21 season. Holt thought long and hard. And had a good idea …
This idea was an answer to a nagging question …
What do people need right now?
The obvious answer …
You must be feeling good.
In the quiet spring of 2020, Holt had witnessed a parade of gloomy people. Their masks couldn’t hide their sadness. That bothered him. But he was far from helpless – and he knew it.
Holt knew that music couldn’t cure COVID. But it could cure the pandemic blues.
“I have decided to create a musical feel-good experience,” says Holt. “What is the most uplifting music of all? For me it’s Broadway music. It just has to be like that. “
Broadway beats the blues! Good news. But it sounds too good to be true.
Holt doesn’t think so.
“I know I could sound like a Pollyanna, but I was looking for Broadway music about characters who overcame life’s challenges,” he says. “Hearing their stories in songs is good for the body and soul. I really do believe that. And I think that’s what people need to hear now. “
Holt originally envisioned a live concert as part of the “Music in the Gardens” series at the Marie Selby Botanical Gardens. The Choir of Choral Artists would bring Broadway to life with Holt and Michael Stewart at the piano. Ann Morrison would be the solo singer. (Who else?) That was Plan A. But in the COVID era, plans are often early victims.
At the beginning of this year, Holt and the Selby management made a decision.
They agreed that a socially distant live concert was good – but not good enough. The music makers could not guarantee the absolute safety of everyone. Holt’s uplifting show couldn’t go on. At least in its original form.
That brings us to Plan B. And it’s actually good news.
“You will never go alone” was not canceled. This concert took place in Selby Gardens on February 28th. Morrison and the choir group arrived – with no real audience to hear them. Just a team with three cameras from Integrated Media Productions.
Joseph Holt tapped his staff. And the performance began.
The choir was socially distant. The singers sat 6 feet apart and sang with masks throughout the concert. Morrison stood 12 feet from them. At this distance she could safely sing her solos without a mask. And did it.
It was a new sensation for Morrison.
She thought it was a bit surreal.
“It was a strange kind of hybrid concert,” says Morrison. “It wasn’t like a live show. It wasn’t like recording a studio either. We performed outside – in Selby Gardens. This is not exactly a soundproof environment! Helicopters fly by; a dog begins to bark; Woodpeckers peck. Little things happen. It is inevitable. “
When the inevitable happens, even a professional can get distracted.
“This new type of concert requires intense focus,” explains Morrison. “When I sing, I’ll dive deep into the character – and go to a completely different place. I did that in Selby Gardens. Then I happened to look up – and saw this crazy squirrel jump into a tree. Bang! I was instantly out of character. We still had to make an adjustment. “
Morrison makes it clear that she is not complaining. She couldn’t see the audience as she sang. But she knows they are out there and believes that this on-demand virtual concert can make a difference in their life. Morrison doesn’t mind a few technical difficulties along the way.
“We’re doing something new,” she says. “It’s never easy and it shouldn’t be. If you have new things to complain about, this will be the first sign of old fart syndrome. I am not worried about what I am doing. I think about why I am doing it. This fantastic, wonderful, beautiful music is a shot in the arm for people in difficult times. If I have to deal with an insane squirrel or a cameraman, it’s a small price to pay. “
Holt happily agrees.
“Annie is right as always,” he says. “Music is always the end result. And Broadway gave us such incredible music! In a staged musical, the songs are always anchored in the story. But you can also stand alone. These wonderful songs work without choreography, without drama, without costumes and sets or actors interacting on stage. Our streaming concert is a distillation of the Broadway experience. We don’t pretend it’s a reproduction – it’s just the music itself. It’s not smooth, it’s not polished, but it’s real. And I think the power of the music shines through. “
Is this power really a medicine for melancholy? A cure for the pandemic blues?
“Well, if you take me as a test subject, the answer is ‘yes’. This wonderful music put a smile on my face. I might add that it worked for Annie and the choir too. On that basis, I am confident that it will work for everyone. “
Holt’s bold optimism deserves respect. It’s a robust adaptation to strange days! When we’re finally back to normal, it will be a happy story to tell our children and grandchildren. May be …
But Morrison doesn’t see it that way.
“I’m sorry to burst your bubble,” she says. “But I honestly don’t think we will ever go back to the old ‘normal’. This brave new world isn’t always fun. It can be a pain – or worse. But it’s not all bad. “
Morrison laughs and extends her thesis.
“If you are a performer, this new reality forces you to improve your game. I noticed that at our last SaraSolo festival. It really came to my house! Actors and singers can no longer afford to be close specialists. We all need to know the pros and cons of video and audio software and hardware. We need to understand which microphone will give you the right sound, which camera will make you look your best, and which editing software will put it all together without driving you crazy. Love it or hate it, this is the new normal. I don’t think we’ll ever go back. “