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‘Emotional letdown’: School musical was so close to opening

Photo submitted to Times Observer Seussical Jr. actor Madison McDunn applies makeup for an All-County Junior Musical that didn’t happen due to the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, the show was canceled literally hours before the performers would have gone on stage.

The show — Seussical Jr. — may go on.

One of the first Warren County losses to COVID-19 was the All-County Musical Junior.

The show was canceled literally hours before the performers would have gone on stage, in front of the public, in costume, with sets and props, and lights for the first time.

That was a major disappointment, but those in charge of the event have a feeling they may still get a chance.

The show was to be performed first on Thursday, March 12. That opening was delayed.

Photo submitted to Times Observer Seussical Jr. actor Blake Ristau at a rehearsal for the All-County Junior Musical that didn’t happen due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Friday night show fell on the day Gov. Tom Wolf first ordered the closure of all schools in the state. The show was canceled at that point.

“On Thursday, March 12, I received a call to my classroom from central office with the news that the performance that evening was going to be postponed due to concerns of COVID-19,” Director Chelsea Burkett said. “I was in shock and didn’t really know how to respond. We didn’t realize the magnitude of the pandemic yet.”

She felt she owed it to those who had put in so much time and effort to let them know before they found out from a district call blast and sent a message on an app those association with the show had been using.

The next day was the same and Burkett again shared the disappointing news by app.

“I never did get to talk to the cast and crew again face-to-face,” she said.

“When the news first came, it was completely devastating,” Producer Amy O’Donnell said. “The time, effort, and emotion put into something like this builds and builds as the performances near. For the cancellation to happen that close to the show was an emotional letdown.”

“Both the students and the parents I heard from were upset,” Burkett said. “So much time and work was put into this production from so many people and then it was just stopped right as things were really about to get so fun for them.”

“It was very hard for all involved to hear this news,” Burkett said. “At the time it was hard to grasp what was about to be coming our way in regards to all the life changes associated with the pandemic. Since this was kind of the first change for many I think there was a lot of confusion at first, but everyone quickly began to understand the magnitude of the situation and the need for things to be paused when it came to the musical.”

“Being involved in any kind of theatrical production takes so much time and effort,” Burkett said. “When it is time to show the public what you have been able to accomplish it is the reward for all of that hard work. To not be able to get that ‘reward’ is hard on all involved.”

‘All involved’ is a big number.

“When you include the cast, crew, parent helpers, backstage helpers, set design, costume design, makeup crew, and anyone I may have forgotten, we had well over a hundred people involved in pulling off each performance,” O’Donnell said. “With the musicals happening only semi-annually, the junior being one year and the senior high the opposite years, it’s not like a sports season where they know they’ll get to participate every year. They have to wait for that opportunity to come around.”

The cast and crew did get to showcase their work on a limited scale.

“One positive note is that the students did get to do partial performances on Wednesday, March 11, as we took a tour to all the elementary schools in the county,” Burkett said. “Although we did not have costumes, sets, or props, the students were still able to sing and dance for four different audiences throughout the day.”

“The audiences were really great and seemed to really enjoy what they saw,” she said. “It seemed that the students in the elementary schools were excited to tell their families at home they wanted to see the entire show.”

There was initial talk that the show would be recorded and the public could enjoy it that way, if not in person. Time ran out too quickly.

“We had a recording set up for the community performances, but we had not yet recorded before we were shut down,” O’Donnell said.

O’Donnell and Burkett understand the importance of shutting it down, but they haven’t given up on the show.

“Putting this all into perspective, our worries seem minuscule compared to what the world is going through right now,” O’Donnell said. “We certainly just need to be thankful for the health and welfare of our families.”

“Personally, I try to remind myself that our production of Seussical Jr. in Warren is not at all the only production affected by this,” Burkett said. “There are productions all across the country that are facing this same situation.”

“When things are safe again, I’m sure everyone will be willing to do all they can do to see if we can still perform because music and the arts tend to bring positive emotions to the performers as well as the audience,” O’Donnell said. “Personally, I would love to have at least one or all of the performances in the early fall. For the most part, I would guess the majority of the cast could rehearse for a week or two and still manage to remember what most of their parts are.”

“I do hope that there will be some kind of a performance or even better a weekend of performances when it is safe to do so, even if that means going back to this in the fall,” Burkett said. “I believe that the cast and crew will remember what needs to be remembered with a few rehearsals.”

“I would like the cast and crew to know that I think about them each day and all the hard work they did,” Burkett said. “I am not giving up on this production and hope that we will be able to get together again and have some kind of a performance.”

“I want them to keep practicing,” she said. “I was so excited for them to be able to show the community their talent and share the Dr. Seuss stories. I hope that once we are able we can bring light to the community by sharing this great musical with them.”

“It would be a fantastic way to make people feel good again,” O’Donnell said.

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