NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. – Last year, the North Kingstown High School Music Department wrapped up its weekend performances of their spring musical “Mary Poppins” the weekend before the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, the show will go on in a new format as the school presents “Jekyll & Hyde: The Musical,” which tells the classic story of scientist Dr. Henry Jekyll’s self-experiment gone wrong, unleashing his demons in the form of evil alter-ego Mr. Hyde and the two women in love with him without knowing his dark secret, in streaming form, with a pre-taped production featuring professionally recorded singing by the actors utilized for streaming, which will go online this weekend with performances on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and a Sunday matinee at 2 p.m., with show links serving as tickets and going for $10 on showtix4u.com.
For Director Norma Caiazza, the process has been a unique experience to perform what she called a vocally-challenging show.
“I wanted to do a show that I could get as many seniors an opportunity because it is their last show,” Caiazza said. “Many of them maybe have had leads in the past or didn’t, and I wanted to make sure that it was a good show for the seniors that we had at hand and we have a lot of talented seniors, so I want to expose that as much as I could, The other thing is that I wanted to take advantage of the unique opportunity. The show is very difficult, especially for the person who does Jekyll and Hyde because it’s one character and it’s very difficult for anyone to do but almost, if not, impossible for a high school student to do live because it’s very vocally demanding and so we would never ever be able to do the show live. But because we were able to break up the recording of it over a couple of days and it wasn’t like how normally we have a Saturday afternoon show and a Saturday night show where the kids are singing through the shows two times. We would never be able to do that with this because it would be vocally too draining.
This was a nice, healthy way to do a show that we would never be able to do under normal circumstances.”
The possibility of doing a show this way first came to her attention in February after another school utilized pre-recorded scenes and music in their own performance.
“My colleagues in the field had suggested it might be a possibility and had recently filmed a ‘Wizard of Oz: The Musical’ and I started talking with the administration to try to get approval to do something similar with the students because obviously it’s a yearly thing and they were pretty heartbroken when it didn’t look like anything was going to happen, so I proposed working with a company that had already done a production like this in a safe way and they have the ability to test students,” Caiazza said.
Preliminary auditions were done online over February break, with students submitting files of their audition. All students who auditioned this year were chosen for the show for the first time, Caiazza said, and the show has one cast as opposed to two for shows such as “Mary Poppins” last year.
“We started rehearsing in late February. We had to wait to get approval,” Caiazza said. “We started rehearsing after February break and then we recorded the weekend before April vacation. That weekend was completely devoted to just sound and getting the music correct and recorded and then we had that week and all of April vacation week to prepare for filming and then we filmed it the last weekend of April vacation.”
To ensure social distancing measures and safety protocols were met, the department took a variety of precautions.
“The athletic director for the school (Chris Cobain) tested them once a week and then all rehearsals were in smaller pods and students were spaced out and after we sang for 30 minutes and one room, we moved to another room so that that room would air out, so we followed all of those protocols,” Caiazza said. “When it came time to record the music and then do the video streaming of the musical we did it over April vacation and the kids were tested literally every single day for 10 days straight while we did that over April vacation and not once did we have anyone sick or in contact. The kids were very careful and stayed in their pods and all of that.”
The performance of the show itself, Caiazza said, was done in two parts.
“The first part we recorded all of the audio in sound booths that were set up right at the high school and then we filmed it using that audio once it was mixed because it wouldn’t have been safe for them to be singing out with each other for that amount of time filming, so that way they didn’t really have to sing, they were basically lip-syncing to their pre-recorded singing,” Caiazza said.
To do that, Caiazza enlisted the help of North Kingstown-based production company Advanced Production and Design, who came recommended to them by their long time costume designer, Johnny Cagno.
“It’s a local company,” Caiazza said. “They did all the sound mixing, they set up all the booths (and) they have a license to do rapid COVID tests, so they provided all of the tests and then they also came in and filmed. They had a crane camera. There were a total of five cameras filming.”
The process, she said, was a completely different experience than the students have had for musicals in the past.
“Unfortunately they won’t have an audience and it’s completely different in that way, but what’s really unique about it is that they have a beautiful, professionally done sound recording which we never have from our musicals and then they had the opportunity to learn how that’s all done and to see it done and filming where all these various angles are going to happen from all of these different cameras and doing a show straight through without applause, we see how that feels (and) it’s a unique experience that they probably won’t ever need to replicate again, at least that’s our hope, but it was a fun experience,” Caiazza said. “We had to look outside of the box to seek things that would be new and different and positive.”
As for the students, Caiazza said that while it was different, they seemed to enjoy the new process, especially the sound booths.
“I think they really enjoyed it quite a bit,” Caiazza said. “I know that there were things that they were missing from what they normally do but I think they are pretty excited. The sound when it’s live it’s never as good as when you go into a recording studio, especially with students. Some of the music is pretty difficult to sing, so it’s not like we recorded several takes. It’s not like we didn’t like the first take or the second take so we did take five and six, the kids wouldn’t have had the voice to get through it that many times, but it was still a unique experience. If there was a part they didn’t like, we could redo do it once and they could hear it back and then he was able to mix the sound of the instruments and the voices and blend them perfectly, which is never easy to do live, so the quality of the sound is going to be much higher, so I think the kids love that aspect of it.”
As for the filming portion, she said the reaction was a little more mixed.
“I think they enjoyed doing it but it’s not the same as when you get immediate applause after something, so I think that was a little sad for them and I think at the end of the show, at the end of the filming I should say, I think it felt a little anticlimactic,” Caiazza said. “There wasn’t all of their families there cheering them on and all of the senior awards and none of that happened and I think that they were a little sad about that, but I’m hopeful that when they actually see the finished product and hopefully people in the community will all watch and give them positive feedback that will help them get through that a little bit.”
As for their performances, Caiazza was more than impressed.
“I was just blown away by all of them,” Caiazza said. “The students always do a great job, I’m always very pleased and they always rise to the occasion, but this year they were driven. They were just driven in a way that I haven’t always seen because they didn’t think they were going to have this opportunity, so much like anything, when you think it’s not going to happen and then it actually does, you’re able to just put your all into it and we have some ridiculously talented seniors this year. The person who’s doing Jekyll and Hyde, Alex Davis, he’s going to be a music theater major at Point Park (University) next year and then the two female leads, they are not going on music but they are very serious music students and they did an amazing job. I challenge you to find somebody that can sing it as well as those three. Those three main parts are just amazing and even the auxiliary parts sing beautifully. There’s a lot of small little parts where voices are exposed and they just really stepped up. They sound super proud of the recording.”
In particular, Caiazza wanted to do something special for the seniors, who were unable to do their performance of “Almost, Maine” in the fall live and turned it into a podcast format, and give them the ability to put on a show on stage and in costume, even without an audience.
“The seniors last year had it rough, but they had a chance to do the show because our show closed the weekend before everything shut down,” Caiazza said. “We were able to get through both performances, so at least last year seniors did have that show and this year the seniors have worked so hard and not being able to present a show for them or to offer them anything just felt really wrong and I wanted to make sure that there was something we could do, even if it was something small like a cabaret or various small scenes, I just wanted to make something happen for them.
“It’s something that is creative and it’s not requiring them to look at a screen or be in a Google Meet or do anything Internet wise, they can just be creative, and so I felt like it was not just important for the seniors before they leave but for anybody who wanted to be involved to have a creative outlet in this insane time that we’re in right now.”
In lieu of tickets, viewers can purchase streams of “Jekyll & Hyde” by going to showtix4u.com/events/nkhsmusical for $10.
“We’re probably going to lose money on this show because we normally charge much more but didn’t feel comfortable doing that with it being just streamed,” Caiazza said. “We’re probably going to lose a good bit of money, so we’re hoping that if a family of four watches it, they’ll buy four tickets, but technically somebody could buy one ticket and the whole family could watch it, but we do have to try to recuperate our money.”
Show stream times are 7 p.m. Friday, 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. For updates, check out the group’s Facebook page, “North Kingstown High School Musical.”