Burroughs on Broadway: Up Close and in Person Again

First published in the Oct. 16 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

When an artist is performing in front of a live audience, Jennifer Strattan explained, something tangible arises — an interactivity and energy that are absent during a recorded or online-only show.
The same is true, the Burroughs on Broadway director added, when working with her students. After months of virtual classes, virtual practices and virtual performances, Strattan and her John Burroughs High School choir members returned this year to in-person interaction. She didn’t expect to be so emotional when she reunited with them, she said in an interview, but seeing and feeling their energy as they rehearsed was far more impactful than the myriad Zoom meetings.
Strattan and Burroughs’ four choirs hope to bring that energy to audiences Friday, Oct. 22 through Sunday, Oct. 24 for the 16th annual BOB show, titled “Among the Stars.” The event, which will be held outside on the school’s quad, will feature selections from a variety of musicals including “Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812,” “Cabaret,” “The Addams Family” and “Head Over Heels.”

Photo courtesy Susy Shearer Photography
Burroughs on Broadway director Jennifer Strattan, pictured at a dress rehearsal for the event in 2011, is herself a John Burroughs High School alumna who spent all four years in choir.

This year she’s working with Strattan’s 11th as BOB director. She has about 140 students across four choirs as well as vocal music teacher and choir director Brendan Jennings.
“I’m excited,” said Strattan, who graduated from Burroughs in 1998. “I’m stressed, as usual, but more excited. … The kids are just so phenomenal and I’m excited for the audience to really see them shine on that stage.”
That stage happens to be about three times larger than the school’s indoor auditorium, a difference that poses both benefits and challenges, she explained. Being outdoors means more students can perform at once, but the size of the platform will also require them to be constantly moving.
The nature of the show may complement that. During some of the cabaret-style pieces, students will wander into the crowd as they perform, something Burroughs senior Rhett Hemingway said will allow them to show off the choirs’ skills.
“I don’t think people would expect this level of creativity and ingenuity in a high school production,” said Hemingway, the school’s Vocal Music Association president and a member of the choir Powerhouse.
Members of his choir practice for at least two hours each weekday, Hemingway said, and on the week of the performance will be rehearsing from 7-11 p.m. each night. The result of the time commitment, he believes, is a production that is closer to a Broadway show than a high school musical.
Besides the size of the stage, one of the challenges for performers has been getting back into physical shape and redeveloping breath control after a long period of distance learning, said Burroughs senior Isabella Rosoff. A member of the choir Sound Sensations who will be singing a “Cabaret” solo, she said — like Strattan — that she’s both nervous and excited about the event. But, she added, her choir colleagues have been nothing but supportive.
Also like their director, Rosoff and Hemingway say what they’re looking forward to the most is performing in front of a live audience again.
“The feeling of being on stage in front of an audience is one of the many reasons that I’m in choir,” Rosoff said. “Nothing matches that feeling, so getting back is so rewarding.”
The Friday and Saturday performances are at 7 p.m. and the Sunday performance is at 6 p.m.
To purchase tickets or find more information about Burroughs on Broadway, visit jbhsvma.com.