Despite Pandemic, Burroughs VMA Makes Its Production Sing

“The way things used to be.”

“Back in the day.”

“The good ol’ days.”

Throughout our lives we have become accustomed to hearing those phrases uttered by our parents, grandparents and anyone else who has lived long enough to recall a time when things — for better or worse — were different.
Today, those phrases are as prevalent as ever, though they are now uttered by young people as often as they are by those who have more days behind them than in front of them.
Just last year at this time, teenagers were going to school and participating in all of the traditional extracurricular activities. That came to a sudden halt this past March, when schools shuttered their campuses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“By the time the pandemic hit we had completed our big shows, and as we got to the end of the year we weren’t really sure what would be happening when the new school year began,” said Brendan Jennings, who heads up the music program at John Burroughs High School. “So when school began this year, realizing things would be very different, we had to figure out how we would move forward. We had to especially figure out how we would handle our live performances, which the students love, have been extremely popular with audiences and have served as a vital method of fundraising for our program.”

Beginning in September, with adherence to the adage that “the show must go on,” Jennings and his students blazed a path in which they could present their popular “Burroughs on Broadway” fundraiser concert.
“We knew the only way to do this was virtually, and we wanted to retain the high level of professionalism people have come to expect from our live performances,” said Jennings. “To do that, we added technology, production and post-production to what we have all had to learn — recording and lighting techniques and the use of various software programs — all of which are extremely marketable skills that could be used in many businesses and careers.”
According to Jennings, he and his students tried to keep the traditional “Burroughs on Broadway” format intact in that each choir would do numbers from different Broadway musicals accompanied by choreography and the featuring of solo performers.
“There was a lot of trial and error involved in our doing that, but we were all committed to learning these new skills so we could provide the best quality performance possible and make it something to really be proud of,” said Jennings.
That work culminated this past Saturday evening as the Burroughs High School Vocal Music Association presented its first virtual performance of “Burroughs on Broadway” or “BOB” as it is colloquially known.
This year’s online presentation showcased the school’s four award-winning choirs in a pre-produced performance of song and dance. Under the direction of Jennings, artistic director Jen Oundjian and music director Dan Scoville, the quartet of choirs — Powerhouse, Sound Sensations, Sound Waves and Decibelles — presented medleys from popular musicals including “The Marvelous Wonderettes,” “Aladdin,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman,” “Hands on a Hardbody” “Sunday in the Park With George,” and “Side Show.”
Among last week’s featured performers were seniors Jillian Flynn and Lauren Duncanson, who respectively played the roles of Violet and Daisy Hilton, the real-life conjoined twins who became famous stage performers in the 1930s and inspired the 1997 musical “Side Show.”
“I think it has been a bit easier for us to adjust to things being different than it was for last year’s senior class,” Duncanson opined. “I feel that is because we have had the time to make the adjustments while they were hit with it right at the start and had no idea what was happening.”
Saying she, her fellow students and their parents are all experiencing varying levels of frustration when it comes to the challenges the pandemic has caused, she remains optimistic.
“Of course, we all have thoughts about what we are missing, and it is hard to adjust,” said Duncanson. “But it’s the reality of what is going on and we have no choice other than to accept it, make the best of it and adjust to things being different.”
Flynn said one of the ways she and her fellow performers have adjusted is by staying as connected as possible.
“Along with our work on this production, a lot of us keep in touch with one another on a regular basis using Zoom and are feeding off one another’s energy, positivity and creativity,” said Flynn. “None of us are happy with how different things are, but we are making it work.”
As a part of making things work, Flynn said she was really glad they decided to include numbers from “Side Show” in last week’s show.
“It was a good show to do at this time because it’s about people who are different and who are living lives that are very different than what we are all used to,” said Flynn. “That is what we are all doing by living through this pandemic, and I see it as a celebration of knowing that you can still be a star even though things are different.”
Along with a Thanksgiving-themed presentation of solo performances on Nov. 25, a Christmas-themed show on Dec. 4, and a Hanukkah-themed production on Dec. 11, the JBHS vocal, instrumental and dance programs will also present their Dec. 12 Holiday Spectacular, which, like the other shows, will stream live at 7 p.m. at twitch.tv/showchoir.
For more information on performances, VIP viewing packages, or to provide financial support to the John Burroughs High School Vocal Music Association, visit jbhsvma.com.

David Laurell may be reached at dlaurell@aol.com or (818) 563-1007.

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