Tenafly High School’s 21st Century Broadway Project


Karis Cho, Staff Writer

The harsh blinding lights, pitch-black theater, melodic voices, and exuberant dances all set the ambiance for another spring musical. A hallmark at Tenafly High School, these musicals give us all a sense of normalcy, just like the passing of the seasons. But when encountering COVID and this unprecedented year, the theater department was faced with the question:  where does the fate of the musical lie?

Last year, the spring musical, Kiss Me Kate, unfortunately shut down due to the pandemic. The time and hard work the cast and crew invested sadly amounted to a truncated show delivered via YouTube video, in which the members sang just the opening song. Even with that, they had to learn how to quickly adapt to the circumstances and make the most out of the situation. But this school year provides a different look. With the new hybrid model of learning, and some students going in-person nearly every day, the musical had to adjust to the new circumstances.

But how could a musical still be in production with the COVID precautions in place? May 13th was set as the final date, but there was much to prepare and figure out before then. Mr. Ahn-Cooper, the director, and Mr. Millar, the music director, decided to create a fantastic evening of songs from a range of 21st-century Broadway musicals. Songs such as Dear Evan Hanson‘s “You Will Be Found,” Hamilton‘s “You’ll Be Back,” Heathers‘s “17 Reprise,” Sam Vukic (’21) created a script that included smooth transitions between each of the songs, bringing the show to life. With the casting call going out on February 9th, the auditions—held in-person with the proper Covid precautions—-March 16th, and the cast list out on March 18th, it was crunch time. With just two months, the directors and cast worked tirelessly to bring the show to fruition. 

Part of a normal musical includes the buzzing excitement of a live audience; this posed another issue in the production. The cast was allowed two tickets each, for family members or friends. How the rest of the school would see it would still be a problem, and the cast was provided an ultimatum by Mr. Moger. They had the decision to either go live on YouTube having only one take, or pre-record it. Wanting the thrill of knowing people would be watching them live, just like pre-pandemic times, the cast decided to go live on YouTube, meaning they only had one chance to make an impeccable show.

Taking up this project in the time of COVID was certainly one for the books, and when asking Millar, director of chorus, orchestra and music for the musical, what the most taxing part about the process was, he jokingly said “Where should I begin?”  Ahn- Cooper, the director of the musical, described how “the biggest challenge was not being able to do a normal musical with choreography, with big numbers and lots of dancing and singing.” Abiding by the COVID precautions was also difficult when making a musical, and “having a  normal production where kids can totally be themselves and not worry about getting COVID” was the biggest concern. Besides trying to keep students safe, the in-person process of the show “added many more problems like how to mic kids with masks on,” Millar said. “The biggest issue we had was mixing the sound, but fortunately we had some fantastic help.”

Despite all of the demands that came with it, Ahn-Cooper was “extremely thrilled and happy with the final product of the show.” He said that the “kids worked really hard, they believed in what they were doing, they believed in what [they were]  trying to do.” Millar, also “thought it was as good as it possibly could be and especially the fact that we had an audience made a big difference.” Being able to “hear applause, hear something coming back from the people in the house which we haven’t heard for over a year” was a big encouragement for the cast and crew. Ahn-Cooper hoped that this would bring the cast, some of whom had been quarantined,  joy and happiness. “I imagine it feels great to be there for rehearsals, and doing the show,” he said. He also said that his favorite part of the process was working with the students. “That’s why I do what I do. I love it, seeing the students every day, being around them.” The cast, he said, “inspires me, makes me want to be a better director.” Millar, as well, said he enjoyed “working with the students and seeing them really shine up on stage.”

Although an unconventional year, the cast still managed to make bonds and memories during rehearsals. The night of the show was bittersweet for all, and upon asking about the experience, they all described it with delectation. “My favorite part of this musical is I made a ton of new friends,” Grace Chung (’24) said. “I’m a freshman, so this is my first one, and that made me really nervous, but I got to know the sophomores and juniors, which was fun.” Rayea Jain (’22) also agreed that “the best part was getting to see everyone collaborating and working together, especially because [they] were so far apart for so long.” Now that it’s recorded, the members also can “see all of [their] hard work and watch it over and over again,” Jain said. Some of the cast also loved the way the show was executed, and were delighted with the final production. “I hope the audience enjoyed… Sam’s script, he’s incredible,” Nina Bogosian said. (’23) She also found it exciting that the cast “got to sing from a bunch of shows that [they] otherwise wouldn’t be able to do.” The cast improved exponentially on their journey. “My favorite part about the project was being a part of it and seeing everyone grow and progress over the two to three months,” Taleen Torosian (’23), the assistant stage manager, said. “I felt like everyone from point A, which was the beginning, grew so much to point B, which was the show. Everyone did really well, I’m really proud of them, and it was a great time.”

The virtual playbook can be found on Tenafly High School’s web page, and although the show date was on May 13th, the recorded version is available on YouTube, @Tenafly TV. “Have a good time, relax and enjoy, just be around art and music, things that take the stress of your daily life away,” Ahn-Cooper said.