Return to theater: SHS puts on first musical since COVID-19 pandemic began

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
Avery Tollison performs as Annie during a dress rehearsal for Sherman High School's upcoming performance of All Together Now, which will be put on this weekend.

As the old adage says, the show must go on. And, it will in Sherman this weekend.

Students from Sherman High School are practicing their lines and hitting the high notes as they prepare to put on "All Together Now," the school's first musical since the start of the COVID-19.

The show, which makes just the second theatrical production put on by the school during the era of COVID-19, comes amid a difficult period for theaters and theatrical productions across the world amid a near complete shutdown in 2020 and a slow return to business. Even further, the past 18 months has been difficult for many fledgling performers who have had to learn their craft amid restrictions, social distancing and mask requirements.

"We've put on a musical revue in three weeks, which you do not do, but these kids have pulled it off," SHS Theater Director Kyle Nichols said.

For the high school, the musical represents multiple firsts. Not only is it the first musical that students will put on since the start of the pandemic in early 2020, but it also represents the first major production for Nichols in Sherman.

"All Together Now" is a musical review that has been released Music Theatre International as a fundraiser for productions across the country. Companies, like the SHS theater program, are able to put on the performance for free, Nichols said.

The show comes in the form of a revue-style performance with songs and scenes from multiple Broadway shows ranging from classics like "Little Shop of Horror" to more modern pieces like Green Day's "American Idiot."

The show comes during a difficult time for many production companies and theaters who faced difficulties throughout the pandemic, particularly throughout 2020. While conditions have started to improve, Nichols said it is still an uncertain time for many theaters.

"It is a lot like movie theaters. People are starting to go back but not in the same numbers," he said.

The recent hardships have affected performances as many theaters have had to turn their attention from putting on new, innovating shows to focusing simply on surviving during the current difficulties, he said.

Many of these challenges also impact school programs with many facing reduced budgets due to little to no productions taking place. This adds on to the difficulties that have come with performing under COVID restrictions.

"What I've found over the past year is that we've had to come up with creative ways to impart our lessons that we've been teaching for many, many years into this new formula that co-exists with the pandemic," Nichols said.

Kara Mathes performs during a dress rehearsal for Sherman High School's upcoming performance of All Together Now, which will be put on this weekend.

The school is scheduled to host performances  at 7 p.m. on Friday and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Saturday.

SHS Junior Jasey Cain said the musical represents something that she has been looking forward to since her freshman year when COVID-19 brought many things to a halt. 

"With this musical happening, we are finally getting something promised and getting it in return," she said.

Cain, who will be playing Hairspray's Tracy Turnblad, said she went into the theater program expecting to do several performances alongside acting exercises throughout the year. However, many of these activities ultimately were not possible.

Instead, she and her classmates watched several videos of performances and discussed the techniques that were being used. Many of the exercises were done electronically, including many storyboards lessons.

"So, I went into freshman year really, really excited about the opportunities in high school with the musicals I'd be doing and stuff like that, and then we get here COVID happens and puts a damper on that," she said.

While performers can deliver lines and sing while wearing masks, Cain said other subtle aspects of acting, including facial expressions were lost and made acting all the more difficult.

Despite these difficulties,  Nichols said many of the fundamentals remained the same. While there certainly are differences with performers wearing masks and socially distancing, he said artistically the performances are no different than they were prior to the pandemic.