NEW YORK – Group reunions on Zoom have rarely become the fuel for good art. But one has created a musical — actually 10, to be precise.
Grammy Award-winner Lisa Loeb was inspired to capture the weirdness, wonder and horror of 2020 during a Brown University online reunion. So she tapped dozens of her fellow alumni to help create “Together Apart,” a collection of 10 mini-musicals that explore moments during the year. There are also songs by Grammy-winner Gordon Chambers.
There are stories about speed-dating during the pandemic, elementary school taught through Zoom, a pair of divorcees forced to become roommates, moms struggling through quarantine and a family game night that spins out of control. There are exasperated parents, long-ago lovers and lots of alcohol — perhaps even a drunk racoon.
“People really had the passion to connect and to tell these stories and to work together. So it created a lot of purpose during this time. And, for a lot of people, it created an opportunity to be creative," says Loeb.
Loeb, whose music career kicked off with the 1994 hit “Stay (I Missed You),” logged onto a Zoom of former Brown musical theater students and listened as people reminisced about shows and talked about how COVID-19 had affected their plans and hopes.
“As everybody went around the room, in my head I felt like I was almost in a musical already,” she says. “So I said, ‘You know, instead of just talking about these musical theater memories, we should write a show.’”
Some nine months later, after about 100 alumni had offered their input as actors, songwriters, storywriters and singers, “Together Apart” was done, a collection that captures both the absurdity of the pandemic and the impact of the death of George Floyd. Comedian Eric Kirchberger plays Dr. Anthony Fauci, popping up every so often to act as a sort of narrator.
“It's a piece in time. This is what it felt like. It’s a theatrical sized version of it and it’s definitely a fictionalized, but there is definitely so many different facets of the COVID times,” says Loeb. "We were connecting and then we made a show about connecting."
The original Zoom group expanded — alumni from Germany, Italy and across the U.S. contributed — and the final product featured show biz amateurs and professionals, like Julie Bowen from “Modern Family,” Josh Hamilton from “13 Reasons Why,” Broadway veteran Ann Harada and Hollywood fixture JoBeth Williams.
Instead of a single film, the group agreed that multiple musicals — each no more than 10 minutes — would work better to cover the enormity of the year. They also embraced the idea that it should look like it was on Zoom and that authentic stories would be key.
"We were able to touch a lot of different bases by giving a lot of different people the ability to tell their story — fictionalized, but to tell their story," says Loeb.
“Together Apart” also serves as an advertising for the skills of Brown University alumni, who overcame creative and technological hurdles to make a series of musical moments that represents a pandemic diary.
“It was a really amazing way to be introspective and appreciative of the experience that we got while we were in college and the friendships that we’ve made,” says Loeb, who graduated from the Ivy League institution in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1990.
It was a project that came because of Zoom but transcended it, too. “We are separated into these boxes and yet we are together in these windows and we are purposefully trying to connect both in the process and in the show itself," says Loeb.
Mark Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits