On Dec. 5, Sunnyvale Community Players premiered its newest musical with a virtual streaming of “Once On This Island,” a show running until Dec. 20. The outstanding vocals and dance sequences tell a star-crossed love story, set in the Caribbean, about a peasant woman who gives her life to a god in exchange for saving the life of an aristocratic man. The bright scenic backgrounds give the show a cinematic quality and help whisk the viewer to a tropical locale.
“This production, to our knowledge, is unlike anything that any community theater in this area has done — to professionally stage a show and film it in 4K (a high-definition resolution), and then optimize and edit it for streaming,” said Bruce Campbell, show co-producer. “We wanted to do something that was creative and still compliant with County health guidelines.”
The production staff used their problem-solving skills to meet the challenges of putting on a musical production during the pandemic.
“We held rehearsals outdoors only with masks and social distancing,” Campbell said. “We built a set in the driveway of our director Gary Stanford Jr.’s home in Woodside with 600 square feet of sandy colored carpet, 1,000 pounds of sand and a 40-feet by 10-feet green screen behind the set for digital scenery and special effects. This was all outdoors.”
According to Campbell, the green screen allowed the production staff, in post-production, to place any image or video they wanted behind the actors.
“We filmed the show live. The actors could talk but couldn’t sing,” Campbell said. “Because we couldn’t sing live while we were filming, we sent everybody home with mobile recording kits. All singing by the cast was recorded separately at their homes. They sent the recordings in to a show Google Drive. Our show vocal specialist edited them with the Broadway show orchestra track.”
During filming, the actors lip synced to the playback they had recorded that streamed through speakers.
Samantha Mills, 17, talked about her experience adapting to this unconventional approach of performing in a musical production. Mills played Ti Moune, the peasant who saved the endangered Daniel (Jeffrey May Hyche).
“Jeffrey and I had the privilege of talking about our characters together and we were able to perform on stage and show how our characters felt without physical touch,” Mills said.
Mills also reflected on her experience lip syncing to her passionate solo “Waiting for Life (Reprise),” while acting at the same time.
“While lip syncing, I had to work on looking like I was singing with my whole body,” Mills said. “There is a part in the song ‘Waiting for Life (Reprise)’ where everything slows down and Ti Moune recognizes what she wants to experience in life. Understanding that helped me understand not just the vocal dynamics but how to act out what she might be feeling in that moment during the song.”