Last spring, members of the Drama Club at John F. Kennedy High School, in the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District, saw weeks of rehearsal stymied when Covid-19 prevented their performance of “The Wizard of Oz.”
One year later, the students are still learning through electronic platforms, and live theater is still on hold. Facing a new reality, they were left with one question: What’s a Drama Club to do in a pandemic?
At Kennedy, the answer is to turn frustration into opportunity. The students are using their forced familiarity with virtual tools to make a colorful, ebullient, full-length movie musical — a distinct change from their usual live shows on the school’s stage.
Production advisers and Kennedy teachers Brad Seidman and Jonathan Hoffman helped choose the right show to adapt.
“The main goal of this was to allow these students to have a final product,” Hoffman said, recalling last year’s disappointment. The show also needed a “lot of lead roles and principal parts that could showcase many of the students,” he added.
Hoffman and Seidman recommended an adaptation of “Head Over Heels,” a musical comedy that combines 16th-century elements of fantasy and royalty with modern-day romance. The high-energy repertoire of the 1980s all-female pop group the Go-Go’s forms the play’s musical basis.
The students held virtual auditions. They learned lines and vocals individually, and then rehearsed on Zoom or in small, socially distant groups.
The musical accompaniment received a boost from industry professionals. “Our vocal director, James [Crichton] . . . was able to get the Broadway band for ‘Head Over Heels’ to make custom tracks for us,” said Dylan Krapf, who plays the character of Musidorus. The band members transposed music to fit students’ vocal ranges, and on a day in late February, the cast recorded all the musical pieces in an album.
Next, they designed the filming of each scene, partly on the JFK stage and partly in other locations. When shooting the scenes, “we played the recording so they would basically lip sync to themselves, so we were able to allow them to get closer, maskless, because they weren’t singing live,” Hoffman said.
Approaching completion of their project, the students were excited.
“You get more creative shots than you would see in live theater,” said Dan Delgado, who plays Dametas.
Melanie Hernandez, who plays Philoclea, agreed. “Honestly, as terrible as the circumstances are, this is a great opportunity for students to learn not just acting for the stage in drama, but acting for the camera,” she said.
This production process “allows it to feel like the good drama club we know and love,” ensemble member Kiera Matulich said, “but still in a very professional, serious setting.”
To promote the show, the cast has been posting snippets of the recordings on the show’s Instagram account, @JFKDrama, explained Jordyn Halper, who plays Gynecia.
From April 29 through May 1, the film will be shown on an outdoor screen on school grounds. Covid-19 restrictions limit the audience to two invitees per production member, but eventually the album will be available to the general public on a platform such as SoundCloud.
“I wouldn’t ever have seen myself doing this,” said Faith Poveromo, who plays Pamela. “This show is incredible.”