The show will not go on; fall musical axed because of COVID-19 health and safety

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Accolade Image File

Theater teacher Amanda Gieser (left) glances at one of her performers being lifted up by cast members of 2018’s “Chicago” during a rehearsal. The musical about women in the Roaring ’20s was the last one staged in the Performing Arts Center before it was closed down for renovations at the end of May in 2019. Last year, “Sister Act” was performed at Buena Park High School’s Performing Arts Center. Gieser had planned to stage “Newsies” for the fall musical of the 2020-2021 school year but had to cancel it because of COVID-19 health and safety restrictions.

Yeihn Lee

“We’ll all be out there carrying the banner man to man.

We’re always out there soakin’ ev’ry soaker that we can.

Here’s the headline: Newsies on a mission!”

Those words from the musical “Newsies” could have been what the cast of Sunny Hills students sang in the newly remodeled Performing Arts Center [PAC] last month.

But because of the coronavirus and the school’s health and safety guidelines, the show won’t be able to go on this year

“The musical has been canceled this year due to COVID-19 [for] a number of reasons, but mainly the amount of people needed to put on a musical far outnumbers the approved amount [allowed] for indoor activities,” theater teacher Amanda Gieser said. “Because we don’t know when that will change, we cannot book the actual dates for the show, and spring isn’t a viable option either because of all of the other SH programs that need to use the space second semester,” Gieser said.

Pulling “Newsies” from the stage ends an estimated 42-year long tradition of school musical performances, Geiser said.

Several students looking to participate in the musical, whether on or off stage, were especially disheartened when they learned of the news as early as Sept. 1 — only four weeks into the fall semester.

“I felt disappointed since it would have been my last musical, but I understand that it had to be canceled because of the pandemic,” said senior Rebecca Back, a production tech lead who’s been a part of the theater program since her freshman year. 

Senior Ashley Shin, a production assistant who’s acted in musicals since her freshman year and officially joined the theater program her sophomore year, said she was hoping Gieser would ask her to direct “Newsies.” 

“Honestly, the musicals were what drove my passion for theater, and it was the whole reason I got into this program and met my second family,” Shin said. “I’m saddened by the fact that we had to cancel the musical.”

Furthermore, senior Vivian Tran was another student looking forward to auditioning for this year’s musical in hopes of boosting her theater experience for a future career in the field.

“The canceling of the musical negatively affects my college applications because I’m looking to possibly pursue a career in performing arts,” Tran said. “I feel like I’ve lost an important opportunity to gain experience onstage.”

This news not only affected the students involved in the making of the musical, but it also disappointed theater fans who regularly attended theater performances.

“I was really excited to watch the next musical after watching ‘Sister Act’ from last year, and I have so many friends in theater, so I really wanted to go and support them,” senior Ethan Lim said. “But since it’s canceled now, I’m just really upset that I can’t watch another production from our theater students.”

“Newsies” would have been the first musical performed in the $4.5 million newly renovated PAC with new LED lighting and a remodeled makeup area.

However, since the PAC reopened at the beginning of March — around the same time when live instruction was closed for the school year — it has yet to be used for any SH performances.

“I’m pretty sure Sunny Hills and Buena Park got the same light and sound boards, so they wouldn’t be new to me, but I still wish we could have performed in our own theater at least once before graduation,” said Back, who did theater tech work at Buena Park High School before for other musicals.

But all is not lost for theater students and fans as Gieser hopes conditions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic will improve, allowing for school officials to ease up on health and safety restrictions.

“We are still looking at doing a stage play second semester if we are all back on campus for 100% in-person learning; if not, we will look at the options for a virtual performance like we did last spring,” she said.