The First and Final Virtual Bow of Senior SING!
Reading Time: 5 minutes
“Welcome to season 17 of Virtually: Impossible! I’m your host as always, Drew Cassetty. It’s time to enter our simulation—follow me!”
Coordinated by Liam Kronman and produced by Maddy Andersen, Jillian Lin, Neil Sarkar, and Zoe Oppenheimer, Senior SING! centers around a virtual reality game show, “Virtually: Impossible!,” where contestants venture through a variety of simulated worlds to compete in challenges. Led by commanding and self-absorbed host Cassetty (Katerina Corr), the contestants battle each other for $10 million and a lunch date with Stuyvesant’s Brian Moran. As the show’s ratings slip, Cassetty ups the stakes, and the game show turns deadly.
Introducing the 17th season of “Virtually: Impossible!,” Cassetty starts Senior SING! 2021 off with an opening number (to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory”) that gathers together a few of the key members of the performance. All in drastically distinct costumes, the show creates an already striking contrast between the personalities on stage. While it cannot recreate the SING! energy ever so present in-person, Corr’s sharp and clear singing, along with the enthusiasm and dancing of the crew members in the background, sets the mood of the performance.
Cassetty begins the episode by introducing eight new contestants, each given a few seconds to flaunt their unmistakable personalities. The contestants list is highly varied: Cowboy Jeb Tillerson Jr. (Dean Carey), complete with a strong rhotic accent, Maxine (Mimi Gilles) all bubbly and decked out in pink, a hardened grandma by the name of Dorothy Whitehall (Claire De La Roche), professional slapper Amy Schlappenheimer (Stella Oh), aspiring politician Andy Barnes (Max Kahn), stereotypical New Yorker Nikki Bricky (Oliver Stewart), ‘80s obsessed Mike, and philosophy major Professor Wilma Wharton (Saarah Elaysed). Complete with the nature of the theme, the game itself also features a slew of zany characters almost reminiscent of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” such as a glamorous demon named Mephistopheles (Reilly Amera), the gravelly Detective Lance Brooding (Jonathan Schneiderman), Princess Snowflake (Saarah Elaysed), and Dark Lord Bumblewhizz (Diego Vasquez).
If nothing else, this year’s lineup of SING! performances taught a valuable lesson about the importance of production value. No matter how brilliant the lyrics and dancing of a virtual performance are, competent editing and mixing are integral to a successful show. Without a doubt, Senior SING! assembled the most visually coherent and audible performance of the bunch. Vocal mixing issues that plagued the previous two shows were mostly absent from Senior SING!, and lines were generally articulated clearly.
Outside of basic production coherency, the senior editing team took advantage of the virtual setting through a few key creative choices that elevated the performance. In dance crews like Latin (set to an impassioned rendition of “I Will Survive”), virtual blocking was key to execution. By pairing dancers and coordinating their movements in conjunction with each other, the number has a sense of order that elevates it past many of the more chaotic moments in both Soph-Frosh and Junior SING!. It is clear that the positioning of characters across the screen was done with purpose and intention throughout the show––even during non-dance numbers––giving the show a far more put-together quality. Additionally, the transitions between noir and technicolor palettes are incredibly smooth, and the countless tonal switches that transpire during the middle act of the show are strewn together surprisingly naturally.
Another clear standout aspect of this year’s Senior SING! was the acting. From the outset, each of this year’s performances was tasked with a difficult assignment: make actors, who were filming miles apart, feel like they’re standing shoulder-to-shoulder. The key to surmounting this challenge was not to tone the delivery down, but to ham it up. No performance hammed it up as the seniors did. From De La Roche’s thick, grandmotherly drawl to Schneiderman’s brooding drone turned peppy enthusiasm, each character fully embodied a unique profile that the other shows’ protagonists lacked. Corr’s over-the-top antics as the show’s maniacal antagonist stood out as a clear acting highlight, providing a perfect blend of villainy and camp. As the show progressed and Corr’s Cassetty grew increasingly unhinged, she pulled out all of the stops, evilly grinning and eye-rolling her way into a stellar performance. When recording dialogue alone and editing it all together, it is easy for actors’ emotions to sound forced, removed, or mismatched, especially when there is back and forth argumentation or discussion with the other characters. The small personality distinctions among each character in Senior SING!, however, were essential in creating a more cohesive and natural show ambiance.
Above all, Senior SING! delivered fresh humor that the other shows had lacked, lightening the otherwise high-stakes mood of the game show. Each character delivers quips on beat and is accentuated by his or her individual accent or persona. The well-timed pauses among each character’s line of dialogue, along with clear enunciation and boisterous behavior, allow the subtle humor to come out naturally. Additionally, the short commercial break starring Simpy “You Can Have My” McCorndog III (Liam Kronman) offers a jocular break as it mimics a political advertisement of a nervous child promposing to “Jessica” with all of the geekiness and quirk that the show needs for a midway energy jolt.
However, with so many unique characters and arcs to follow, the script feels somewhat bloated at times, leaving many characters underdeveloped. Senior SING! totes over a dozen roles that are arguably central to the show’s plotline, creating a large challenge for the writers. They had to balance a strict runtime, classic SING! humor, and countless character arcs, all while keeping the plot moving and pacing themselves appropriately. Unfortunately, some characters are inevitably lost in the mix as a result. While entertaining to watch, roles like Oh’s Schlappenheimer get pushed into the background as more hammy characters who battle for screentime dominance. As new characters are introduced, killed off, rescued, voided, and transformed in rapid succession, it is hard to keep track of exactly who is worth the audience’s frazzled focus. However, with a wholly entertaining plot (what it lacks in order, it makes up for in amusement), well-structured songs, and punchy one-liners, Senior SING! blows away most expectations of a virtually written show.
Accordingly, the music of Senior SING! does its job, which is the least one can ask from a remote performance. The singing is clear and audible. The lyrics are snappy and informative. And the band is well mixed––a breath of fresh air after an onslaught of production issues that plagued both the soph-frosh and junior repertoire. Even the obvious lip-syncing at points was somewhat of a relief as it displayed a dedication to audibility that the audience hadn’t seen much of for the duration of the night. A standout vocal performance of the evening was found in Corr and Amera’s “Friend Like Me” duet, in which the duo dipped into malevolent fits of talking that brimmed with personality and flair. Gilles’s, Oh’s, and De La Roche’s voices as they sing Olivia Rodrigo’s “drivers license” during a climactic point of reflection blends beautifully with the mellow piano in the background, especially as they harmonize over the bridge, bringing a rueful sense of melancholy.
Was Senior SING! a flawlessly executed virtual performance, on par with the greatest in-person shows of yesteryear? No, it was not. But given the time constraints, limitations of technology, and touch-and-go nature of the entire year thus far, Senior SING! blew the competition out of the water and exceeded almost all of the expectations set up by the night’s previous performances. Campy acting, snappy humor, catchy tunes, and quality production value lent themselves to what ended up being the runaway success of SING! 2021.