This time last year, Gunn High School choir students and staff were recording a virtual version of the school's annual musical alone in their bedrooms. This week, dozens of students and teachers were able to come together on stage in the school's theater to put on an energetic performance complete with a live audience.
"For a long time, I wondered if it would ever be back," choir director William Liberatore said of live theater. "It was pretty exciting last night to hear roaring applause and laughs ... and to see the way the kids responded to it."
After being delayed due to the omicron-fueled surge in COVID-19 cases, Gunn's 25th annual choir and staff musical "Totally Gone with the Wind" was performed on Tuesday and Wednesday in the Spangenberg Theater.
A spoof of the Broadway hit "The Producers," the musical is about a happy, disco-infused version of "Gone with the Wind" that's meant to be a failure, but turns out to be a surprise success.
Allegra Tachner, a junior who played a "disco diva," said that while she was thankful to have been able to participate in the online musical last year, being back in person was a totally different experience.
"It's so wonderful. I think we've all missed being on stage and having fun with each other," Tachner said. "There's something special about looking out at an audience and smiling and singing into a microphone."
For sophomore Sarah Shelby, coming back in person at the beginning of the school year was disorienting at first because her freshman choir experience had been online and she didn't know many people. Before long though, she and her classmates were getting to know one another as they created music together.
"The choir show has been super fun. We've all gotten super comfortable with each other and with the music in general," Shelby said. "Now I'm really enjoying it."
Angelina Fitzhugh, who co-teaches Gunn's concert choir class with Liberatore, said what sticks out to her about the students this year is the way that they support each other and want one another to succeed.
"They're all really there cheering for each other," Liberatore agreed. "It's really neat."
Although Agastya Goel is in his first year at Gunn, he has previously performed in other community theater productions and said it was fun to be back in front of a large audience again.
"The energy was fantastic," Goel said. "Everyone was just trying to have a good time and it felt like the audience was a big part of that."
A special part of the annual musical is that students and staff perform together on stage. Carter Jaquette, a senior who played one of the lead characters alongside his English teacher, said it was fun to see a less serious side of school staff members.
In large part, this week's production looked like it might have been a time before the pandemic hit. Students and teachers could move freely around the stage, they performed group musical numbers and many didn't wear masks. With the school mask mandate lifted, Liberatore said students could choose whether to wear a face covering.
Most opted not to wear a mask, with some citing the benefits of being able to show their facial expressions and more easily project their voices. Others, though, continued masking. Sophomore Erin Lieberman-Evans, who chose to wear a mask, said it made her feel safer to take part in her first in-person choir show.
"Because we'd been practicing for so long, it was very fun to finally perform in front of people," Liberman-Evans said.