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A Broadway Star And #SunshineSongs Bring High School Musical Theater To Small Screens

High schools are closed and their musicals are canceled around the country because of coronavirus concerns.

Theater kids now have no audience to showcase the numbers they've worked on, some for months and even years.

They won't have a live audience for the time being, but Broadway star Laura Benanti, who won a Tony award in 2008 for her performance in Gypsy, wanted to give student performers the next best thing — an online audience.

She put the call out on Friday.

"I just decided I would go on social media and encourage these young performers to send me videos of them performing from their sequestered homes," Benanti tells NPR. "And so many of them were able to send their final dress rehearsals or rehearsal that they were able to do before their show got canceled."

Parents and young actors are sending videos of rehearsals and at-home performances to Benanti on Twitter and using the hashtag #SunshineSongs.

Benanti has been retweeting some of them to her 146,000 Twitter followers. Other celebrities got in on the action, too: Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda promised to watch. And actress Jennifer Garner made an Instagram request "to the Elsas and Matildas; to the Willy Lomans and Romeos" to show off and tag #heyjenlookatme as well.

The response has been overwhelming. So many people are tagging Benanti with their videos that she isn't able to retweet all of them. The response has grown from high schoolers to theater kids of all ages.

"It's just been really wonderful to see all of these posts pouring in and to know that it's bringing so much joy to so many," Benanti says. "And that although these kids are incredibly disappointed that they're not able to perform for a live audience, they're now getting a huge audience via social media."

Benanti knows how important high school theater is to the young actors. She says her own experience was a "lifesaver."

And she tells NPR that she promises she's watching the videos. "I think the overall feeling that I get from it is how committed these kids are, how open-hearted they are, how sincere they are. ... And I love seeing how much these kids care."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Art Silverman has been with NPR since 1978. He came to NPR after working for six years at a daily newspaper in Claremont, New Hampshire.
James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.