Directed by Rosie Corr PO ’23 and written and composed by Lucy Geller PO ’21, the “Corona Cutie” musical depicted the story of an online dating romantic comedy, not under the grandiose bright lights and lively audience atmosphere of Seaver Theatre but in a pre-recorded Zoom webinar format from April 23 to 25.
The show, produced in a collaboration between Spotlight Musical Theatre and The Green Room, followed the narrative arc of a 20-year-old woman named Claire (Annika Hoseth PO ’23), who was trapped within the confines of her New York City apartment and attempting to fix her monotonous, grueling quarantine life as a lonely online tutor. Via recommendation from her mother, Pamela (Rinny Williamson SC ’23), who overcame a previous divorce through virtual dating, Claire embarked on her love quest via an online dating site called Corona Cutie, enduring the trials and tribulations of rejection until she finally came to accept and love the imperfect person she was.
According to Geller, the inspiration behind the creation of “Corona Cutie” was based on a humorous personal experience.
“At the beginning of quarantine, I got added to an online dating Facebook group for Jewish college students called MeetJews University by my friends, since I am Jewish,” she said. “The creator kept posting about finding your ‘#CoronaCutie’ and made the group really entertaining. In the back of my head, I was thinking about how this would be a really good name for a musical — ideas always come up in the weirdest of places.”
In order to bring “Corona Cutie” to life, the show’s cast and crew had to contend with a number of obstacles. Corr found it difficult to delegate optimal times to film the final-cut scenes — which were recorded synchronously on Zoom — with the cast, considering that the actors were located across the country during the production process.
“Traditionally, on-campus theatre rehearses from 6 to 10 p.m. at night; those times were just impossibly late for our East Coast actors to give their best performances,” Corr said. “I had everyone’s class schedules at one point and appointed rehearsal and filming times in between the breaks within classes as much as I could.”
Even once the performers were gathered in a (Zoom) room, the filming process continued to be affected by the online format.
“It was hard even coordinating two actors to look at each other through the visual boundaries of Zoom; in real life, they’re just staring at a wall, which at times broke the emotional connection between them,” Corr said. “To resolve this issue, Amaya [Duncan SC ’22], who plays Sandra, told me there was a lizard on her wall in the right spot, so she stared and delivered her whole scene, emotions and all, into this creature, which I think is incredibly impressive.”
Despite the unique challenges of creating a play virtually, the show provided a festive atmosphere that was maintained by a lively audience: Numerous students cheered on their favorite cast members and reacted to the elaborate costume designs via the Zoom chat function.
“It was amazing to have all the energy coming in from the students who were commenting different inside jokes and positive messages throughout the show,” Corr said. “You could really feel the audience’s energy building off of each other even though everyone is watching from all across the world.”
“You could really feel the audience’s energy building off of each other even though everyone is watching from all across the world.” —Rosie Corr PO ’23
The opening act of “Corona Cutie” displayed a depressed Claire confined alone to her New York apartment, swooning over the climax of a romantic comedy film. Seeking to change her monotonous quarantine life, Claire reached out to her mother, Pamela, and was alarmed yet intrigued by her mother’s advice to enter the world of online dating.
“I wanted to portray Claire as a pretty relatable, down-to-earth character who definitely has her own quirks but is definitely a real person with real struggles and pain,” Hoseth said. “Like the way Claire is resilient and continually decides to recommit to something she’s doing, I definitely wanted people to feel hope and believe there’s going to be life after the pandemic and that they can make it through any sort of trials coming their way.”
The next scenes featured Claire navigating through the Corona Cutie website, where she found struggles in making her profile features not as revealing. After completion, Claire got introduced to her potential nominees by Cutie 1 (Tray Hammond PO ’22), Cutie 2 (Siena Hinshelwood SC ‘22) and Cutie 3 (Emma Paulini PO ’21), who directed Claire to verbally swipe left or right based on what each candidate presented themselves as.
However, after matching and conversing with Sandra, Claire ultimately was ignored over text, which caused her to spiral into a hallucination-like sequence that delved deep into the backstory of Claire’s previous experiences of being “ghosted.”
“I wanted Annika [Claire] to display authentic pain in this scene, where her past experiences all emerge in this fever dream nightmare as she time-warps through every moment she’s been ghosted in,” Corr said, as she directed this scene. “This scene was inspired by ‘Sexy French Depression’ from ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,’ in which the actor breaks that fourth wall and is seemingly reaching out to the audience about a painful, relatable experience.”
Following heartbreak, Claire found new hope when Alex (Aydin Mallery PO ’24) expressed interest in her by sending her a direct message. After a conversation and a live video camera date, however, she got “friendzoned” by Alex due to her intense demeanor, ultimately causing her to call Pamela again.
After conversing with her mother, Claire discovered she neither needs to radically change her life nor become an entirely different person over quarantine. Rather, Claire decided to embrace her shortcomings with online dating and realized her appreciation for being alive during the trying times of a pandemic, signifying her curtain call with the other featured actors in harmonious fashion.
Although the show was successful, with over 250 people signing up to watch “Corona Cutie” over three days of screenings, members of the cast and crew missed the in-person aspects of theater.
“I really missed the camaraderie building we had in person; whether you’re in a really late rehearsal with somebody or you’re exhausted and really confused about something, we came together and bonded over those things,” Hoseth said. “I also definitely miss having an audience, being able to get live feedback and draw in energy from their support.”
On the flip side, Geller expressed hope that her play could support the audience by conveying a message of not “being so hard on oneself” and providing some entertainment to relieve the burdens of the pandemic.
“There was this weird pressure of people attempting to totally improve their life and figure out their direction during quarantine,” Geller said. “I believe what’s more important in this moment is that it’s still beautiful to be alive, which is something we don’t value enough during this unprecedented time.”