Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival Persists, Despite Virtual Setting

by Tori Newby ‘22

The Olney community knows Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival as an essential Sherwood experience, with the entire 1,000-seat Ertzman Theatre easily selling out multiple nights year after year. The three-hour musical revue, highlighting music from as early as the 50s, features more than 200 student performers and is complete with elaborate sets and costumes. 

Although 2021 was supposed to be the 50th year of this performance, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced the Sherwood music department to redesign the show, adapting Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival to a virtual setting–titled #49.5 Online.

The performance, tentatively scheduled for early May, will consist of about ten virtual music videos. Vocalists and band members practice mostly on their own and send in videos to the co-directors for feedback. Eventually, individuals will submit a final recording and each video will be edited together to create cohesive songs.

Music teachers and co-directors Mike Maddox, Alex Silverbook, and Paul Sharp have prioritized seniors when casting this production. Due to the constraints of being online, the usual cast size of over 200 students had to be reduced, so open auditions were eliminated and instead seniors and a select group of returning soloists, band members, and dancers were invited to participate. 

The online performance will be free to view for audience members, but as the annual production is a huge fundraiser, the music department will be asking for donations. “We hope that families will give what they can to support the future of music at Sherwood,” said Maddox. The website on which the performance will premiere as well as the date of the show have yet to be finalized.

Rock ‘n’ Roll 49.5 has a setlist about a quarter of its usual size, with previous shows including 40 or more songs. Almost every song is performed by a group, instead of just one soloist, in order to feature as many students as possible within this scaled-down production. 

Senior Jeffrey Gross is returning for his fourth year in Rock ‘n’ Roll as a lead drummer and percussionist, but he is also taking on the role of a video editor. Last spring, Gross learned how to edit with an online jazz band video that the music department put together. Since then, Gross has performed in and edited together four virtual band performances, with a fifth in the works. This experience will be vital for Rock ‘n’ Roll 49.5, as Gross is responsible for audio and video editing for the band feature as well as pieces of other songs.  

“The removal of real-time playing is at once a blessing and a curse. While I can’t play along with others, I have unlimited chances to nail a part–that is, until I run out of space on my computer or break something on my drum kit–and I can get much more experimental with my playing,” said Gross. 

Junior Emily Scholl, while upset that performers don’t get to sing together during rehearsals and shows, is “excited to see the final videos with everyone together. I think it will be really rewarding and fun.” Rock ‘n’ Roll 49.5 will be Scholl’s second year as a soloist, with two songs she is featured in: “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac and “Lean On Me” by Bill Withers. 

“I can guarantee that even though this year may not look the same as others,” Gross said, “it will still be a year to remember–in more ways than one.”