I’ve heard people compare Perfect Harmony to a lot of things. “It’s just like Pitch Perfect, but set in high school.” Or, “it’s just like that episode of Glee, no that other one, the good one.” Or, “it’s just like Friday Night Lights, if there was a town that treated a cappella like football.”
Personally, I used to call Perfect Harmony a “mockumentary” because it was funny in a way similar to the Christopher Guest movies like Best in Show or Waiting for Guffman. But as the play grew, I’ve come to think of it as a love letter to earnestness.
High school is a time when we haven’t fully grown into the perspective we’ll have as adults. Moments that might seem trivial later in life – making a group, getting a solo, talking to a girl or boy – are matters of life and death import to a high school student. Regardless of how cool or uncool we might have been in high school ourselves, we all still remember the unabashed seriousness with which we and our classmates treated school, extracurricular activities, status, kissing, family, and friendships.
Traditionally in theatre, when emotions are so huge that they can’t be expressed by words alone, we turn to music. Opera and musical theater are filled with characters bursting into song because they are overpowered with feelings, wants, desires, needs, and loves that are beyond ordinary expression. High school overflows with that opera level of emotion. While Perfect Harmony is a comedy, it is filled with characters grappling with what it means to really take something seriously, to try your hardest and risk failure, and to truly care and love. Setting the action of the play in the world of a cappella allows us to feature grandiose operatic moments of song where these characters can pour out their soul’s anguish and joy.
Over multiple productions, I have seen this play make audiences laugh, cry, hug each other, smile, and walk out talking animatedly about their own experiences growing up, with working in a group, and with friendship. And I firmly believe the play will continue to do that on your stage.
I think the reason Perfect Harmony gets compared so quickly (and fondly) to other stories is that the story is universal and resilient. Your hometown is different (and possibly less a cappella obsessed) than mine. Your cast will be different than ones I have seen. And you will imbue your production with your own personal stamps. But the story of those sorrows and joys of high school will be the same. And the love letter to earnestness will keep getting written.
Break a leg.
Photo: Kelly McCreary and Dana Acheson in Perfect Harmony. Credit: Jim Baldassare.