Ready or not, 'it's Covid, the musical. The author Jodi Picoult leads a team that puts the wretched pandemic on the stage.

''Breathe'' premiered last week on Overture+, a streaming service for the performing arts, and the original cast recording will be released by Broadway Records. The show will be available through July 2.

Viewers will see rows of empty green seats behind the actors, whose scripts and music stands lend a behind-the-scenes intimacy. In a peculiar way, those flipped up seats are more striking than the backdrop razzle dazzle you might expect from an in-person production in ordinary time.

About halfway through ''Breathe,'' a new musical created by the best-selling novelist Jodi Picoult and the veteran playwright Timothy Allen McDonadls, a fed-up. locked-down father of three sums up the challenges of the pandemic in a two-word refrain : ''It's brutal!''

Adam, played by Colin Donnell, is lamenting the challenge of shoehorning virtual kindergarten alongside two demanding careers - Donnell's partner-in-exhaustion is his real-life wife, Patti Murin - but he speaks for all of us who have been crowded and alone, enraged and bereft, at various points in the past year.

Before we get to the logistics of writing, staging and filming a musical in the midst of a pandemic, let’s address the elephant in the Zoom: 

Why would anyone wish to watch a 90-minute theatrical production about Covid-19 - especially with scenes named after the symptoms many of us have experienced firsthand? They are fever, Aches, Swelling & Irritation, Fatigue and Shortness of Breath). 

Then George Floyd was murdered. ''Tim and I both felt that the protests that arose were intimately tied to the pandemic; and we knew we weren't the right ones to write about it since we're two white writers,'' Picoult said.

So we made a call to Douglas Lyons, who is an incredibly talented book writer as well as a lyricist and an actor. We said, 'This is what we're doing and we would love to have you to be part of our family'. I think within 10 seconds he said yes.''

''I didn't put my own face into the gravel. He did, says the son, who is played by Daniel Yearwood.

The “Breathe” team consists of five songwriting teams (one for each vignette), four directors plus the supervising director Jeff Calhoun and a fleet of actors, including the Tony Award winners Kelli O’Hara and Brian Stokes Mitchell, as well as Denis Benton, Matt Doyle, among others. Some of its members never met in person.

“It felt like every two weeks when we would have a meeting, the Zoom would double exponentially,” Picoult said.

“We don’t expect to become stinking rich off this,” she added. “The point was it’s our job to chronicle stories and this is one that needs telling.”

''The whole thing was reverse engineered,'' Picoult said.

So are the typewritten interstitials at the beginning of each chapter, announcing the ever increasing number of Covid-19 deaths worldwide between March and June of 2020.

Just as ''Come From Away'' captured the sense of global citizenship that flickered briefly after 9/11, ''Breathe'' aims to connect the dots between people living in isolation.

''When you get to see a show, you're sitting in your own individual chair and, whether you're in the balcony or the front-row, you're feeling a unified emotion,'' Picoult said.

''To me that was a metaphor for what was going on during the lockdown. We were all in our isolated pods and we were all feeling the same thing. There was something transformative about that that made me think, we should try to make sense of this through musical theater.''

The World Students Society thanks author Elisabeth Egan.


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