REVIEW: ‘Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020’ is All About the Rehearsal

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Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020

Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 is an HBO Max original inspired by Tony Award-winner Laura Benanti’s #SunshineSongs. The film documents the experiences of seven kids who graduated high school during COVID-19 and were unable to perform in their high school musicals one last time as seniors.

A lot of pandemic content was produced in 2020, but there are countless productions, and so much more, that had to be canceled and can never be replaced. Laura Benanti’s #SunshineSongs was a call to high schoolers to perform their final highschool showstoppers for the world to hear. Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 took seven of those now graduated seniors, provided them with production equipment, and allowed them the opportunities to each produce a music video covering one song of significance to them and to share their story.

I’ve watched a lot of plays put on by kids and teenagers in my day. They’re rarely good, let alone great, if you judge them by the quality of the performances. But the performances are never at all the point. The point is that they’re getting to experience the magic of a shared theater experience. And so when you watch kids pour their absolute hearts out into a performance, it’s the greatest hour and a half in the world. That’s more or less what Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 feels like to watch.

The performances are all perfectly decent. I am sure many of the students will get to fulfill their dreams and perform in the future. But it’s not the quality of the performance or the video they put together that matters in the end. It’s the fact that you can tell each of the seven kids featured in the film is putting every bit of the hardship, trauma, and growth they’ve experienced in 2020 into their few minutes in the sun. And that’s what makes Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 worth watching.

There are some issues with the editing of the film. The teens did the actual filming in their own homes with the help of friends and family. Or, it’s recorded from a Zoom chat. But the way the film is edited is a bit lackluster. Benanti asks the kids questions about their experiences over the past year, and their answers are cut between their Zoom call and their at-home recordings. It’s done in such a way that the conversations feel both disjointed and sometimes out of sync with one another.

The most egregious piece of editing, though, is that every single one of the teens’ performances is cut off in the middle to overlay voice-over and then resume the song. It’s completely unnecessary, damages the integrity of the art the kids created and zaps so much of the power away from the performance. There is no reason that all of the interviews cannot occur before the performances to frame them and then maybe come back to it afterward. It feels so unfair to the teens to have their work mangled in this way.

The teens bring up a range of topics through either their song choices or their interviews, from this summer’s racial justice protests to experiencing homelessness to not attending college this fall because the pandemic crippled their family’s business to coming out as trans. While it’s easy to look at these adversities and passions as contrived or baity for drawing on the most hot-button topics of today, you have to remember that these are real teens, telling their real stories. The chances are that they could have picked any seven teens out of the thousands who made #SunshineSongs videos, and the stories and themes would have come together similarly. These are the things that Gen Z has on their minds, and seeing them explained and explored through the expressions of 18-year-olds is valuable. Especially given the infrequency that young people are permitted to simply speak for themselves and be listed to.

On its face, Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 is nothing special. Its editing seriously detracts from the emotional weight of each of its subjects’ art and experiences. But underneath the messy production is something any patron of the youth performing arts should recognize with pride: a show that went on despite the most devastating of circumstances. High school theater, deep down, is not about whether the show is amazing or not. It’s about the relationships built, the lessons learned, and the self-discovery incurred over hours and months of rehearsal. And while the final product is harmed by the way the film is cut, you can still get the sense of pride, loss, and joy each of the film’s teens has for themselves, each other, and their art.


Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020
  • 7/10
    Rating - 7/10
7/10

TL;DR

On its face, Homeschool Musical: Class of 2020 is nothing special. Its editing seriously detracts from the emotional weight of each of its subjects’ art and experiences. But underneath the messy production is something any patron of the youth performing arts should recognize with pride: a show that went on despite the most devastating of circumstances. High school theater, deep down, is not about whether the show is amazing or not. It’s about the relationships built, the lessons learned, and the self-discovery incurred over hours and months of rehearsal. And while the final product is harmed by the way the film is cut, you can still get the sense of pride, loss, and joy each of the film’s teens has for themselves, each other, and their art.