Arts & Culture

‘Firefly in the Light’ depicts youth’s search for fame

Junior writes, composes, directs, original musical, currently showing at Production Workshop

By
Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Shayna Toh ’20 began writing “Firefly in the Light,” a pop-rock musical, when she was 17 years old. Toh previously shared the musical with audiences in New York and Singapore.

Production Workshop presented “Firefly in the Light” last weekend, an earnest pop-rock musical composed, directed and written by Shayna Toh ’20 that probes “the many competing life options which await every young and older person,” according to the show’s website.

The musical centers on fame-starved protagonist Wendy, played by Clara Pritchett ’22, and her best friend, the accidentally famous Jake, played by Corey Morrison ’19. The show opens on their senior year of high school as Wendy prepares to audition for a prominent music school. Jake, who has just moved back to the town they grew up in, realizes he’s in love with Wendy, but her lust for success blinds her to his affection and his artistic dreams, as well as to the advice of anyone who disagrees with her. When her mother doesn’t support her plans, Wendy moves to Los Angeles and effectively disowns her former life.

The second act follows Jake and Wendy seven years later, with Wendy working as a burlesque performer. Jake signs a record deal and goes to Los Angeles, determined to find Wendy.

“A big part of the story is about growing up and realizing who you’ve left behind and who you choose to love after all of that,” Toh said. The development of characters was a compelling part of the plot; Wendy’s failures turn her petulance into a strength rooted in humility, while Jake’s shy warmth becomes confidence in his love and art. “I like the distinct comparison between Jake’s point of view and Wendy’s point of view and I think the juxtaposition is really clear,” said Carmen Ferran ’20.5, one of the executive producers of the show.

Pritchett enjoyed working with an original show. “It’s really cool doing an original show because we changed stuff on the go, like the ending that we had here was not the ending that we read at the beginning,” said Pritchett, who made her debut in theater during this musical.

Toh started writing “Firefly in the Light” when she was seventeen and originally intended it to be a 70 minute show with 12 songs. This version of the show premiered at The Arts House in Toh’s home country of Singapore. In 2016, the New York Musical Festival’s Digital Dramaturg Program gave Toh the opportunity to workshop the musical and expand it to a full-length, two-hour, 22-song production. It was then selected to be performed by the New York Music Festival and shown as a staged-reading at Playwrights Horizon Rehearsal Studio in New York in 2017.

“I’ve worked on it three times now, and it’s always been different every single time,” Toh said. She added that this production was the first full staging of the full-length show.

“I was a little intimidated because there are a lot of students here that are used to doing big-name musicals who were going to be part of this process,” Toh continued. But she appreciated the ways that the actors and other people involved were able to add to her understanding of the show. “Putting it out there and letting it sit with other people and having them contribute to it (and) seeing it come to life in other people’s minds has been very rewarding for me,” Toh said.

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