Theater, Dance and Performance Studies’ ‘Newsflash! A Mini Musical’ channels graduation anxieties

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It’s appropriate that “Newsflash! A Mini Musical” is virtually premiering in May, because its subjects — collegiate high achievers who are now desperately scrambling to succeed in the real world — will likely resonate with a portion of this year’s senior class of UC Berkeley undergraduates. Written by Eleanor Hammond and Emily Beihold, “Newsflash!” dramatizes the brutality of post-grad job hunting, using its brief runtime to move towards a more humane mentality for its three protagonists.

“Newsflash!” opens in the newsroom of the fictional New York Daily — a setting conveyed by the main characters’ virtual Zoom backgrounds, of course — on the morning of Ada (Kasia Baranek), Devon (Camilla Leonard) and Francesca’s (Arlyss Hays) interviews for the paper’s prestigious, competitive (and unpaid) internship. Devon and Francesca, Northwestern and Harvard University alums, are relying on their packed college resumes and private school pedigree to net them the job; Ada, who currently works as a waitress and wrote for the paper at her community college, is the odd woman out, lending her counterparts some much-needed perspective. 

The women’s subsequent interview is a comically exaggerated version of the wringer that many talented students go through when looking for media internships: They’re speedily tested on their ability to make copies and coffee, dismissed and then informed that the internship went to the editor in chief’s son. These moments aren’t exactly subtle commentary, but they’ll hit home for applicants in the show’s virtual audience who have undergone similarly callous recruitment processes — one character mentions the labor of sending out 300 job applications only to head back home to her parents’ house every night. Hammond and Beihold’s script, to their credit, treats these plights not as examples of these girls’ entitlement or idiocy but as symptoms of a shared generational affliction that’s worth empathizing with. 

Each member of the production’s central trio puts forward an admirable performance (especially considering the fact that they’re harmonizing over Zoom). Hays and Leonard are given most of the story’s humorous beats, crowing about small campus sizes and 5.0 GPAs, while Baranek acts as the musical’s sympathetic anchor, the calm self-assurance she embodies counteracting the others’ heightened personalities. The musical numbers, though there are only a few (a consequence of a roughly 30-minute run time), are also impressive; the play’s opening song, “Take Me,” is a classic “I want” ballad that does a great job introducing each character. The three leads’ vocals, too, translate well despite the virtual venue — Leonard in particular shows off her strong belt.

Director Catherine Hill stitches the show together with now-familiar online flourishes, taking advantage of props that the actors likely had at home and indicating scene changes with different virtual backgrounds and title cards. As a result, “Newsflash!” breezes through its story fairly seamlessly, helped by effective sound editing (no cringey Zoom echo here!) and quick transitions. The actors’ delivery of their lines directly to camera while they’re meant to be speaking to another character is unavoidably awkward at points, but the performance is still energetic despite this occupational hazard.

“Newsflash!” is adept at pinpointing the deepest fears of recent and soon-to-be grads, but it doesn’t languish in that ennui for too long, giving its characters a happy ending that teaches them they’re “more than their degree.” It’s a wholesome message, told by a clearly committed cast and crew — hopefully the show’s intended audience takes a break from their frantic job searches to listen.

“Newsflash!” is streaming May 7 and 8 at 7 p.m. PDT. RSVP here for access.

Contact Grace Orriss at [email protected]. Tweet her at @graceorriss.