Broadway-Off-Broadway club recreates the best (and worst) of the web

Sabrina Nemis | Fulcrum Staff

Photos by Justin Labelle

JUSTIN BIEBER, RICHARD Simmons, and a polygamist walk into a bar. At this point, I can’t even keep up with the memes anymore. I recognize one, and four more dance and sing their way onstage.

YouTube the Musical, performed at Alumni Auditorium on April 6 and 7, tells the story of four people who get sucked into YouTube after excessive surfing on the site. Written by University of Ottawa students Liisa Steinwedel, Laura Drummond, Samantha Bryant, Allison Hill, and Trevor Smith-Millar, and presented by the U of O’s Broadway-Off-Broadway club, it’s a kitschy adventure framed by Internet-famous characters and videos.

The proceeds from the event went to support Jer’s Vision, a local organization that works to eliminate bullying, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination through education, conferences, arts programs, community involvement, and support for youth projects.

The four main characters in the play each embodied a theme of the average YouTube posting: lack of originality, stupidity, shallow and insincere declarations of love, and nasty comments. They’re challenged by corresponding YouTube clichés—like getting into a comment flame-war—and have to conquer their trials and natural inclinations to try to get out of YouTube before “the red bar” runs out.

On the surface, the characters appear to overcome their limitations, but the musical playfully suggests that they haven’t undergone such dramatic transformations after all—ending the play much as they started. As one might suspect, YouTube isn’t the place for deep personal growth.

Although the Sunday-night performance was bogged down by microphone issues and some off-key notes, the performers were enthusiastic and the audience laughed and clapped at all the right moments. The group numbers were particularly strong, embodying the spirit of flash mob dances and amateur singing hopefuls.

The staging was minimal, allowing each meme to have space in the scene without conflicting with the others. From a New Year’s party in the “real” world to the final rap battle in YouTube land, there was room for the musical’s characters, Internet memes and, of course, lots and lots of cats.

Some characterizations relied on costuming and catchphrases, while others were so spot-on it felt like the Internet really did come to life. The annoying orange, Nicki Minaj, and the Harry Potter puppets were particularly on target.

YouTube the Musical celebrated those looking for short-term notoriety but also questioned what the search for Internet fame brings out in all of us—as performers and as viewers. Are we celebrating the everyman or exploiting him for a bit of schadenfreude?

Perhaps we’re doing a bit of both. As some of us waste our final study hours watching videos on the web, we may embrace the clichés, stupidity, superficiality, and nastiness. But we are also celebrating our potential, and the thought that we too might one day make it big on YouTube.