Broadway stars cheer on talented teens whose musicals, performances are canceled amid coronavirus outbreak

Beth Greenfield
Senior Editor
Laura Benanti, seen here in January, has been appreciating young performers and encouraging others to do the same through the uplifting #SunshineSongs hashtag on social media. (Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Acura)

There’s a virtual ray of light in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and it just keeps getting brighter: the stream of videos prompted by the hashtag #SunshineSongs.

The trend, which started earlier this month, kicked off after Broadway star Laura Benanti wanted to find a way for kids to perform in front of an appreciative audience, even after their high school musicals and spring concerts had been canceled.

“Today was supposed to be opening night of Nick’s middle school production of Willy Wonka Jr.,” began one such bittersweet tweet, posted by a mom on Monday, along with a video of her son singing “Think Positive,” from the musical. “Sad we aren’t seeing him and his friends take the stage tonight but proud of his positive attitude about everything.”

Benanti, a longtime Broadway star known also for TV including The Detour and her Melania Trump imitation on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, is also mom to a 3-year-old daughter named Ella and coauthor of a board book for parents, M Is for Mama …and Also Merlot. On March 13, as school plays and concerts began getting canceled around the country due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic, she kicked off the positive hashtag on Twitter and Instagram, noting, “Dark times for all. Trying to find some bright spots.”

Her message has since racked up over 4.6 thousand likes and inspired kids and teens (and their proud parents) from around the country to post videos of themselves dancing, playing instruments and singing – mostly from musicals ranging from Hamilton and Annie to Freaky Friday and Matilda. It’s all moving people to tears and inspiring more and more sharing, not to mention getting lots of love through comments and retweets from fellow celebs including Lin Manuel-Miranda, Ben Platt, Michael Urie, Morgan Fairchild, Rosie O’Donnell and other fans.

Some early stand-out stars included this young man, Lance Avery Brown, doing tricky Hamilton numbers:

This young woman, singing “Astonishing” from Little Women:

And the daughter of New York Times best-selling author Karina Yan Glaser, of the Vanderbeekers series, on the violin:

The 74, an education news site, created an amazing compilation, which Benanti retweeted:

Speaking about the campaign on O’Donnell’s Sunday night star-studded Actors Fund fundraiser on YouTube, Benanti explained she was inspired by her mother, a voice teacher in New Jersey with whom Benanti and her husband and daughter are quarantined with. Her mom, she explained, was talking about all the disappointed kids who will no longer get to have high school musicals, and it sparked the idea.

Rosie O'Donnell, left, speaking with Laura Benanti on YouTube on Sunday night. (Screenshot: YouTube)

“I thought, let me just make a little video for them on Instagram and Twitter, letting them know that if they want to send me the videos, if they want to tag me, I want to watch them. And I had no idea it was going to turn into this beautiful thing that it’s become...” Benanti said. “These kids are so talented, and I just love the fact that they are getting a platform to perform for people when they were so disappointed. I know for me, my high school musical was a salve… It was the only place where I felt seen and accepted. So I think to take that away from kids is really hard.”

Enjoy some of the other uplifting, impressive performance below.

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