New musical 'Breathe' written during, about COVID-19 pandemic

BySandy Kenyon WLS logo
Thursday, May 13, 2021
New musical 'Breathe' written during, about pandemic
Sandy Kenyon reports on the new musical that was written and produced during the coronavirus pandemic.

NEW YORK -- A new musical written and produced during the COVID-19 pandemic will begin virtual showings this Friday.

"Breathe" was born when best-selling author Jodi Picoult, originally from Long Island, teamed up with top talent from Broadway during lockdown.

Her books have sold more than 40 million copies and feature plenty of family drama, but "Breathe" is designed not only to help make sense of the pandemic, but also to entertain.

"This shows that even a pandemic can't keep artists down," actor and singer Brian Stokes Mitchell said.

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Both he and Picoult say they, like everyone, have been waiting to exhale and breathe easier again.

"We were going to make it work no matter what," Picoult said.

She and her writing partner, Timothy Allen McDonald, recruited five separate teams to create what she calls "mini-musicals."

"Each of them is named for a different symptom of COVID-19 so we start with 'Fever' and then we move to 'Aches,' and then we move to 'Swelling' and 'Irritation,' and then we move to 'Fatigue,' and we end with 'Shortness of Breath.'"

That segment, about a husband and wife who have divorced, stars Mitchell and Kelli O'Hara.

"You can see how artists can take something and turn it into something beautiful," Mitchell said. "A work of art, something that inspires people and makes people happy and makes people hopeful and reconnects us again, and that's what I think is one of the wonders of this piece."

The musical was created and staged in less than a year from the start to the finish -- despite significant challenges. The world was made more meaningful for Mitchell because of his own tough experiences.

"Having been one of the people that unfortunately got COVID, this was last year, I actually was dealing with many of the terrible, terrible symptoms of this disease," he said.

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"What we really wanted to do with this piece was ask, 'What are you going to do with everything you learned this year?'" Picoult said. "How are we going to commemorate what we have lost? And how are we going to carry those lessons into the future?'"

For most of the cast and crew, "Breathe" marked their first work since Broadway shut down in the middle of March last year.

"Hope is in the air," Mitchell said.

The new musical premieres Friday, May 14, at 8 p.m. on OVERTURE+. CLICK HERE for more information on how to watch/buy tickets.