Musicals, if you really think about them, are weird. One minute you’re talking to somebody. The next, you’re silent, waiting for some chords to swell or a piano to quietly ring out your starting pitch, such that the audience will think you pulled it from the depths of your brain and you’ll be in tune when the orchestra comes in a few bars later. And then … you burst into song. And the people around you just, uh, go with it. Maybe they even chime in! Weird!
Liva Pierce, a rising college sophomore from Chicago by way of Maine, nails this weirdness in this week’s best Twitter video. (It’s Wednesday, but Vulture feels confident in calling it now. If you feel otherwise, please get in touch and we can rumble, Bernstein style, behind the New York offices.) “When characters in musicals transition from speaking to singing,” reads the tweet attached to the video of exactly one minute and eighteen seconds of perfection. “Elizabeth, wait,” Pierce says in the video, pausing as music starts to play. “Would it change your mind if I said it was an orthodontist,” she then sings, in a perfectly off-key, tuneless way. From there, she performs transitions for a number of other hypothetical musicals, many of which bear a distant resemblance to real ones. It is, to quote composer and lyricist Benj Pasek, “a master class in musical theatre.”
Vulture caught up with Pierce to discuss her opus.
First off, who are you? Other than a very funny human on the internet.
I go to school in Chicago where I perform a lot of sketch and improv. I did a lot of theater growing up but eventually switched to comedy because I tragically can’t sing. As is evidenced by the video.
I will hear no besmirching of this video. It’s flawless. Tell us about your creative process.
I love, love, love musical theater, but I also love to make fun of it. People in theater can take themselves so seriously, which I think lends itself really well to parody. I love those few beats right before a character starts to sing because it is usually when the scene is about to take a turn or a revelation is about to be made. I was just in my room taking videos of myself, and once I did one of them, the other ideas came really quickly.
Which one was first?
The first one I recorded was the orthodontist one, the one that is first in the video.
How has the reaction been online?
There are a lot of people saying I look like a worse version of Millie Bobby Brown. I would like to thank those people for the note. Also, please register to vote.
My colleagues and I were messaging each other and we’ve decided there’s a perfect opportunity to rewrite “No Good Deed” from Wicked about the HPV witch. “H-PEEEEE-VEEEEEEEEE” fits the rhyme scheme perfectly.
Haha, I like that. I love Wicked and saw the Broadway tour stop in Boston when I was a kid. So amazing.
Do you have a favorite transition from a real musical?
Wow. Too many to name. I love the beginning of “Elephant Love Medley” from Moulin Rouge.
Moulin Rouge, a classic. There really isn’t a non-awkward way to start a song. Which I think is what your video skewers so perfectly.
Yes, exactly. I definitely break out into song in daily life, but it’s not really received well.
Like actual existing songs or just singing your sentences?
I will just kind of riff about my stress levels during finals period or the absolute panic I feel about global warming. A loud coping mechanism I guess.
Are you familiar with The Boy From Oz?
I haven’t seen it, but I have heard of it.
I only ask because of your bit about the lack of musicals for Australians. It was the first musical that popped into my mind. Allow me to sear the image of Hugh Jackman, accent and all, in very tight gold pants into your brain.
Wow. Thank you. To hear an Australian sing is heavenly.
Let’s talk about your short-lived musical-theater career.
I was really always gunning for lead roles but always ended up being Bird 3 or Lady-in-waiting. Both real things I played! I think my favorite role was playing the Artful Dodger in Oliver! at theater camp when I was in middle school. I don’t think we talk about spunky British orphans enough in this political climate.
I agree we’re due for an Oliver! revival. Harry Styles, wearing the hat he wore in that Rolling Stone shoot, should absolutely be cast in it.
When I see a Newsies hat out and about in the world, I look up at the sky and say thank you.
Rarely do I miss the early aughts, but those hats were out in full force then and it was a simpler time.
Truly. It’s always “The Earth is going to burn up in a year,” never “Get your fresh papers for sale.”