Deke Sharon is wild with excitement. The ultimate a cappella nerd and famed vocal arranger arguably propelled the fringe genre into mainstream music culture with his work on the surprise blockbuster Pitch Perfect and NBC’s a cappella reality competition The Sing-Off. But he’s not stopping there—a cappella will penetrate the theatrical arena this month with In Transit.
The production, which began previews at the Circle in the Square Theatre November 10 and officially opens December 11, is the first a cappella musical to ever hit a Broadway stage. This isn’t kiddie stuff. Writers Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russell Kaplan, and Sarah Wordsworth along with Sharon created a score of 11-part harmony.
Billed as “Broadway’s First A Cappella Musical,” it begs the question: Could there be a second?
“I don’t see any reason why not,” says Sharon. “A cappella is the oldest music, and you find it in traditions all around the world. There’s no reason there can’t be more a cappella musicals.”
In Transit features a contemporary musical theatre sound, not unlike tunes out of Pitch Perfect or the Disney anthem “Let It Go” co-written by Oscar winner Anderson-Lopez with her husband, EGOT winner Robert Lopez. But Sharon points out that a cappella is a flexible medium. “The human voice is the original instrument and you can do anything with it,” he says. Theatre minds just have to get creative.
“The closest thing to [In Transit] on the Broadway stage before this was the production of Sweeney Todd when everyone had their own instruments onstage. It’s only one step away from that because we are our own instruments,” Sharon continues. And just as that 2005 revival of Sweeney Todd opened up possibilities for actors to also be instrumentalists (leading to musicals like the 2006 Company revival, Once, last season’s revival of Spring Awakening, and this fall’s Nastasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, in which the actors and the band are one and the same), In Transit could spark original a cappella productions or a cappella revivals of known titles.
“When I was in college, I really wanted to do an a cappella version of West Side Story, which is my favorite musical,” says Sharon. “I even started sketching it out in my brain.” But the arranger and theatre fan also envisions the style working well for compilation shows of different production numbers from composers like Stephen Sondheim, in the way that Fosse or Jerome Robbins’ Broadway did for dance.
Still, the complexity of writing a full a cappella score—one that’s doable for a full-length musical eight shows a week—requires precision, patience, and a vocal cornucopia when it comes to casting. “This cast is en fuego,” says Sharon. “To have incredibly low voices and soaring high voices and everyone in between, it’s an absolute wonder to paint—if you think of the analogy, it’s like painting with incredibly vibrant colors.” As the team continues to make adjustments, all he has to do is finish the hat.
WATCH THE CAST OF IN TRANSIT IN THE RECORDING STUDIO: