PROVIDENCE – A viral video staring Genesis Johnson and five of her creative friends landed the North Smithfield native on CBS this week in a Zoom conference that included an appearance by a famous Broadway actor.
After months of isolation, Johnson and her friends decided to take the now-common distanced means of celebrating birthdays and other occasions with drive-by parades to the next level. The group began performing full-fledged Broadway musicals, complete with costumes and effects, in the driveways of friends to mark such occasions.
Johnson, who graduated Beacon High School for the Arts in Woonsocket in 2016, recently moved back to Rhode Island after earning her bachelor’s in digital journalism from Marymount Manhattan. The daughter of town zoning official Carl Johnson has an affinity for Broadway, and has stayed connected with Marymount friends with similar passions – but only from a distance.
“They only hang out in the same group working on costumes and set pieces and rehearsing the performances,” explained proud father Carl.
A Tiktok video documenting the group’s performance of the hit musical Wicked in a friend’s driveway in Johnston in July went viral, and caught the attention of some other top-notch entertainers.
Hosted by Cedric the Entertainer, a program for the age of social distancing, dubbed “The Greatest at Home Videos,” showcases internet gems from all over the world. The show aims to reflect the creativity, humor and humanity that emerged during the coronavirus pandemic – and it seems the group from Rhode Island made an impression.
“Every day, you guys are proving ain’t nothing going to squash the human spirt,” Cedric says in the intro.
While hundreds of videos are broadcast in a typical episode, only a few land the internet stars in conversations with the host.
“They’re using their skills and creativity to lift others up,” noted Cedric, introducing the six friends, who were the featured segment in a program that aired on Friday, Aug. 14 titled “A Wicked Surprise.” The group was interviewed for the fourth episode of the program – and their good deed was even acknowledged by another famous entertainer: Wicked star Kristin Chenoweth.
“These uplifting videos are so great, and this next one is especially nice, because not only is it uplifting, it’s creative, it’s skillful… it’s got everything,” said Cedric. “I just think that’s so cool. The second I clocked that video, I knew I had to Zoom with them.”
“I’ve got a special surprise guest,” said Cedric. “Someone that’s going to blow their little wicked minds.”
Cedric asks the group where the got the idea.
“We had a friend who was doing a birthday parade drive-by situation and we said, ‘let’s take it up a notch,’ and we just started doing them,” explains Jake Farnum, of Foster, Johnson’s fellow Marymount graduate. “We did Wicked as one of our first ones, and it just went viral.”
After a brief conversation, Chenoweth appears on screen.
“You guys are amazing and I will say this: whoever did your costumes nailed it,” Chenoweth says.
“I literally cried. I watched it over and over and over,” Chenoweth adds of the video. “I liked it. Retweeted it. I hope to make friends like these guys. They are just awesome.”
The segment ends with Chenoweth singing part of the song “Popular,” from the hit Broadway show for the group.
“Magical, so magical,” Johnson says in reaction.
The full episode can be found here.