Over the past two decades, collegiate a cappella has morphed from old-fashioned Ivy League tradition to hip viral-video-making sensation — thanks in part to Glee. Now it’s getting the big-screen treatment with Pitch Perfect, a comedy about dueling a cappella groups at the fictional Barden University. The movie stars Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson as members of a ragtag singing group, and is based on GQ writer Mickey Rapkin’s 2008 non-fiction book, Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Cappella Glory.
Familiar with a cappella from their undergrad days at the University of Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Banks (who also appears in the film) and her husband, Max Handelman, were the first to see the movie potential in Rapkin’s book and signed on as producers back in 2008. They brought aboard screenwriter Kay Cannon (30 Rock) and director Jason Moore, who earned a Tony nom in 2004 for helming Avenue Q. When Cannon and Moore went to an a cappella competition at Rutgers University to get a sense of the culture they were leaping into, they realized just how built for comedy this world was. ”It was rowdy. It had a party atmosphere,” Moore says.
And he worked hard to capture that spirit. In addition to giving a cameo to one of the groups in Rapkin’s book, the University of Virginia’s Hullabahoos, the filmmakers tapped five experts to arrange the music, including Deke Sharon, a.k.a. the father of contemporary a cappella, and Ed Boyer, who has worked on Glee.
As for Rapkin, himself an alum of a Cornell University a cappella group, he’s thrilled to see so much attention lavished on young warblers. ”All these years later, we’re vindicated,” he says. ”We are awesome and mainstream.” In his day, singing a cappella on campus granted you rock-star status…until you graduated. Then you risked being branded a dork. Could that stigma be fading? ”There’s this quiet coming-out [a cappella singers] are having,” says Moore. ”Maybe this movie will help them feel a little more proud.”