The Menu is Set

by Brie Stimson November 27, 2018


david-mcbean-and-tom-stephenson-in-a-christmas-carolThe play happens to take place at Christmastime, but the story is about people who become isolated in their lives and become so disassociated with the people around them and the communities they’re in,” Sean Murray, artistic director at Old Town’s Cygnet Theatre says of why everyone should see “A Christmas Carol. ”

“It’s a fabulous lesson in warning absolutely everybody.” Scrooge, Sean says, “is left at the end of the play with the decision that you can change the future of your life if you change the actions of your life, and so the play is basically giving you the option to change the direction that you’re going.” He says the play opens up Scrooge’s eyes to the role that everyone should be playing in terms of taking care of each other and their community. “The play does take place at Christmastime, but I think the message is really important now. I think it’s even more important this year than it has been in the past, reaching out and taking care of each other and also being able to control your destiny as much as you can by being positive and charitable to mankind. Just by doing that it starts to open up new doors in your life. And leads to potentially a more happy and connected life,” he adds. “You can set this play at Hanukkah and it will be the same story – somebody’s reentering in the community, reentering their world.”

This is the sixth year Cygnet has produced their original version of “A Christmas Carol.” Sean collaborated with composer Billy Thompson on the musical. “When we were putting it up we were limited on time, and so there were some things that we wanted to put into the musical that we never really had time to put in.” He says this year they’re adding a new song “that we’ve been wanting to add for five years” into the second act and they’re also reexamining a big chunk of the end of the play and “how to tell that part of the story in a lighter more clearer way,” he adds.  “It’s been a lot of fun reworking the end. The cast is very excited about the new material.”

After the New Year, Cygnet has a full array of choices to fillout the rest of the year. They start in January with the toe-tapping play “Marie and Rosetta” about a real and (forgive the pun) unsung pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll – and a nun no less. Sister “Rosetta Tharp was a gospel singer, a very well-known gospel singer who also played a really mean electric guitar,” Sean says. “In the evenings, in her convent, she would let loose with this guitar and there are many music historians who credit her with the development of the very first original rock and roll sound and her  guitar playing inspired people like Chuck Berry , Little Richard.” Tharp was famous for moving    her hips while she sang, which is said to be the inspiration for Elvis Presley’s famous hip swiveling.

The play is about Rosetta’s mentorship of a young singer named Marie. “It’s a lot of music, a lot of gospel, she would turn some of her gospel tunes into rock and roll tunes,” he says.

After “Rosetta and Marie” closes on Feb. 16, “Angels in America” will open at the beginning of March. “It’s hard to actually describe this play. It’s such an amazingly beautiful and emotional experience to sit and watch the entire piece,” Sean says. “When it first opened, it was putting AIDS on stage and bringing AIDS to the forefront of the communiqué of the discussion of America at a time when it was really at its most horrible peak, and a lot of the play is about hope and fighting and challenging and change and the focus of the original production was on how AIDS affected the characters.” He says none of its resonance has diminished in the 25 since the play was written, and many of the political discussions in the play (including global warming) are still relevant today.

Lastly, in May the theater will hold the San Diego premiere of an updated, modern (in sensibility) version of “Pride and Prejudice” adapted by Kate Hamill. “It’s not your basic tea party Jane Austen,” Sean says as he’s struggles to define its accessibility. “When you see Jane Austen’s stories on BBC, it’s a lot of beautiful dresses and a lot of well spoken people and it’s has a kind of Masterpiece Theatre quality to it, but what Kate Hamill is bringing to this adaptation is she’s really bringing life to it. It’s very funny, it’s a little bit of contemporary clowning because people play multiple parts. It’s a very theatrically funny story,” he says. “People have certain associations of clowning that is it might be more circus oriented, but this is a kind of clowning like Buster Keaton kind of rooted in truth.” He promises that while the adaptation is more modern in its storytelling, the play is very faithful to the book. “It is sort of a refreshing take on a story people know.”

As far as next season, which should start next summer, Sean says they’re still trying to figure out which plays they’ll produce. “We’ve got a long list that is being shortened,” he says. “It’s sort of like Mick Jagger says, ‘you can’t always get what you want’ … It’s a bit like building a dinner party, yet I don’t know what food I can put on the table yet.”


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