This month, we chat with Daren Carollo and Lauren Hewitt from Berkeley Playhouse in Berkeley, CA about their upcoming premiere of the new musical Bridges, written by Festival Alumni Douglas J. Cohen and Cheryl L. Davis.
In 1965, a young woman boldly joins a march to fight for her civil rights. Decades later, another young woman faces her own battle for equality. As their stories collide across time and distance, each must come to terms with who she is in the context of a changing and complicated world. Full of soulful melodies, Bridges is an empowering story that explores our country’s past and present – how far we’ve come, how far we have to go and the bridges we must cross to get there.
What was the impetus behind Berkeley Playhouse choosing to commission a new musical?
While there are a number of really wonderful works being created for children’s musical theatre, with the exception of some exceptional Disney titles, and a handful of “Matildas,” there are very few works being created for the family musical theatre canon: shows specifically written for multiple generations to enjoy together with stories accessible enough for youth, but engaging enough for adults. There are fewer still that have very specific themes around social justice. However, Berkeley Playhouse has built an eight year reputation on these types of works. We felt it was only right to begin contributing to the canon that has meant so much to us.
This show in particular happened when Founding Artistic Director Elizabeth McKoy was watching a film with her daughter: Selma, Lord, Selma. Her daughter had no idea that young people or that people of all different races, religions and nationalities helped play a part in the civil rights movement, and this is a child who grew up in Berkeley! Elizabeth realized that a number of our amazing youth felt someone helpless around issues of social injustice and didn’t know they could make a difference too. She knew she needed to tell that story as well!
What drew you to Cheryl and Doug to create this piece?
Knowing what type of show we wanted, and the general subject matter, [dramaturg] Ken Cerniglia suggested to Elizabeth that we look at Cheryl. After reading The Color of Justice, and Barnstormer, she seemed like the perfect choice. When Elizabeth found out Doug was her writing partner she was even more excited. She enjoyed Children’s Letter to God and when Doug was mentioned to our Communications Director, Ken Levin, he relayed how wonderful the score for The Opposite of Sex was and that No Way to Treat a Lady was one of his favorite cast recordings. Ken lent Elizabeth the recording, and she was hooked!
What has the developmental process of this project been like over the past few years?
We began this project in 2012 and it’s been just fantastic! We’ve had Doug and Cheryl out to Berkeley twice to give readings here at the Playhouse and it allowed direct access to our community for feedback. We’ve had additional readings in Seattle and New York, and a workshop in Seattle as well. This elicited feedback that will allow the piece to speak to a broader audience as well. We want this show to be polished and ready to be produced all over the country after the world premiere. We want this commission to have legs!
Why is Bridges a great match for your audience?
I alluded to it earlier, but Berkeley has its heart and soul in social justice. We are at the epicenter of the free speech movement, the anti-war movement and one of the most progressive areas in the country. Our audience is full of families who believe in these concepts and believe in instilling these ideas into their children. We know the power that theatre has to convene these messages and our audience consistently tell us how important it is that we do work that reflects these ideas. Additionally it’s a story about family and will allow multiple generations to come together and enjoy an evening of magic together. If that isn’t a match for us, then I don’t know what is.
Why should everyone head to the Bay Area to catch Bridges?
It’s rare to see a work like this. It’s fun and entertaining, accessible, but with important messages around race, identity, family. You can come and experience a theatre that brings three and four generations of families together in our beautiful home, the Julia Morgan Theatre (an important historical landmark of its own). And you’ll be the first to hear an astonishing new score by an important composer, with a story and lyrics by an important writer! Plus it’s an excuse to come to San Francisco and the Bay Area, one of the greatest places in the world!