Lessons Learned: A Look Back on Monte Cristo

By Holly Mancuso, Dramaturg

The Count of Monte Cristo has closed after a very successful run. It has been a pleasure to work with so many talented artists and experience the power of this lovely story. I wanted to take a few moments to talk about the themes and main ideas that come out in the show.

Mercedes and Edmond

First, love. The romantic love between Edmond and Mercedes is inspiring and touching, epitomized by the romantic duets they share. Their commitment to one another and the love they share drives them onward, even when the future looks bleak.

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Abbe Faria and Edmond

Other relationships of love are explored, including between parents and their children, workers and employers, and friends. A notable connection between Edmond and his mentor/fellow prisoner Abbe Faria shows how important it is to have positive influences in our lives. Without the help and support of those around us, it can be exceedingly difficult to overcome our trials. Additionally, even when those we love leave us, they are never truly gone. Their memory stays with us, and can comfort us when all seems lost. Continue reading

The Curtain Goes Up

by Holly Mancuso, dramaturg

Audience members after the show

Audience members after the show

The Count of Monte Cristo opened to rave reviews last week! The show has been entirely sold out, with people entering drawings beforehand for a chance to get tickets.

After the show, people have been mingling in the HFAC lobby to talk about what they saw and greet cast members. Viewers have been really excited about everything. Some thoughts overheard amongst the crowd: “I’m very happy we got to go” “I had such a fun time!” “The projections were incredible” “I loved the flying” “It’s a great show, very upbeat” Other talked-about highlights include the lovely voices and heartfelt songs, the upbeat choreography, the stunning and diverse costumes, the strong sound, and the themes of redemption and love.

Entering the World of Monte Cristo

As part of the production and helping the audience enter the world, I created a lobby display to be exhibited outside the theatre. Continue reading

I Spy, With My Little Eye: Projections and Visual Media in Monte Cristo

By Holly Mancuso, Dramaturg

The Count of Monte Cristo is a strikingly visual production, from versatile moving set pieces to brightly colored costumes. To help create the settings and emotions of the play, as well as to bring audience members into the story, there is near constant use of projected images and designs. Daniel Fine, a media designer and recent MFA graduate in interdisciplinary digital media from Arizona State University, has been recruited to craft and create these projections for Monte Cristo.

Projections in history

Projections are coming back into style in theatre, and have gained recognition as a distinct  field, aren’t new. In fact, they have been in use since the early 1900s. Erwin Piscator, a German theatre director and producer, worked heavily with projections and film techniques in the 1920s. To learn more about projections in theatre, see this post from American Theatre magazine in December 2011.

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A stage design by Piscator using projections for a 1928 stage play.

Projections in The Count of Monte Cristo

When asked about his role in the production, Daniel responds that he isthe projection designer. In the business in general, people define themselves differently-projection designer, video designer, media designer. It depends on your school of thought and what you’re doing”. Daniel came on the job in August, and has since worked with the production team to make the show larger than life.

The Projection Process

To create the unique backgrounds for the show, Kristi Harmon was hired as an artist to create line drawings and illustrations of the scenes. When Daniel came in the project, he gave Kristi research images related to the director’s concept. She has since drawn illustrations by hand and imported them into Photoshop, where they can be separated into different layers. Continue reading

On to Tech Week

By Holly Mancuso, dramaturg

de Jong Concert Hall

The de Jong Concert Hall at BYU, where The Count of Monte Cristo will be performed

After four months of practicing in a dance studio in the Richards Building, the time has finally come for The Count of Monte Cristo to take the stage in the Harris Fine Arts Center!

Last week the cast and crew moved into the de Jong Concert Hall. Designers and technicians from all aspects of the production, including lights, sound, set and scenic, projections, orchestra and music, and flight operations have been busily preparing the space in order to get everything ready for this .

I had the opportunity to talk with some of the actors about this process of going from practice room to stage.

What’s been the hardest transition [while getting on stage]?

Lizzie Wilkins, a member of the ensemble: I think just making sure that we can get everything on and off stage and making sure we don’t hit anything while we’re dancing!

Because a lot of the set is moved by cast members, right?

Wilkins: Yeah, so we want to make sure we’re not being loud and obnoxious and taking anyone out of the story. It’s crazy, everything is huge, which is good, because it’s a huge stage.

What would you say has been the biggest surprise about moving from the RB [Richards Building] to the de Jong? Continue reading

Extra, Extra: The Count of Monte Cristo in the News

by Holly Mancuso, dramaturg

Some of the lead actors in a photo shoot for the press

From a December press photo shoot

Welcome back, and happy New Year! Opening night is just around the corner, and The Count of Monte Cristo has been receiving a lot of press coverage. Many local and national sources are interested in this new musical making its premiere in America. Here are some of the videos and press photos from recent events. Hope you enjoy, and make sure you get your tickets soon!

Broadwayworld.com, a prestigious site for Broadway, theater, and live performance information, featured lead cast members Preston Yates (as Edmund Dantes) and Shae Robins (as Mercedes) on the home page singing this soulful and heart-wrenching duet. Continue reading

Ready to Fight

By Holly Mancuso, Dramaturg

Ted Sharon, a professor at SUNY Fredonia, is the guest fight director for Monte Cristo

Ted Sharon, a professor at SUNY Fredonia, is the guest fight director for Monte Cristo

Meet Ted Sharon. Although he currently lives and teaches in upstate New York, Ted has been enlisted by director Tim Threlfall to act as the fight choreographer for this, the American premiere of The Count of Monte Cristo. He was here initially in October to design the fight sequences in the show, and last week Ted was able to make another visit to update and rework aspects of the show. I was able to sit down and talk with him during a quick rehearsal break.

Holly Mancuso: How did you get into fight choreography? 

Ted Sharon: “When I was here at BYU I was two inches from leaving theatre, and I prayed quite a bit about the direction I should go, and felt very strongly about voice movement and stage combat. I was able to get training at the University of Nevada Las Vegas with the Society of American Fight Directors during the summers, and then subsequently hire people to private train me…Over the years I started to pick up gigs on my own, and then eventually became a certified teacher with the Society of American Fight Directors.”

HM: How did you get involved with Monte Cristo Continue reading

Monte Cristo in Costume

by Holly Mancuso, dramaturg

As part of director Tim Threlfall’s concept for The Count of Monte Cristo, this show features a mix of contemporary and more traditional elements. It has many aspects that fit in with the time periods depicted (1810s-1830s), but everything is stylized and modernized. This melding of modern and historical required collaboration between designers to find areas where the various styles can emerge. In this production,  the costumes tend to show a more traditional look, while lighting, hair, make-up, choreography, and set design contribute to the stylized aesthetic of our show.

Our costume designer Lara Beene has researched costume and dress of the the 1810s and the 1830s in France and Italy. Using these as guides, she elaborated and embellished in her designs to add to the lavish and rich nature of the costumes. This show uses hundreds of costume pieces for the 36 cast members, and all have been carefully designed or selected to fit into the overall feel of the show. Here we feature some of the original drawings (renderings) used for the costumes. Continue reading

Welcome to BYU, Jack!

By Holly Mancuso, Dramaturg

Jack Murphy with The Count of Monte Cristo director Tim Threlfall

Jack Murphy with The Count of Monte Cristo director Tim Threlfall

Last week we had the amazing opportunity to host Jack Murphy, the writer and lyricist for The Count of Monte Cristo. Jack has a long and illustrious career in music and theatre, including credits as a playwright, lyricist, and writer. He and Frank Wildhorn have worked together for more than twenty years, most notably on The Civil War, which received a Tony Award nomination for Best Score in 2009, and for Rudolf, which has had several successful international runs.

In 2007, Jack and Frank were commissioned to write a musical about The Count of Monte Cristo for the Theater St. Gallen in St. Gallen, Switzerland. The show was written in only six weeks, and then premiered in 2009 at the Theater St. Gallen.

On this, his first trip to Utah, Jack stayed from Tuesday to Sunday. During that time, he saw two full run-throughs of BYU’s production of The Count of Monte Cristo, and spent time in rehearsal with the cast. After seeing the full show on Tuesday, Jack commented on how impressed he was with the actors’ performances, as well as how prepared and memorized they were. Continue reading

(What will probably be) Frequently Asked Questions

By Holly Mancuso, dramaturg

This week I wanted to respond to a few of the comments and questions I’ve been getting about this project. I’m very excited to be a part of The Count of Monte Cristo, since it’s a powerful story with thought-provoking themes. And it’s invigorating to see that others are excited for it as well!

I love that story! What will it be about?

The 2002 film contributed to the interest in The Count of Monte Cristo

The 2002 film contributed to the present interest in The Count of Monte Cristo

Good! Alexandre Dumas’ novel is a favorite of many for its fascinating plot, detailed and intricate plans, images of adventure and intrigue, and identifiable themes of love, betrayal, trust, and hope. Various stage and screen adaptations, including the popular 2002 film, have modified and adapted the 1,200 page novel in order to make it more manageable and succinct to retell. Nevertheless, the essence of the story, complete with the ideas of love, vengeance, justice, and happiness, is very prominent in this production.

Are you in it? 

No, I’m the dramaturg. [Pause] That means I help with researching historical elements, preserving continuity, helping to make plot and action flow smoothly, and being aware of the director’s concept as well as audience perception and understanding. One of my favorite parts of being a dramaturg is the chance to look at places in a show that could draw an audience member out of the performance, and then support the director in finding ways to make those moments clearer and more precise. This for me adds to the polished feel of a show, making it more believable and helping an audience connect emotionally.

For a detailed explanation of this aspect of theatre, visit the “What Is Dramaturgy?” section of this website.

I didn’t know there was a musical! Is it new?  Continue reading

Bienvenue à The Count of Monte Cristo!

By Holly Mancuso, dramaturg

A cover advertising the original printing of the serialized novelAdventure. Intrigue. Love. Betrayal. Hope. Vengeance.

Singing. Dancing. Fighting. Pirates. Spectacle.

All this and more are in store for BYU’s American premiere production of The Count of Monte Cristo, a new musical by Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy. It is based on Alexandre Dumas’ classic French literary masterpiece and the most recent film adaptation, which came out in 2002.

The Count of Monte Cristo was published originally in eighteen volumes in a French newspaper from 1844 to 1846. It tells the story of Edmond Dantes, a young merchant sailor who is wrongfully accused and imprisoned as a result of the plots of conniving men. The story, which takes place during a period of over 20 years, features Edmond’s unceasing desire for calculated revenge on his betrayers. And yet The Count of Monte Cristo is also a tale of forgiveness and moving on past the tragedies of life. There is hope and joy to be found if we let it into our lives. Continue reading