During any given full-length rehearsal, 13-year-old Sage Jepson kicks the bucket about three times.
“I die quite a lot in this show,” chuckles Jepson, who plays a small, but pivotal role in the upcoming musical A Tale of Two Cities, opening at Festival Place Thursday for a 10-day run.
“I’ve never died in a show before so it’s pretty cool to learn to fake a death while you’re singing,” he said.
The scene is the French Revolution. Jepson is cast in several chorus roles as well as playing The Young Man, a youth who tries to save his sister from being raped. For his trouble he is stabbed with a mortal wound.
“It’s pretty hard trying to use your energy to sing and make it look like you’ve been stabbed in the stomach,” he said.
His technique is simple.
“I try to take short breaths where I don’t need them and just pretend to die.”
A Grade 8 student at Victoria School of Performing Arts, Jepson also hones his chops with St. Albert Children’s Theatre. Since 2010 he’s performed in seven musicals that have included Peter Pan, Legally Blonde and Shrek.
But like most junior high actors, Jepson is excited about playing against the backdrop of war.
“I’ve been learning about the French Revolution in social studies. Learning about the war aspect and cities fighting each other is kind of cool.”
Indeed it is. Jill Santoriello’s adaptation from Charles Dickens’ masterpiece has it all – love, vengeance, villainy, valour and redemption.
A Tale of Two Cities focuses on the love triangle between the young beauty Lucie Manette, French aristocrat Charles Darnay and drunken English cynic Sydney Carton – all unwittingly caught in the clutches of the bloody French Revolution.
In the co-production between ELOPE Musical Theatre and Sherard Musical Theatre, there was only one man tapped to direct this revolutionary period piece of epic proportions.
Renaissance man Timothy Anderson was brought on board. An opera singer, actor, playwright, novelist, designer and educator, Anderson is an astute intellectual who intuitively comprehends every aspect of theatre.
“Jill Santoriello did an amazing job of capturing so much of that story. And she gave us permission to find our own interpretation,” commented Anderson.
In assembling his team, he brought on board musical director Sally Hunt, choreographer Jake Hastey, a risk-taking cast of 35 and a powerful orchestra.
“We’ve gone for the heart and not presented just the surface. It’s the way the political and social reverberates with the personal. So many people are caught in a political-social situation not of their intention.”
And in the highly-politicized society since 9/11, Anderson sees numerous similarities to the revolution.
“England and France are not really the focus. It’s just accidental that the story takes place in England and France. It’s about how turmoil affects an English family. It’s about people that are nearly refugees. They are brought back into a turmoil that is so current.”
He cites the topical example of Canadian-Egyptian ex-CNN journalist Mohamed Fahmy, who was arrested in late December. Working as an al-Jazeera English journalist, Fahmy was arrested along with 20 other people and accused of conspiring with the Muslim Brotherhood to tarnish Egypt’s international reputation. However, the process has been far from transparent.
To provide focus for A Tale’s interpretation, Anderson chose to dispense with big, massive sets that can at times overpower a production.
Instead the audience will see 22-foot conical webs made from rope that look like ships’ rigging and can be interpreted as spider webs.
“The vision of the rope came to me instantly. I’m a parallel thinker and I trust my instincts,” Anderson said.
On an unusual note, Santoriello will attend the musical’s opening night; a gesture playwrights rarely perform.
“I hope to offer Jill some insights in the way she has given us an incredible gift. I hope it’s a two-way exchange so she can see something new in the work.”
“And I want the audience to feel changed. I want them to enjoy it, but not just as an observer, but to be drawn in.”
A Tale of Two Cities, The Musical
Coproduction between ELOPE Musical Theatre and Sherard Musical Theatre
Feb. 27 to March 8
100 Festival Way, Sherwood Park
Tickets: $24 to $29 call 780-449-3378 or online at www.ticketmaster.ca