Backstage Blog

Meet Braxton Molinaro

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Braxton Molinaro as John Wilkes Booth

Katie Harroff sat down with Braxton Molinaro, who is currently playing John Wilkes Booth in ASSASSINS at Cygnet Theatre. Braxton went to school in North Carolina and currently lives in New York.

Hi Braxton, Welcome to San Diego!  How are you enjoying working with Cygnet Theatre?  How did you become connected to us? 

Oh man, Cygnet Theatre is an absolutely stellar company.  They are as pro as it gets.  I believe the designers, the cast, and all of the work that has gone into Assassins is inspiring.  The actors are remarkably talented!  Sean does such a great job casting unique people who bring a lot to the table.  You can’t overlook the weather out here too.  It’s pretty ideal to get notes in the sun.  I get to smell flowers and see palm trees.  San Diego has become an amazing retreat.

As far as how I became connected to the company- I was in a production of Oklahoma directed by Terrance Mann at my now alumni school: The North Carolina School for the Arts, where Sean Murray had also attended.  In the production I played Judd.  Sean came out to NC to see the show and we became friends.  When the season was announced at Cygnet I saw that they were doing Assassins so I reached out to Sean and asked if I could send him a tape and he said sure.  I was fortunate to get an offer!

Who are you playing, and what is your character like? 

I’m playing the infamous John Wilkes Booth- the very first presidential assassin.  Obviously he is deeply flawed, but he loves presentation.  Booth was the bastard son of a famous acting family.  He had a good career as an actor- sometimes 9 different pieces of material in a week.   He had a plethora of opportunities to get on the stage, and probably what would be considered a very admirable performance career to most people.  Comparatively, however, to other members of his family he was not successful.  This made him very desperate when he came into adulthood.  He wanted to live up to the fame his father had succeeded in achieving.  As far as motives to killing Abraham Lincoln- Booth had strong ties to the south, and had slaves.  He believed it was an important part of being an American.

As an actor, I’ve had to find empathy for a man that is truly full of hate.  While very challenging, finding the theatricality in that has been fun.  Booth has this daring, unapologetic outward buffoonism to him.

Why should people come see this production of Assassins?

I’m biased because I’m so happy to be here.  But I can’t say enough about the importance of this piece.  I believe Assassins is such an important play to be performed right now.  It will inspire theatre goers to have a conversation- which is what theatre is about.  This play gives us the opportunity as a society to look at the people that are causing a lot of turmoil in our country.  The message of Assassins is to listen.  The Assassins aren’t being heard and they think killing is the only way to make that happen.  I think that scary sentiment is shared with a lot of people that live in this country today, and we need to take a look at this.  We need to become aware of the possibilities of the things we don’t want to address.

I think a musical-format in expressing this idea is brilliant trickery that allows audiences to see this message while being wildly entertained.

Assassins runs through April 28th!

Playing a ‘pretty crazy guy’

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Geno Carr as Charles Guiteau.
Photo by Rich Soublet II.

We recently sat down with Geno Carr, who is appearing in ASSASSINS at Cygnet Theatre, to get his impressions of the musical, his character and Stephen Sondheim…

Who are you playing and what is your character like?

I’m playing Charles Guiteau who assassinated President James Garfield.  In this piece Sondhiem wanted to explore who are these people, these “Assassins” and why they did what they did.  What drove them to this magnitude?  What motivates a person to assassinate one of the most powerful people in the world?  It’s been a great challenge to find empathy for this character, and try to make people feel something for this horrible person.

Charles had a very interesting life; he was a pretty crazy guy.  He believed that after he delivered a speech he had written in favor of Garfield during Garfield’s campaign for presidency, that he was responsible for Garfield’s victory. This wasn’t true; however Charles believed that he was entitled to things, like becoming the Ambassador of France, but obviously this didn’t happen.  And then Charles went crazy.  However, I can’t play him crazy- that’s not something an actor should do. It’s our responsibility to understand the mentality of our characters. I’ve been working on his eccentricities and finding out what makes him tick, which is a lot of fun as an actor.

What do you enjoy about Sondhiem what’s special about Assassins to you?

I was fortunate to perform in Cygnet’s production of Sweeney Todd two years ago, but also when I was in college, I directed Into the Woods - which was incredibly cool and really fueled my deep appreciation for him.  Somehow Sondheim is able to take subject matter that no one would ever imagine being a musical, and allow audiences to become invested.

His music is brilliantly difficult- it’s not something you might hum walking out of the theatre, but it’s so smart.  He writes his music to inspire the characters and the story.  Assassins is a musical about America- and so much ‘American’ music pops up throughout it.  John Phillip Souza, a 70’s pop ballad- he draws from American music throughout history, and turns it into a Sondhiem masterpiece.  Like the song ‘Another National Anthem’.  It’s indeed this rousing anthem, but with a twist.   There is this group of people in this country that have a different idea of what it means to be American.  Sondhiem takes something familiar, like a ballad or an anthem, and twists the knife- adding layers and all these intricate elements that tell a story.

It’s fun to sing, and fun to act- it’s music that’s ‘performable’.  His characters have thematic melodies that track throughout his productions. Sondheim does this throughout his work- he provides layers to a character, and that gives an actor and an audience a clear definition to the voice of these people.

Why do you think people shouldn’t miss this production?

I love working at Cygnet. Sean and his team take the work very seriously.  Sean approaches musicals as though they are plays with music. I think in some crowds, musicals get a bad rap that it’s not as fulfilling as say, a Checkov play- but Sean picks musical that are for actors.  Coming to a Cygnet musical means you’re not going to something fluffy.  You’re going to leave wanting to talk about it, you’re going to think of something differently- it will have an effect on you.

Sometimes theatre should be passive, but Assassins will make you think.

I think it will be a huge conversation starter.  This is a fascinating, interesting, fun night of theatre.  You will laugh, you’ll be shocked, and you may cry.  Assassins is one quality evening of theatre.

Cygnet’s Eleventh Season

CygLogo_10thAnn_4cHere we are, halfway through our tenth anniversary season, and we are already getting fired up about our next season. Artistic Director Sean Murray and Executive Director Bill Schmidt have assembled a package of plays and musicals for the 2013-2014 season that we feel just may be our most exciting yet. Cygnet’s eleventh season will feature seven productions including two plays performed in a rotating repertory, two musicals, two San Diego premieres and a holiday revival. “The scripts that we have assembled all went through the ‘is-this-exciting?’ filter!” says Murray. “We feel that we have put together a line-up that continues to serve our eclectic, artistic-whiplash tastes here at Cygnet. All of the stories in next season’s list concern relationships, love and the challenges of making personal connections.”

Ok we admit it.  We love Stephen Sondheim. A Little Night Music, Sweeney Todd, and the upcoming Assassins.  Not to mention the concert readings we have done of A Little Night Music, Assassins (twice) and Passion.  To launch our next season we present Company, with music and lyrics by Sondheim and a book by George Furth. The Tony Award-winning musical is an exploration of marriage and commitment.

In the fall, we offer up a creative treat for theatre-philes: two very different comedies, linked together through a playful twist, playing opposite each other in a rotating repertory: Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy, the delicious The Importance of Being Earnest and Tom Stoppard’s wilde [sic!] take on it, Travesties. Earnest, a comedy of mistaken identities and surprising twists, is a mash up of Downton Abbey style and Oscar Wilde’s wit. Paired with the vaudeville-style of ideas, wit, revolution, politics and history that is Travesties, both plays will be performed on alternating nights throughout the run.

It wouldn’t be the holidays at Cygnet without a 1940’s style live radio program.  This seven-year tradition continues with the return of the WCYG Playhouse of the Air production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, adapted by Sean Murray with an original score by Billy Thompson.

2014 kicks off with Southern California premiere! We have snagged the rights for Jordan Harrison’s Maple and Vine, a sensation last season Off-Broadway at New York’s Playwrights Horizons. This comedy focuses on a couple who have become allergic to their 21st century lives and decide to move into a closed-community of 1950s re-enactors who forsake their cellphones and sushi for poodle-skirts, milkmen and Tupperware parties. They are soon surprised by what their new neighbors––and themselves––are willing to sacrifice for happiness.

Cygnet loves to mount exciting musicals, and in the first local professional production, we bring Spring Awakening to the Old Town stage. The youth-inspired rock musical is an eight-time Tony Award-winner with an electrifying score by Duncan Sheik and book and lyrics by Steven Sater. The show is an intoxicating story of youth, sexuality and self-discovery that is sure to awaken passion in the heart. Contains mature themes, sexual situations and strong language.

And then there is the last show… without a doubt, the most provocative we have ever announced, possibly the most hilarious, and definitely one that we jumping up and down with excitement about.  Our eleventh season will conclude with the San Diego premiere of The Motherf**ker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis (The Little Flower of East Orange). The “high-octane verbal cage match about love, fidelity and misplaced haberdashery,” is set smack in the center of New York’s Hell’s Kitchen. A Broadway hit that is exhilarating, hilarious and totally irreverent, this comedy is also, surprisingly, an examination of acceptance, loyalty and above all, love. This play contains drugs, violence, sexual situations and, in case you haven’t figured it out, a lot of strong f**king language.

Current Subscribers can renew their subscriptions now by contacting the box office at 619-337-1525 or returning the renewal forms that are being sent out.  Sales for New Subscribers will begin March 1st.

It’s going to be an exciting season, thought provoking season, one that we can’t wait to share with you.

A Sweeney Blood Rehearsal

In order to test drive the special blood effects designed by resident artists Peter Herman, Shirley Pierson, Bonnie and Nick Durben for our production of Sweeney Todd, we held a little blood-letting one night at our rehearsal space.

We have two different methods of producing the Grand Guignol style blood moments in the show, depending on which character is being killed at which moment. Without trying to give away too much of the mystery, it took a little trial and error to much hilariously ghoulish laughter from the actors! Check out the video James Vasquez shot of our experiments. It’s a little gory, but a lot of fun.

Check the teaser on youtube!