US premiere of “The Count of Monte Cristo” brings opportunities to BYU students

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“The Count of Monte Cristo,” a new musical by Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy, and presented by the Brigham Young University Department of Theater and Media Arts and Music Dance Theatre Program, opens Thursday, Jan. 22, 2015.

This production is the U.S. premiere of the musical, which until this point has only been viewed in select showings in South Korea and Switzerland. It is a tremendous opportunity for BYU, as well as the students and faculty who are involved in the musical. They have dedicated hundreds of hours to study and rehearsal in preparation for this performance.

Tim Threlfall, director of the play and BYU professor of Acting and Music Dance Theatre, shared some of the things he did to prepare for the show. He read all 1,078 pages of the unabridged version of “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas and created a document that was almost as lengthy to share with the cast and crew. The document was a compilation of Threlfall’s research that covered everything from scene research and metaphors from the novel, to notes from meetings with Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy, as well as descriptions of each character.

With opening day looming, the cast is spending about 35 hours per week in rehearsal, up from their normal 20 to 25 hours per week. This is a huge time commitment for the students and recent graduates that make up the cast. Though they have to figure out how to balance the show, school, jobs and family, they are thrilled to be included in the cast because this opportunity is one that will greatly impact their performance careers and their resumes.

“Being in the American premiere of a major Broadway composer’s work, while still in school, is pretty unheard of,” Threlfall said. He went on to say that this production will make a great conversation starter for his students in future auditions.

Cameron Smith, a senior studying music dance theatre, who is playing the role of Baron Danglars, is one such student who will benefit from this conversation starter when he travels to New York with other BFA Theatre Performance graduates to audition.

“The hardest part about the experience has been the expectations placed on the students, both by Frank (Wildhorn) and the faculty,” Smith said.

Smith also said everyone involved has tried to give their best work despite the challenges of being involved in a new production.  “This show is a work in progress — a pioneer voyage — that has required a lot of love and patience,” Smith said.

Threlfall agreed with this sentiment, saying, “What is both difficult and delightful is the fact that it is new. We don’t have to live up to, or repeat what many other productions of this show have done. We are free to chart our own course.”

Taylor Morris, a recent BYU graduate who plays the role of Fernand Mondego in the production also noted high expectations about the production. “This is a huge opportunity for myself and for BYU. I work each day to make sure those that chose me for this part are happier and happier that they made that choice,” Morris said.

Morris has had an interesting performance and personal work/life balance. Since graduating from the music dance theatre program in December, he has started a new job, and he and his wife are expecting their first child in July. He has been a fan of the story since seeing the 2002 film adaptation.

Morris said one of the reasons people love the story is because people can relate to each of the characters in some way. “The cool thing is that they (the characters) don’t just wish to seek revenge on those that betray them but that they exact it in epic fashion,” Morris said.

The subplots of intrigue and revenge all intertwine to keep the audience riveted on the performance, but in the end it is the triumph of good over evil in unlikely circumstances that make the story unforgettable. Professor Threlfall summarized by saying, “The message of redemption in this show is one that will hold significance for a primarily Latter-day Saint audience.”

“The Count of Monte Cristo” will run Thursday, Jan. 22, through Saturday, Jan. 31, excluding Sundays and Mondays. Performances will be held in the de Jong Concert Hall. Tickets for the performances are between $21.00 and $28.00 each, with a senior discount available as well as a student discount with appropriate ID. To purchase, visit one of the BYU Ticket Offices in either the Harris Fine Arts Center or in the Marriott Center. You may also call (801) 422-2981 or go to byuarts.com.

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