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And the Dream Goes On! A Celebration in Song, Word and Dance

Folks say good things come in threes. This week marks the third staging of California Musical Theatre’s very popular show And the Dream Goes On! A Celebration in Song, Word and Dance, and that’s a very good thing.

The show originated two years ago through the theater’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Theatre Project, a noteworthy series that presents free performances of an African-American -themed show each January.

The script for Dream was developed by Sacramento writers Anthony D’Juan and Lisa Tarrer Lacy (who also directs the show) and was augmented by a memorable set of songs by the Rev. Charles Cooper. The show relates the ideals of King’s nonviolent struggle in the context of the cockier, rap-influenced pop culture of the present day.

The first production of Dream was a stunning surprise—especially Cooper’s upbeat music, which is grounded in the gospel and soul traditions. The song “If I Were Allowed to Live,” which ends the first half, moved many in the audience to tears. SN&R picked the show (along with Gregg Coffin’s debut musical, Convenience) as the best new musical of 2004.

But at nearly three hours, the show’s storyline was sometimes ungainly. Nonetheless, it was clear to the management at the California Musical Theatre (CMT) that they were on to something special. Dream returned last year with several revisions, trims and tucks, to an even more rapturous popular reception. There were long lines for tickets during the second weekend of the 2005 run, and hundreds of people were turned away from the final performances because there simply weren’t enough seats. There were even scalpers, selling tickets to what was intended to be a free event. (CMT has taken steps to keep that from happening this year.)

Now Dream is back, honed to just over two hours in length for a third and final bow. Scott Eckern, CMT’s artistic director, has been working with Cooper, Lacy and D’Juan. “We’ve made some good edits, some changes, making sure the message is clear and that the writers are satisfied with the shape of it,” said Eckern. “After this, we may be talking to some licensing agents and publishing houses and other producers that might be interested in doing it.”

“It’s a little more filled out,” said D’Juan. “We’re fine-tuning it,” added Lacy. She said this year’s production also will feature “a lot of young people. Nearly 80 percent of the cast is in their 20s and 30s. It’s exciting that so many of them want to be involved.”

Cooper, who plays keyboards in the show, said, “Anthony and Lisa have been through the script with a fine-toothed comb with Scott. … The message will be more profound and more clarified.” Cooper also reworked a few of his arrangements. He modulated the key in a few cases but didn’t add any new melodies.

Cooper was delighted by last year’s capacity crowds and urged attendees not to wait until the last few performances. “I would like for people to get there the first weekend,” Cooper said. “The problem is that once you see the show, you want to see it again.”

For D’Juan, as a writer, Dream is the first time he’s seen his work staged before a large and responsive audience. “To be sitting in a packed theater and watching people laugh and applaud, with standing ovations, that’s cool,” he said. (Incidentally, D’Juan currently is working on a script about Jackie Robinson for the Children’s Theatre of California.)

So, what’s next for Dream? A production in another city?

“People have indicated an interest in it,” Lacy acknowledged.

“We want to make it the best that it can be,” said Eckern. “The next step will be to get someone else to do it and get the writers to see it through the eyes of other directors. I think we’ve gotten it as far as we can get it. If it’s going to develop further, there will have to be other people involved. And I think it’s worth pursuing.”