By Marcy Stamper
Rock ’n’ roll, Dr. Seuss, a cross-country bike trip, Cold War politics, and jungle stories — those are just some of the comedic and dramatic happenings that will grace The Merc Playhouse’s stage next year.
The Merc has announced five shows for 2018, all with local actors. The season starts in January with Tom Stoppard’s “Rock ’n’ Roll,” a partnership between the theater and the Liberty Bell High School Drama Club.
The spring show is an adaptation of the jungle stories of Rudyard Kipling called “The Adventures of Rikki-Tikki Tavi,” presented by the Tom Zbyszewski Children’s Theater.
The summer takes audiences on a hilarious transcontinental journey in “Bike America.”
In October, The Merc is staging a concert-style production of “Little Shop of Horrors,” complete with carnivorous plants.
The holiday show, “A Seussified Christmas Carol,” is a wacky rhymed reinvention of the classic Dickens’ Christmas story.
The Liberty Bell drama club has been rehearsing “Rock ’n’ Roll,” a complex and entertaining mix of history and music, since September. Set in Cambridge, England, and in Prague, the story spans a momentous historical period, from the Prague Spring in 1968, when Czechoslovakia rebelled against the Soviet Union, to the Velvet Revolution that precipitated the end of Communist rule in 1990.
A fascinating drama with multiple subplots, “Rock ’n’ Roll” looks at censorship, the counter-culture, global politics and, of course, rock ’n’ roll. “Music is like a character in the play,” said Kelly Grayum, the Liberty Bell English teacher who’s facilitating the class. Danbert Nobacon is directing the show.
Rock bands central to the plot include the Rolling Stones, the Velvet Underground, Pink Floyd, and an underground Czech group called the Plastic People of the Universe (one student spent hours online tracking down their music, said Grayum).
“The Adventures of Rikki-Tikki Tavi” is adapted from one of Kipling’s most evocative jungle tales, with everything from cobras, monkeys and wolves, to a crocodile, a camel and an elephant.
Set in colonial India, the charming play follows a British family as they fight off cobras and a tiger, ultimately turning to Rikki-Tikki Tavi, their pet mongoose, for help.
With two dozen roles — people and animals — “Rikki-Tikki Tavi” offers acting opportunities for local kids of all ages; plus a chance for set, costume and sound experts to turn the theater into a fantastic jungle.
“Bike America,” by award-winning playwright Mike Lew, takes the audience on a comedic journey from Boston to California as the main character searches for meaning and contentment. She shares the journey with a eccentric collection of cyclists, including a fitness guru, a peripatetic wanderer, an artisanal cheese maker, and a pair of social and political activists.
“Little Shop of Horrors,” the science-fiction hit about a plant that not only eats people — but also sings doo-wop and rhythm and blues and has its sights set on global domination — will consume The Merc in the fall.
By the team that created “Disney’s The Little Mermaid,” “Beauty And The Beast” and “Aladdin,” “Little Shop of Horrors” is one of the longest-running Off-Broadway shows. The Merc’s concert-style production will highlight the evocative music.
The year winds up with “A Seussified Christmas Carol,” a whimsical rhyming take on Dickens’ Christmas Carol — kind of a madcap rumination on what Dr. Seuss would have done if he’d tackled the beloved holiday drama. The inventive play includes zoot-fruited juices and binka-bird geese in addition to characters like Scrooge and Mrs. Cratchit from the original Dickens.