O’Neill: The Rhythms of His Soul at Tao House

A Lively Eugene O’Neill Musical Revue Scheduled for Four Performances in May at Tao House in Danville

At first glance, it sounds incongruous – a musical revue inspired by Eugene O’Neill, the “Father of American Drama!” By a playwright renowned for his serious and powerful tragedies? Not likely!

But it’s true. He loved music, and music plays an important part in many of his plays.

This comes through loud-and-clear in O’Neill: The Rhythms of His Soul, a lively musical revue devised by Eugene O’Neill Foundation Director-Emeritus Dan Cawthon, and scheduled for two weekends in May in the Old Barn at the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site in Danville.

As part of its Centennial celebration of O’Neill’s first produced play in 1916, the Eugene O’Neill Foundation will present four performances of the musical revue in the Old Barn at the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site, on Saturdays April 30 and May 14 at 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday afternoons May 1 and May 14 at 2:00 p.m.

Tickets for Rhythms of His Soul are available online on the Foundation’s website, www.eugeneoneill.org, or by phone at (925) 820-1818. Tickets for regular performances are $35

The Saturday, May 14 performance will be preceded by a fundraising “Afterglow” beginning at 5:00 p.m. in the courtyard at Tao House, with dinner, music and merriment. The package price for the May 14 event is $150. which helps support O’Neill Foundation programs including student education projects, as well as the Artist in Residence program and the annual O’Neill Festival performance activities.

Rhythms is based on The Eugene O’Neill Songbook, published in 1993 by Travis Bogard, the O’Neill scholar and biographer, Professor of Dramatic Arts at UC Berkeley, and the first Director of Programs at Tao House. Bogard collected all the musical numbers in O’Neill’s fifty-one plays (and there were many of them!), and assembled them into one publication. They included early American popular music, well-known songs of the day, songs of the sea, and familiar music hall tunes. Some seventy songs are presented cabaret-style in Rhythms.

“O’Neill learned almost all of the music in his childhood and as a young man,” says Dan Cawthon. “About 99% was written prior to 1913 – the year he wrote his first play. This means that as a playwright O’Neill didn’t turn to the culture around him for inspiration. He called forth from his memory the music that shaped his soul. It’s quite an assortment, and they show up in his plays.”

“Much of the popular music is from the first decade of the 20th Century,” says Cawthon. “There are songs by George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin with many all-time American favorites.”

Audiences can expect to hear tunes like old favorites like “Oh, You Beautiful Doll,” “Shenandoah,” and “Old Black Joe,” in addition to lesser known songs of the period including “In the Baggage Coach Ahead,” and “The Curse of the Aching Heart.”

Cawthon created the work in 2003, and it was included in the annual Eugene O’Neill Festival that year. Rhythms of His Soul features five performers who sing and dance their way through the Songbook. The cast of the musical revue features versatile musicians Billy Raphael, Eric Carlson, Lisa Woo, and Kate Metroka.

The production is staged by Rachel Robinson — a versatile music director, educator and actress whose work is regularly seen at Berkeley Playhouse. Megan McGrath is choreographer, and Mark Dietrich is the production’s pianist.

Eugene O’Neill, America’s only playwright to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, lived at Tao House in Danville from 1937-1944. Here he wrote his last and greatest plays, including A Long Days Journey into Night, A Moon for the Misbegotten and The Iceman Cometh, among others.

The Eugene O’Neill Foundation, Tao House, is the non-profit organization that works closely with the National Park Service at the Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site in the Danville Hills. Further information about the Foundation’s programs, is available online at www.eugeneoneill.org.