‘Berg Fringe artist spotlight

Cheney ‘20 gives the scoop on his new musical

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Sean Cheney '20 divulges how he became a writer and director for "sweet tooth: a musical."

One of the productions that will be featured in ‘Berg Fringe is “sweet tooth: a musical.” The musical is about Matthew or Matty, played by Owen Yingling ‘21, who’s a 30-something-year-old and is just stuck at his job at Jenny’s Ice Cream Parlor in the local mall. This job is primarily what Matthew’s life revolves around because of his personal  and home life growing up. 

“He didn’t have an opportunity to grow up beyond that. So he didn’t go to college. He doesn’t have a circle of friends. His friends, his whole life is centered on Jenny’s,” said director and writer Sean Cheney ‘20.  “And so it’s about his desire, just his life there and what he wants or what he desires more than that. How does he go about getting it, and how does he fit in? And at this point in his life, can he fit into normal society?”

One of the other characters, Christine, played by Olivia Ramsey ‘21, is much younger than Matthew. There is a disconnect between them, as she’s his only friend, whereas he is simply someone she works with. The musical shows Matthew’s attempts to fit in and to figure out what he is doing with his life. Can he do anything with his life? Matthew is given the position of “Master Scooper,” which is the manager title at Jenny’s, and this is the biggest highlight of his life. The question becomes: what Matthew can do with only a high school education, basically no friends, no real passions and nothing but “Master Scooper?” What’s next for him? 

The musical, which consists of a cast of four, also includes the characters of Rose and Tommy. Rose, who is played by Amanda Clark ‘22, also works at the ice cream parlor. Rose plays with Matthew’s feelings of not belonging, as he reads his interactions with Rose as friendship, whereas Rose views Matthew as someone who she just sees at work. Tommy, who is played by Jacob Botelho ‘20, is Christine’s on-again off-again boyfriend. 

Thematically, the musical is about the weird state of being between 22 and 30 years old. It is the first time many people are no longer in school and the time where one’s peers might be moving out of their childhood homes. It’s that feeling of alienation and isolation and the desire for a more meaningful connection. What happens, then, when you can’t achieve that meaningful connection? Is it society’s fault? Has society failed you, or is that just because of your own shortcomings?

The piece is a classic one-act musical.  The original music featured in “sweet tooth” was composed by Ian Scot, lecturer in Theatre, who was inspired by the punk rock genre. The musical also includes a sequence featuring Mariah Carey songs.

“sweet tooth: a musical” is unique, as it is a collaboration between a faculty member and a student. Their collaboration began when Cheney was meeting with his advisor, and Scot happened to be in the room to talk to the advisor about something else. During this meeting, Cheney was trying to figure out what he should do during the spring semester.

“And while I was having the conversation with my advisor about, ‘I don’t know what I want to do next semester,’ [I told him] ‘I’m not sure.’ My advisor said, ‘You should try to find a Fringe piece to direct.’ And Ian said, ‘Oh, I’ve got this musical I’m working on if you want to direct that.’ And so he told me about the musical,” said Cheney.

Scot came up with the original idea and the music, and he showed Cheney the script, which was about 50 to 60 percent done, with most of it just having descriptions of what is supposed to happen during the scenes, leaving Cheney to fill in the blanks, such as the dialogue. As Cheney worked on the dialogue and Scot worked on the songs, they would meet together to discuss what needed to be fixed or what wasn’t working. 

“So by the end of it [the original writing process], when I was originally signed on as director, by now, like, 90 percent of the words and the actual script like spoken dialogue are mine, so I sort of got bumped up to ‘book by Sean Cheney,’ too,” said Cheney. 

Although there is singing during the musical, there are also interludes of Matthew talking to his therapist spoken in a distorted style.

“There’s some singing in it, but a lot of it is mainly spoken with vocal effects out of them, vocoder, echo, stuff like that, to give it this really weird, interesting, distorted feel as [Matthew] just talks about, ‘This is what’s going wrong in my life,’ and stuff like that,” explained Cheney. 

Be sure to see this mouth-watering musical on April 18. 

Ahead of the inaugural ‘Berg Fringe The Muhlenberg Weekly is highlighting some of the students whose shows will make up the festival. ‘Berg Fringe will take place throughout campus from April 17-19, 2020.

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