The Show Must Go On
Originally scheduled to open in spring 2020 on stage in Tribeca Performing Arts Center Theater II, the production was temporarily halted due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, the production has taken on a new life in the form of a four part audio musical. Students and faculty rehearsed and recorded remotely in the fall of 2020.
This timely, new musical tells the story of Mary Rogers’ life, a woman who worked in a cigar shop in Lower Manhattan in the 19th century. A moving and urgently relevant new work, the story explores Mary’s desire for greater independence and the struggle to make her own choices.
More About the Time and Story
In 1841, change was in the air in New York City. Social movements such as women’s suffrage and abolitionism were gaining ground. Still, many institutions stubbornly held onto racist and sexist thinking. Blurred lines between church and state, among other restrictions, placed tremendous limitations on women’s reproductive health. This is the moment in which Mary Rogers lived—and infamously died.
Much has been written about Mary Cecilia Rogers over the last 180 years. First, newspaper reporters objectified her, dubbing her “The Most Beautiful Cigar Girl.” Next, they sensationalized the circumstances of her death. Mary’s story is an enduring New York story in which concerns around employment, immigration, gender, race, sex, and policing dominated many people’s lives and decisions.
Audio Files of the Performance
Local press coverage at the time of Mary Rogers murder
A Local Tribeca Story
Much of the Mary Rogers story takes place in Tribeca, the neighborhood surrounding BMCC. An historic area, many buildings still exist from the 1800s. Here are some of the locations mentioned in the story:
- 126 Nassau Street: Boarding house where Mary Rogers and Daniel Payne lived
- 319 Broadway (near Reade Street): Cigar shop where Mary worked
- 47 John Street: Daniel Payne worked here as a cork-cutter
- 146 Greenwich Street: Madam Restell’s home and office
- Broadway and Ann Street (across the street from St. Paul’s Chapel): Mary arranged to meet Daniel (when she was to return from Hoboken)
The cast at a reading of the play (pre-pandemic)
The cast goes virtual
BMCC Theatre Production Keeps Show’s Spirit Alive And Strengthens Community
Source: CUNY article
If the new original musical, “The Life of Mary Rogers: An Incredible, Plausible, Entirely Made-Up, Imagined, True Story from 1841,” were heartbroken when a global pandemic shut down hopes for staging the show live in Spring 2020.
Written and produced by Theatre Arts Professors Katherine Kavanagh and Tariq Hamami, with music composed by Adjunct Professor Thomas Hodges, the production was set to debut in April but will instead be staged sometime in Fall 2020. The play was originally conceived by Kavanagh.
To keep the show’s spirit alive and strengthen a sense of community as New Yorkers — including BMCC students, faculty and staff — the professors decided to continue rehearsing, schedule a complete reading on what would have been closing night, and produce a music video — all of it virtually.
“We get so much joy from being together,” said Kavanagh. “This isn’t about promoting the show, it’s about promoting community, not just among the theatre department, but across the entire college.”
Set in 1841 Tribeca, “The Life of Mary Rogers” is based on one of New York City’s first tabloid stories. History remembers Rogers for the mysterious circumstances surrounding her death. Through further historical research, Kavanagh uncovered a deeper story; one of an independent woman whose untimely pregnancy throws her life into chaos.
Producing “The Life of Mary Rogers” involved 21 students as cast members, 30 more working backstage on lighting, sets and costumes, and two who served as assistant stage managers.
As the original opening date of April 30 drew closer, Kavanagh could sense her students’ growing collective disappointment.
“In response to that, I sent the entire cast notes telling them how special it is to be an original cast member; that no matter what, they were the first ones to bring these characters to life, and that will never change,” said Kavanagh.
She and the other professors, along with the cast and musicians, also decided to use the digital platform Zoom to present a full run of the show on what would have been its closing night, May 2.
“Before the shutdown, the actors had done all these rehearsals, they put in all this creative work but nobody will get to see it,” said Hamami. “Both the video and virtual reading fulfilled at least that part of their artistic life.”
The video was created a few days before the reading and features the show’s opening song, which takes places just after the introduction of the characters Mary Rogers and her mother Phoebe.
“The lyrics are based on Mary’s impression of New York City at that time,” said Hodges. “She sees the city as this optimistic, upbeat reaction to the world around her.”
In the lyrics, Mary is talking about New York City during what was a very tumultuous time, a place of hope, but also of hardship, he explained.
“It’s about how you survive in this world; the hardship and challenges of living in New York City as we survive through the support of our relationships, friendships and loved ones,” said Kavanagh.
Cast members reflect on the future
When Theatre Arts major Alexandra Toro, who plays the show’s lead role of Mary, first enrolled at BMCC, her goal was to eventually work with the Fire Department of New York (FDNY). Now having participated in a play production, she someday hopes to become a theatre professor.
“I was extremely disappointed that my family wasn’t going be able to see me perform in the show. I had been so excited about it, in fact, that that was all I talked about,” said Toro.
She said it was important for the original cast to have the full reading and make the video because it provided closure to everyone involved.
“But I’m excited for next semester, I’m glad we get to start off knowing our characters already,” said Toro. “I don’t want to let go of Mary and I’m happy I don’t have to yet.”
Three of the show’s principal cast members who will graduate in Spring 2020 and transfer to four-year colleges, won’t be available to play the roles they first brought to life.
“It was great to get back together with the full cast and just do a whole run through of the play,” said Theatre Arts major Dominick Allen, who plays the character Maggie and will begin Syracuse University in Fall 2020.
“Near the end of the reading, I began to cry, because I knew how much I was going to miss everyone,” said Allen “We all wanted to show the world who the real Mary Rogers was. I am truly honored for being involved in this project and will cherish it for the rest of my life.”