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Turning 100 is a huge milestone. Even for a building.
The Wilson Theatre opened in 1919 and, like most buildings built during that time, rode a roller coaster of grandeur, steady use, decline, abandonment and then, luckily for the Wilson community, restoration and reuse as the Edna Boykin Cultural Center.
As part of the Wilson Theatre’s 100-year anniversary celebration, the Arts Council of Wilson is presenting local playwright Cindy Lu Mancini’s musical “An Extra Penny.” Not only is it special because of the local connection but because the story told in the musical is 100 years old.
“The show tells a timeless story, 100 years old, that recreates the atmosphere and time period in which the theater was built,” said Cathy Hardison, Arts Council of Wilson executive director. “This is the second North Carolina premier of ‘An Extra Penny’ and is coming home to Wilson as the culmination of eight years of love, sweat and tears by local playwright/director Cindy Lu Mancini.”
“An Extra Penny” follows three generations of women during years of World War I and World War II and tells the story of mothers, daughters, friends and wives who persevere while the men in their lives fight those wars. Filled with laughter and emotion, the show features the soulful music of South Carolina composer Mary Lee Taylor Kinosian.
The musical is being produced by a major independent theatrical producer from California, Conwell Worthington II. Worthington’s goal is to bring this original story to the Broadway stage.
The performance on Friday, Sept. 13, will be the centerpiece of “The Next 100 Years at the Boykin Center” anniversary celebration. This event will include drinks, heavy hors d’oeuvres, conversation with the producer at 6 p.m., a viewing of the show at 7 p.m, and dessert and mingle with the cast and crew at 9 p.m. Tickets for the anniversary event will be $65 for individuals or $120 for couples.
The show will also run Saturday Sept. 14, at 7:30 p.m. with tickets costing $35 for adults, $20 for children (under 12). The Sunday, Sept. 15, show at 2 p.m. honors the military, with tickets costing $30 for active duty military and veterans.
‘IT just feels right’
Hardison said that she knew “An Extra Penny” was the perfect way to celebrate The Boykin Center from the start of planning the venue’s 100-year anniversary.
“Sometimes the stars align,” Hardison said. “Our board of directors knew the Arts Council of Wilson wanted to celebrate the theater in a special way. Around the same time, Cindy Lu Mancini, approached me with her script for ‘An Extra Penny’ that has been eight years in the making. It had already caught the attention of Broadway producer and has been performed in Louisburg and workshopped at the Turnage Theatre in Washington, North Carolina, and it made sense for that show to come home to Wilson.
“Having an original show by a local artist where the building is period-specific to the show is absolutely the perfect way to celebrate the past 100 years while looking forward to the next 100 years,” Hardison continued. “It is true to our organization’s mission of being the hub of artistic experiences that enrich, educate and entertain Wilson County and beyond. It is true to our love for theater and giving local artists a platform.”
Mancini is truly appreciative of the opportunity to present her musical in the Boykin Center.
“Being selected as the showpiece for the 100th anniversary celebration is a gift I do not take lightly,” said Mancini, a Stantonsburg resident. “It is an honor to nurture ‘An Extra Penny’ in Wilson and also help foster the growth of professional theater at the Edna Boykin Cultural Center in the coming years.
“The landmark theater holds a special magic of its own and has inspired me many times over the last month while rehearsing in the space,” Mancini said. “It just feels right, like home, and I know it has 100 more wonderful years of life to give.”
Hardison sees this production of “An Extra Penny” not only as a perfect way to celebrate the theater’s 100th birthday, but also as a way of the venue playing a part in a Broadway-bound show.
“The fact that this show is being considered for Broadway is a big deal for Cindy and for Wilson, and this performance at our venue is one of these steps and thus a stepping stone to Broadway,” Hardison said. “If this show does make it to Broadway, our venue will go down in that show’s history of making that happen and making a contribution to the future of American musical theater.”
Hardison noted that Signature Inc, the production company for “An Extra Penny,” is donating 100% of the proceeds from this event to the Arts Council of Wilson to help restore the building to its original beauty.
In the eight years of development, Mancini has been making changes to the show since it played on the Louisburg and Wilmington stages.
“There have been two significant changes to the show over the last two years,” said Mancini. “The first is in the newly developed family structures and how the characters interact. An easily relatable humor has crept into the show on its own due to the complicated love/hate dynamic all people understand. Every character has a strong identity now, and an individual story that evolves over time.”
“The second major change is how the songs more clearly define the characters and bring their story full circle. The dramatic scenes set the stage of their public circumstances, and the songs provide a personal glimpse of their inner emotions. The dialogue and songs work together now to paint one picture and let the audience in.”
Mancini said the future of “An Extra Penny” is still unfolding and she looks forward to the feedback from the Wilson audience in September.
“The shows we present to the public at the Edna Boykin Cultural Center will tell us a lot about how much work we still have to do,” Mancini said.
“A production of this size has a lot of moving parts, and it takes an enormous amount of detailed care to find the right balances. Presenting the show in a workshop setting is the best way to see if we are on the right track and if the performers themselves can keep the audience interested," she added.
“It’s both exciting and scary because we all find out together when the curtain goes up.”
Tickets can be purchased by visiting the Boykin Center box office at 108 Nash St. NE during regular business hours (10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday though Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday), by calling the Arts Council at 252-291-4329, or by visiting the Arts Council web page at www.wilsonarts.com and ordering through its secure eTix link.