Home Arts MRT Presents Cambodian Rock Band

MRT Presents Cambodian Rock Band


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Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) will present the East Coast Premiere of Cambodian Rock Band by Lauren Yee, directed by Marti Lyons and featuring the songs of Dengue Fever, Sinn Sisamouth, Voy Ho, and Rose Serey Sothea, from October 16 to November 10 at the Nancy L. Donahue Theatre, according to Executive Director Bonnie J. Butkas and Interim Artistic Director Terry Berliner. Cambodian Rock Band is a co-production with Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago and City Theatre in Pittsburgh.

Of the production arriving in Lowell, the Chicago Sun-Times said, “Brilliant . . . crazily clever and compelling. There’s never a dull moment in Cambodian Rock Band.” For tickets to Cambodian Rock Band, call the MRT Box Office at 978-654-4678, or visit MRT.ORG. Tickets start at $24.

The actors play their own instruments with powerful performances of 13 songs in Cambodia’s signature sound: a jubilant mix of melodic pop, 60s psychedelia, and California surf rock. The Los Angeles Times said, “A fierce, gorgeous, heartwarming, comedic fairy tale. Yee has made her characters so joyfully and ridiculously human that it’s impossible not to identify with them.”

Yee said, “Having these actors perform live was really the best way to celebrate what theatre does better than anything else, and also really give you a visceral sense of what this music felt like. It is particularly noteworthy that Cambodian music is not just covers of American or Western music. It’s really this modern, distinctive sound that is found nowhere else . . . traditional Cambodian music, French New Wave, some of the Vietnam War-era radio.”

Regarding the boundless, unexpected humor in the telling of such a dark story, she said, “I’m one of those writers who really thrives on being on the edge between kind of poignant and funny; it feels very human to give an audience that kind of combination of what real life is like. People’s real existences are full of funny, strange, absurd, and sad moments.”

In 1978, a father flees Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime. Thirty years later, his daughter attempts to piece together her family history, kicking off the events of Cambodian Rock Band, “a riveting play that’s part mystery, part history lesson, and part unabashed jukebox musical concert,” according to Broadway World. Rock Band celebrates the resilient bond of family through hardship and sacrifice and the enduring power of 70s music.

Interim Artistic Director Terry Berliner said, ““Cambodian Rock Band unabashedly reminds us that music can and will save us.”

Award-winning, innovative Chinese-American playwright Lauren Yee is a San Franciscan, who currently resides in New York City. Cambodian Rock Band was named the winner of the Harold and Mimi Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association New Play Award in 2018. Her plays, which have been performed throughout the world, include The Great Leap, The Song of Summer, King of the Yees, and The Hatmaker’s Wife, an Outer Critics Circle Award nominee for Best American Play.  Yee’s plays have won the Horton Foote, Kesselring, and Francesca Primus prizes.

The cast of Cambodian Rock Band includes Eileen Doan (Pou, keyboards), Albert Park (Duch), Christopher Thomas Pow (Leng/Ted, guitar), Peter Sipla (Rom, drums), Greg Watanabe (Chum, bass),  and Aja Wiltshire (Neary/Sothea, vocals).

Director Marti Lyons (Chicago Shakespeare Company, Lookingglass Theatre, Geffen Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre) leads the creative team, which includes Yu ShibagakiScenic Designer (Lookingglass Theatre, Northlight Theatre); Izumi Inaba, Costume Designer (Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre); Keith ParhamLighting Designer (Roundabout Theatre Company, Goodman Theatre); and Mikhail FiskelSound Designer (Manhattan Theatre Club, The Public Theatre). Becca Freifeld serves as Production Stage Manager.


Circle Health serves as the 2019-20 Season Sponsor.


Single tickets range in price from $24 to $66. Season Subscriptions for all seven plays range in price from $140 to $357, with student subscriptions at $70. Four-show packages start at $87. To purchase, visit www.mrt.org or contact the MRT Box Office at 978-654-4678.

For the 2019-20 Season, all seven of MRT’s plays are either written or co-written by women. The series also includes Tiny Beautiful Things (CURRENTLY PLAYING), based on the book by Cheryl Strayed and adapted by Nia Vardalos; The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon; Maytag Virgin by Audrey Cefaly; Nina Simone: Four Women by Christina Ham; the world premiere historical drama The Lowell Offering about Lowell’s “Mill Girls” by Andy Bayiates and Genevra Gallo-Bayiates; and Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End by Allison Engel and Margaret Engel. Full listings at www.mrt.org.


Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) celebrates 41 years this season as the Merrimack Valley’s professional theatre. With a steadfast commitment to new plays, MRT annually produces seven works, including several premieres.

Under the leadership of Executive Director Bonnie J. Butkas and Interim Artistic Director Terry Berliner, MRT strives to fulfill its mission “to create remarkable new and contemporary plays that bring joy to our art form while engaging, entertaining and enriching our community.” The non-profit company guarantees that shows are accessible to audiences of all incomes; partners with businesses and other non-profits to fully engage the community; and contributes to the economic vitality of Lowell by attracting diverse audiences from throughout the region.

Recent acclaimed productions include Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, the bestselling production in MRT history (directed by former Artistic Director Sean Daniels); Daniels’ own autobiographical play, The White Chip, which opens in New York in October; I and You (Off-Broadway transfer) and Silent Sky by Lauren Gunderson, the most produced playwright in America; Women in Jeopardy! and the world premiere of Slow Food by Wendy MacLeod (both directed by Daniels); KNYUM by Cambodian playwright and actor Vichet Chum; and The Lion, singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer’s award-winning musical memoir (also directed by Daniels), which launched its national tour from MRT in August 2015, following critically acclaimed runs in New York and London.