Theater Notebook: World premiere musical ‘The Dollmaker’ opens in Vista

Greg Nicholas and Elizabeth Campbell in "The Dollmaker" at The Broadway Theater in Vista.
(Broadway Theater)

Also in this week’s San Diego theater report: Cygnet Theatre announces new $10,000 Dee Silver annual play commission


Oceanside native Heather Megill has premiered her fifth original musical, “The Dollmaker,” at the Broadway Theater in Vista.

Megill wrote the book and composed the score for the Victorian Christmas tale, which was inspired by the Charles Dickens novella “The Cricket on the Hearth.” It opened last week and plays weekends through Dec. 19.

“‘The Dollmaker’ is a nod to the familiar,” Megill said. “Its nostalgia is inherent in the traditional musical style and the familiar Dickens Christmas setting. It feels like a story we’ve heard before, although these are brand new characters with new troubles and triumphs. It’s comfortable, nourishing and feels like home.”

“The Dollmaker” is the story of toymakers Bertha and her aging father, Caleb, in Portsmouth, England, in the 1860s. Greg Nicholas plays Caleb and Elizabeth Campbell plays Bertha, who is ready to leave the toy workshop to have a life of her own. Roger Castellano directs the production that also features Matthew Malecki, Caroline Nelms, Shayne Mims, Renetta Lloyd and Christopher Doshier.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 19 at 340 E. Broadway, Vista. Tickets are $25. Masks are required. Visit

Dee Silver is sponsoring a new play commission program at Cygnet Theatre
(Courtesy photo)

Cygnet announces $10,000 play commission program

Cygnet Theatre on Monday announced the new Dee Silver M.D. Commission, an annual $10,000 prize that will be awarded for the creation of a new play that “responds to our presents times with hope and healing.”

Overseen by Cygnet associate artistic director Rob Lutfy, the goal of the program will be to find and help develop plays that share the experience of strength and hope. The inaugural winner of the Dee Silver Commission is Ray Yamanouchi, a New York playwright who Cygnet said approaches difficult subject matter with a tilt towards the mystic and develops characters with gentleness.

“Writing plays is how I attempt to make sense of an often upsetting and unjust world. This commission offers me the institutional support and resources to explore these ideas to the fullest extent,” Yamanouchi said in a statement.

Lutfy said the commission — which doesn’t have a time limit for script completion — doesn’t require the playwright to “give definite answers or happy endings, but rather to take the messiness of humanity and examine it for the purpose of nurturing our growth and starting conversations around healing.”

Cygnet is collaborating on the project with two of the nation’s leading play-development organizations. Each year, the prize winner will first receive a weeklong play-development retreat with 24 other playwrights at the New Harmony Project in Indiana. Then, the play will be further developed at a weeklong workshop at the Playwrights Center in Minneapolis, which is matching Cygnet’s investment in the Dee Silver Commission dollar for dollar. Finally, the play will receive a workshop and free pubic reading at Cygnet Theatre, with the goal of producing the play’s world premiere at Cygnet in a near-future season.

Silver is a longtime supporter of Cygnet and other local theaters. Some of the projects he has helped support in recent years are Cygnet’s now-streaming one-man “A Christmas Carol” film, the play “Chasing Fear” by Blake McCarty as part of Cygnet’s Bill and Judy Garrett Finish Line Commission, and the Old Globe’s current production of “Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Silver’s annual sponsorship for the program is $27,000, of which $10,000 goes to the playwright.

“My hope is that through this commission and under the guidance of both Cygnet and Rob’s powerful creative influence, this play adds an uplifting and propitious perspective of the human condition to the legacy of American Theatre,” Silver said in a statement. “This moment in time, these partners, and this playwright are ideal elements coming together to create a forward-looking, wholehearted new work.”

Pam Kragen writes about theater for the San Diego Union-Tribune. Email her at