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THEATER REVIEW: A new version of “A Hammer, A Bell, And A Song To Sing”

“Never doubt that a few committed people can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” -- Margaret Mead

The recent, seemingly endless roller-coaster ride of an election cycle reminds us that the outcome isn’t always determined by the biggest spender. Sometimes the people take back the power that has always been theirs.

San Diego Repertory Theatre presents a new, slimmer one-act version “A Hammer, A Bell, And A Song To Sing” – a tribute to the power of citizen action and the importance of protest songs – through Dec. 2 on the Lyceum stage.

Originally conceived by Rep associate director Todd Salovey as a tribute to the life and songs of Pete Seeger (and presented earlier this year in workshop form), the emphasis was shifted (at Seeger’s last-minute insistence) to a more general look at music as a powerful agent of social change.

This revamped show has added more contemporary references and another cast member – local actor and singer Lisa Payton, a terrific addition to the team. She joins original members Vaughn Armstrong (a Seeger look-alike), David Crossland and Jim Mooney.

Those who weren’t around for the ’60s protests will recognize the added projections of last year’s Occupy movement (and the vestigial Occupy setup on stage right). They will also identify with the mention of Gabby Giffords and the more generalized topics of war (especially Vietnam), immigration, women’s rights and prejudice.

That “song to sing” is more than just part of the title: at times, the show becomes a protest sing-along, audience members invited to raise their voices in such tunes as “This Land Is My Land,” “Blowin’ In The Wind” and “Union Maid.” The singers double as musicians, providing their own accompaniment on guitar, mandolin and various percussion instruments like a washboard.

The opening-night audience joined right in, encouraged by lyrics projected on the rear walls.

For old protest hands, this is a walk down memory lane. And for newbies, this show – and hearing the personal stories of these four actors – just might inspire some of that much-needed citizen action, like one audience member who commented, “When did I forget that my voice mattered?”

The details

“A Hammer, A Bell, And A Song To Sing” plays through Dec. 2 at San Diego Repertory Theatre, 79 Horton Plaza, downtown.

Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm; selected Saturdays at 2 pm and selected Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7 pm.

For tickets, call 619-544-1000 or visit HERE.

To read more reviews by SDGLN Theater Critic Jean Lowerison, click HERE.