CAST OF CHARACTERS
Ptolemy: The Pharaoh, raised to attend to himself first, he cares only for the present, and only for his pleasure. The fact that Egypt is suffering under his reign means nothing to him because he’s having fun, so if there’s trouble, it’s not his fault. He loves his three daughters but is betrayed in the end by all three. As the show progresses, he becomes more aware that he’s a man with a man’s foibles and not an invincible god. His choice of Cleopatra to rule Egypt after he’s gone is made as a whim, but it turns out to be the only good thing he does for the future of his country.
Cleopatra: The young Cleo is a happy girl who loves her father and loves her sisters and is happy with the ways of the world. When Ptolemy names her as his successor, her life changes. She must be educated as a Pharaoh and, during this education, she gradually becomes aware of the state of Egypt and the mistakes her father has been making and the duplicity of so many people in the Pharaoh’s court. She watches and learns and becomes a little bit of everyone who surrounds her, but ultimately is a sympathetic character
Tryphaena: The oldest of the three daughters wants to believe the best of everyone and because of that she is easily played by Berenice. She is bookish (of course they didn’t have books then, but that’s the idea), not given to parties, and a mother figure to the young Cleo.
Berenice: The middle of the three daughters is ambitious and wants to rule Egypt. She will do and say whatever she must to get what she wants. She, like Ptolemy, is only concerned with herself, but while this trait is fairly benign in him, it manifests itself in darker ways in her.
Nkosi: An advisor to Ptolemy, who sees the bigger picture. He loves Tryphaena.
Jabari: An advisor to Ptolemy, who is out for himself. He teams up with Berenice.
Pompey: A sleazy operator who looks to profit off his relationship with both Rome and Ptolemy. He finds himself undone by Cleo, who hones her man-handling skills on him.
SYNOPSIS OF AULETES
The overture plays, majestic and eerie. Near the end, the curtain opens on Ptolemy’s Palace to reveal a bacchanal. This is the party to end all parties, it is a circus with fire dancers, fire eaters, magic, and overseeing it all is Ptolemy. This becomes a big grand opening number (WELCOME TO EGYPT), in which Ptolemy sings of his beautiful country and his glorious reign. Welcome to Egypt, he sings. It’s a beautiful, exciting scene that should make the audience want to take part. Next, we meet his three daughters Berenice, Tryphaena and Cleo and he sings of his love for them. Berenice sings to the audience of her disgust with Ptolemy because he has no ambition; Tryphaena sings of wanting a quiet night to spend with Nkosi, one of Ptolemy’s advisers and Cleo sings about the excitement of it all. Welcome to Egypt. A slave girl working at the party sings that she’s Ptolemy’s daughter, too, but he doesn’t seem to know or care. Welcome, she says, to Egypt. Nkosi and Jabari, two advisers to Ptolemy sing about their worry over the cost of this party when other, more pressing issues need to be met. Welcome, they too say, to Egypt. There is a change in the music and everyone at the party begins calling for Ptolemy to play his flute. He does and it’s beautiful. Jabari, the more acerbic of the two advisors, sings “As a pharaoh, he sure plays a mean flute.” The song concludes, Welcome to Egypt! The partygoers leave the stage.
Jabari tries to get Ptolemy to get down to business, having many pressing matters that have been put aside for yet another party. In the course of berating Ptolemy, Jabari brings up the issue of his successor and, in typical fashion, Ptolemy makes a joke of it, saying he will give his throne to Cleopatra. Jabari criticizes this choice, suggesting Berenice or, as a poor second choice Tryphaena, but a little girl? What kind of fool are you? Ptolemy digs his heels in and says, as a god, his decision has been made. They sing THE CHALLENGE. Cleopatra wanders in at the end, hearing “Cleopatra will take my throne” and they have a short scene where he tells her what that means. They sing JUST BELIEVE.
The stage is divided for this scene. In one area, the bedroom of Tryphaena and the other, the bedroom of Berenice. Tryphaena, talking to Nkosi, sees the choice of Cleopatra as good news, saying she’s not cut out to lead. Berenice has heard the news, too, and is angry. She talks as though to herself that she is the rightful heir and will not let this happen, no matter what she must do. We discover she is not alone and has been talking to Jabari, who is clearly her lover.
The next scene begins the education of Cleo, in a song, THE SANDS OF TIME. We see Ptolemy, Tryphaena, Berenice, Nkosi and Jabari each take their turns as teacher. This scene will be dialogue and song, in which Cleopatra learns of pomp and circumstance from Ptolemy; treating people well from Tryphaena; scheming from Berenice; boring tax and governing information from Nkosi and the art of the deal from Jabari. During this song, Cleo becomes an adult and is introduced to the people of Egypt.
Ptolemy is confronted with new tax demands from Rome. Jabari urges him to rein in his extravagance, but Ptolemy doesn’t see why and decides to simply tax his own people more, over the protestations of his advisors (WHATEVER ROME WANTS). Ptolemy decides to send a letter to Pompey, a sleazy Roman power broker, inviting him to the palace. He believes he can charm Pompey into getting Rome to cut back on its requests. Pompey rejects the request, but says he has put Ptolemy and Egypt into the Book of Allies and Friends. Against all logic, Ptolemy’s plan worked. For now.
In a scene between Berenice and Cleopatra, Berenice tries to scare Cleopatra into giving up the throne. But Cleo, saying she was taught about duplicity by the best (meaning Berenice), sees through her and walks out. She comes upon a scene in which Ptolemy is told Rome has conquered Cyprus, where Ptolemy’s brother ruled. He is urged to fight back, defend his brother’s honor, but Ptolemy is surprisingly, worried about the effect of his decision on the people of Egypt. He is starting to show leadership. He decides to visit Pompey in Rome, to seek advice and he will take Cleo, as it will be good for her education. While there, Tryphaena and Berenice will serve as co-regents. Cleo, too, is worried, and runs to Tryphaena’s bedroom, where she tells the news, warns Tryphaena about Berenice and wonders whether Berenice was right in saying Cleo isn’t cut out to rule Egypt. She sings DO I REALLY WANT THIS? with Tryphaena. At the end of the song, Berenice enters the bedroom, having been told the news of their co-regency, and warns the sisters that they better not get in her way.
The two older sisters are crowned co-regents and Ptolemy sings ASSUME THE ROLE with the two daughters, though each responds in very different ways, and Ptolemy and Cleo are off to visit Pompey.
On the boat on the way to Pompey, we see Ptolemy and Cleo in a playful mood, reminiscent of the way they were when she was a child. They sing THE VOYAGE.
Pompey greets Ptolemy at his home and the two sing GOOD FRIENDS, though Pompey seems less-than-thrilled to see Ptolemy, that is until he sees Cleopatra, who we all see at once has become a beautiful young woman. Pompey says he will take Ptolemy’s case to the Roman Senate and that Ptolemy and Cleo can stay as long as it takes to get the proper result. Pompey, of course, does not intend to plead Ptolemy’s case to the Senate but, smitten with Cleopatra, he strings them along, hoping to win over the young woman.
In a montage, we see months pass. Ptolemy is bored with life in Rome – no parties – and Cleopatra cleverly evades all of Pompey’s advances. Back in Alexandria, the sisters spar over what actions to take and Tryphaena always cedes to Berenice’s stronger will. Tryphaena and Nkosi fall in love and Berenice and Jabari continue their affair, stealing from the country’s coffers and making plans to run away together when Ptolemy and Cleo return.
Act 1 finale (WHY HER?) includes all of these main characters examining their relationship with Cleopatra. Ptolemy asks why he knew she was the right one to lead after him; Pompey wonders why he can’t get her out of his head; Tryphaena expresses hope that Cleo will maintain her goodness when she becomes Pharaoh and Berenice is angry that she was not chosen by her father to succeed him. Even Cleo gets in on the act, wondering WHY ME? The number builds until Cleo realizes she is as capable as anyone, maybe even more so and she realizes this is a fate she won’t escape and the act ends with her saying “Why NOT me?”