Saturday, April 11, 2009
Ford's Theater presents Wildhorn's musical "The Civil War"
I grew up in the DC area, and for some reason I had the impression that Ford’s Theater had been right across the street from the White House. So I bought a ticket to the musical “The Civil War” and had to ask a secret service agent where it was – I didn’t bother to look it up. And really, the building is quite conspicuous at 10th and F, taking up most of the East side of the street from E to F.
Inside, the theater is small, with columns obscuring the balcony view, and the third balcony is not open. The overhang from the second level (where I sat) obscured the view when the actors moved forward in a couple of spots. (I believe that the President’s Box is on the highest level.) The theater was sold out, however.
The 96 minute production is directed by Jeff Calhoun, the music is composed by Wildhorn, and the book and lyrics are by Frank Wildhorn, Gregory Boyd, and Jack Murphy. There are thirty musical numbers, and they tend to have a Broadway-style
“lilt”. There was a seven-piece guitar and percussion orchestra.
Behind the stage were projected many stills from the Civil War, in Ken Burns style. Most of them were in black and white, although there was a color painting of Blue Ridge countryside, which dissolved into a black and white photo.
Copyright and union rules prohibited photography of the performance (as of these pictures) but some of them are in the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
One of the most striking songs was “A Nurse’s Diary”, for which a picture of a Civil War hospital was shown. Somehow it reminded me of my stay in the Fort Jackson SC infirmary during Basic Training in 1968!
A few of the songs required cast ensemble (21 members).
Toward the end of the show there were stills of the 1963 March on Washington (with Martin Luther King's speech) and finally (in color) of Barack Obama's inauguration.
An early song denies that the Civil War (or War Between the States) was fought to save the Union, and claims it really was about slavery. Wikipedia has an important article on “Abraham Lincoln on Slavery” here.
The Ford’s Theater link for the show is here and it offers a couple of embedded preview videos.
I generally have not been big on musicals of this type. But in 1979 I saw "Shenandoah" (1975), with music by Gary Geld and music by Peter Udell, at the theater in the Northpark Mall in Dallas.