Written by HOLLY QUINN, April 27, 2015
A musical about the American Civil War might sound odd – especially if it's a musical with songs in Broadway-style rock, gospel and country.
With a Broadway run in 1999 that lasted only a couple of months, “The Civil War, The Musical” by Frank Wildhorn, Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy is not exactly well-known outside of places like Gettysburg, and that's a shame, because is an incredibly good, moving show.
Under the direction of Deb Johnson, it comes alive at the Wilmington Drama League with outstanding performances, including a live band directed by Caty Butler.
“The Civil War” doesn't play as a single narrative, but as a series of vignettes that spotlight soldiers, slaves and leaders. Both the Union and Confederate soldiers are humanized, but there is no mistaking where the show's sympathies lie: the most emotionally stirring scenes feature enslaved people. And not through the lens of a white observer; they have their own stories.
Frederick Douglas, the free black abolitionist, is shown just as prominently as Abraham Lincoln. Douglas acknowledges that the nation was fighting for several reasons, but in his – and the play's – point of view, it was all about emancipation and freedom.
In the role of Frederick Douglas, Dominic Santos is commanding, while Howard Joseph's Abraham Lincoln is introspective. Stories are told through actual letters, with slides projecting real Civil War photographs in the background.
Whether you have a specific interest in history or not, the stories are engaging, and the performances are amazing, with standout performances by Kori Beaman, Nicholas Pontrelli, Darryl Thompson Jr., Chaunta Patterson and Laura Wills as slaves; Sharon Reugsegger as a Union nurse; and Kalai King, Anthony Vitalo and Daniel Urdaneta as Union soldiers.
In her director's note, Deb Johnson says she was almost scared away from doing “The Civil War” because it seemed impossible to find the talent needed to pull off the multi-part harmony in pieces like "By the Sword/Sons of Dixie." I think it's safe to say she pulled out off.
Though the musical full of tragedy, it didn't leave me sad, so much as affected by how the show made the people from history books and old photographs real. Don't miss this one, and bring the (school-aged) kids – this is Wilmington Drama League at its best.
IF YOU GO
WHEN: Through May 3
Drama League's ‘Civil War’ is a must-see
HOLLY QUINN, SPECIAL TO THE NEWS JOURNAL
Holly Quinn is a Wilmington freelance writer.
WHAT: “The Civil War, The Musical” at The Wilmington Drama League
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12:30 p.m. EDT April 27, 2015
WHERE: The Wilmington Drama League, 10 West Lea Blvd., Wilmington, DE 19802
TICKETS: $20, $17 for students and seniors, $12 for children. (302) 764-1172; www.wilmingtondramaleague.org.