Clarksville, TN – Attending the Civil War Musical at Clarksville’s Roxy Theater is the biggest bargain in entertainment in Middle Tennessee! Where else can you see a professionally staged and professionally performed musical for a mere twenty dollars?
“The Civil War: A Sesquicentennial Event” is from a book by Frank Wildhorn, Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy with music by Frank Wildhorn, and lyrics by Frank Wildhorn, Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy.
What this musical accomplishes is the revelation that both Union and Confederate soldiers–many of whom literally were brothers–had identical desires and feelings going into war. Each is certain that his cause is just and worth fighting for. Slaves are portrayed suffering intense emotions as husband and wife are separated by forces outside themselves.
The agony and tears of any war come down to the personal heartache that risking of lives, tearing up of families, and even the death of loved ones caught up in the conflict create. Politics is not the soul of war; the heartaches of individuals are the fodder before the cannon.
Surprisingly, “The Civil War” is a true musical with 27 songs performed in a two-hour span. Every singer in this musical is a true professional and the ensemble singing is perfection. The blend of voices during many of the songs is a symphony of balance and beauty.
The actors/singers of this production have credits ranging from New York City to Chicago to the Midwest and tours throughout the U.S.A. Their attention to each nuance in the music and story shows.
The delight of this musical are its solos–especially those of Ryan Bowie (the premiere male vocalist who now makes Clarksville his home, having moved here from NYC); Brianna Hertzberg (who makes her professional debut in this production and sings like an angel), Matthew Guy Magnusson (whose eyes are reminiscent of those of Leonardo DiCaprio and whose handsome demeanor should be accompanied by screaming voices of female fans—and, by the way, he’s played Johnny Cash in “Ring of Fire”), and Bryan Benware (making his debut at the Roxy after productions of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” “Man of La Mancha,” and others.)
The African-American cast is also outstanding. The emotions expressed by Roslyn Seale are a high point in the drama. Gospel-style singing by Jabriel Shelton, Jesaira Glove, Michael Quinichett, and Rendell DeBose carry the lives of slaves into an understandable view of the agony of being sold, many times without family members going to the same location. The power of the music conveys the intensity of feelings as the singers become the vessels of emotion.
Notable also are Keith Panzarella and Kendall Anne Thompson whose characters show a couple’s relationship as he goes off to war as a Confederate soldier and she is left behind to learn to do all the jobs he would have performed had he been at home. As she later becomes a widow, she reveals the “steel magnolia” mentality that Southern women were to assume after the war.
Travis Kendrick, who has one of the most extensive resumes of the company, takes many roles without being featured as a soloist. One of the cast members who produced the set, Travis was in numerous scenes on stage. Sadly, Christopher Wren was absent Friday night because of health problem.
The stress and strain of live performance, many of which occur during a short period of time, can cause borderline hoarseness and even vocal strain. These “baker’s dozen” cast members are doing to work of many and their level of excellence is amazing considering the long run of this production.
Several aspects of “A Civil War” were exceptionally well done. The timing of each scene was perfection in itself. This was no easy task because the scenery was moved off and on as if the play was a “theater in the round” production. Two rolling carts became seating, auction block, speaking platform, and other props.
Direction, choreography, and production design by Tom Thayer were outstanding. Thayer has been managing director for the Roxy since its inception in 1983.
Artistic director is John McDonald who also gave a preview of the production to the “Red Hat” group of ladies who attended Friday night’s performance.
Theater goers need to understand what a daunting task it is to provide live theater in a small venue like the Roxy. Many times when a script is purchased, costumes are part of the deal. On some people they fit; on others, they don’t. Even if costumes are rented, rules may not allow for alterations. With Civil War clothing, the beginning of the war saw soldiers in pristine uniforms; by the end, rags and tatters were not unusual; in fact, they were more likely the order of the day.
The fog machine used to show that this is happening not only in the past but in a field of imagination becomes a constant presence in the theater. At times, the fog is merely a wisp but can become almost a character in the play as it thickens to encompass the stage.
Ryan Bowie is careful during his speech prior to the performance to notify the audience that indeed, (in spite of the desire and fund-raising for a new building,) the building is definitely not burning down! An incident in another theater (where the fog machine had been building up quite a head of steam behind the curtain, when the fog enveloped the audience as the curtain opened, alarmed members of the audience yelled “Fire!” prompting hasty exits from the theater) alerted the Roxy to make sure the audience knew the true source of the ensuing cloud.
The songs of “The Civil War” are delightful. They carry the story with pleasant melodies that fit each character, few of whom are named. We are led to see that nameless faces are the essence of Everyman and Everywoman; we can relate to those now facing war.
Live theater is the soul of entertainment.
The professionals who have performed this musical deserve a full audience for every performance. “The Civil War” is playing through May 21st so you still have time to see it.
You will walk out with a new understanding of how our country was rent in two and the challenge of mending that is still going on.
You will hear unforgettable singing that will touch your heart.
Don’t miss “The Civil War: A Sesquicentennial Event” in our 150th anniversary year. You deserve to remember where we have been in order to value where we need to go.
A gallery of photos from the opening night of the show