THE CIVIL WAR at The Eagle: Glorious, Awe-Inspiring Musical!

by Jack Shaw

South Jersey’s Eagle Theatre has awed another audience with the magnificent and powerful, THE CIVIL WAR, the musical. Ted Wioncek truly defined the term “artistic direction” as he put the pieces together. Wioncek and Chris Miller, the lighting designer, put together a great theatre concept for the show. And it works!

Not since LES MISÉRABLES have I seen anything that kept me as riveted to my seat as this one. I felt the very fabric of the American Civil War in its glory, its passion, and its unbelievable sadness. It’s not a sadness for those who lived in that time, or even the here and now, but a sadness that reaches forever and is felt by humanity everywhere. I knew the hearts of men and women, white or black, in that war against brothers–and sisters. Yes, sisters, too.

The Eagle Theatre production was outstanding.

As theatre, this story of the civil war works interestingly on many levels, weaving the “players,” blending them together finally in an innocent attempt to bring an end to the differences, but we know that what is expressed is hope–not the end. We experience the emotional highs and lows, the passionate embrace of war, and the subdued reluctance of all to an acceptance of sorts. To be fair, the “story” is a series of personalized vignettes, and the music, a mix of country, rock, folk and gospel, grab at audience heartstrings.

HE CIVIL WAR, archetypal in concept, feel makes you feel privileged to be a part of history at that moment. I thoroughly enjoyed The Eagle Theatre’s production, complete with true-life pictures and the sounds of war and dramatic music. The cast was terrific as they usually are at The Eagle. The technical aspects of the show forged by Robert Klimowski reached as high and as creative as they could to add to the already amazing performances. The timing of action on stage to mesh with the Civil War images seen above was incredible. Lorraine Anderson’s costumes, made with the kind of material as the original uniforms, were unmatched by any I have seen recently in terms of authenticity. In a minimalist set, the costumes and the characters stand out, forcing us to listen to what they have to say (sing) and not be distracted.

Derrick Cobey as Frederick Douglass in THE CIVIL WAR at The Eagle Theatre thru October 5. (Photo credit: Chris Miller)

Derrick Cobey as Frederick Douglass in THE CIVIL WAR at The Eagle Theatre thru October 5. (Photo credit: Chris Miller)

I can never say enough about the professionalism I have seen with this theatre. I was especially impressed with newcomer, Kevin Hack, who played the Confederate captain. Genevieve Naccarelli as the Nurse stole a moment of the show with her amazing performance. Derrick Cobey was not to be outdone with his performance of Frederick Douglass and other characters. Dené Hill and Ciji Prosser with Rajeer Alford, Michael Hogan and Cobey had standout numbers as well. Kimberly Susskind was sweet as Sarah McEwan. Tim Rinehart, who shines as the Union captain, never ceases to amaze me with his range of characters. Tom Craig, Corey Buller, A.J. Mendini, Sean Elias, James Bock, Diego Rios, Nate Golden and Geoffrey Bruen were the “best.” I hope I haven’t forgotten anyone.

Tom Abruzzo’s music backstage and the music played and sung onstage were flawless, save for a crackle or two in the speakers–hardly something they could do anything about. The Eagle Theatre always produces and performs a show as far as it can go. It’s good that this theatre takes a risk producing a show that is not ready-made success, putting on a new face on it and finding the creative energy and talent to make it work.

THE CIVIL WAR moves you emotionally through the eyes of the northern and southern soldiers, wives back home and the slaves; however, the show uses generic renderings of people who lived and fought during that time. And, we’ve heard the same characters before. The message from Abraham Lincoln is the same as well. There’s nothing new to be heard, not a new twist on something old, or a realistic conclusion, but there is hope.
It seems in the past audiences have loved or loathed THE CIVIL WAR (The musical). Although nominated for several Tony’s, it didn’t last three months on Broadway, directed by one of Broadway’s best, Jerry Zaks. The criticism has been that Frank Wildhorn’s songs in this show are not the “one’s you hum on your way home”–that the Civil War and all its complexity cannot be relegated to a mere piece of history, that we are not reconciled as a people… I think you see where I’m going. Forget all of that.

Despite the inherent flaws of the show itself, the Eagle Theatre’s production of THE CIVIL WAR is excellent in every way. In fact, this production is probably better than the one on Broadway. I have that kind of faith in this theatre company.

On a more serious note. Although we have seen it often, in reality, we haven’t learned much about the horror of war. Perhaps, it’s a human frailty. That’s where I go when I find humanity wanting and a little blind to reality.

Per the Theatre website: “The Eagle Theatre presents the Professional Regional Area Premiere of Frank Wildhorn’s awe-inspiring musical, The Civil War: The Musical, starring Broadway performer Derrick Cobey. This engaging score, flourished with country, folk and rock influence, features the region’s most accomplished performers, adorned in time-period costume and décor.”

Music by Frank Wildhorn
Lyrics by Jack Murphy
Book by Gregory Boyd and Frank Wildhorn
Directed by Ted Wioncek III
September 19 – October 5, 2014
Eagle Theatre
208 Vine Street
Hammonton, NJ 08037

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