Frank Wildhorn Wages Civil War In Alley: TX Premiere Opens Sept. 16

News   Frank Wildhorn Wages Civil War In Alley: TX Premiere Opens Sept. 16
 
Previews began Sept. 8 at Houston, TX's Alley Theatre for Frank Wildhorn's oratorio, The Civil War. Rehearsals for the world premiere began Aug. 11 in Texas. The show opens at the Alley Theatre Sept. 16 for a run through Oct. 11.
Left: Linda Eder as nurse Hannah Ropes; Right: (clockwise) Keith Byron Kirk as Fredrick Douglass with Michel Bell and Cheryl Freeman as the Tolers.
Left: Linda Eder as nurse Hannah Ropes; Right: (clockwise) Keith Byron Kirk as Fredrick Douglass with Michel Bell and Cheryl Freeman as the Tolers. Photo by Photo by T. Charles Erickson

Previews began Sept. 8 at Houston, TX's Alley Theatre for Frank Wildhorn's oratorio, The Civil War. Rehearsals for the world premiere began Aug. 11 in Texas. The show opens at the Alley Theatre Sept. 16 for a run through Oct. 11.

Linda Eder, composer Wildhorn's real-life wife and a star of his Jekyll & Hyde, appears in the show, as do Show Boat Tony nominee Michel Bell and Play On! star Cheryl Freeman. Also in the cast are Irene Molloy (Whistle Down The Wind), Matt Bogart, Michael Lanning, Gene Miller, Jesse Lenat, Gilles Chiasson, Lawrence Clayton, Dave Clemmons, Beth Leavel and David Lutken. Supporting performers include Timothy Browning, David Bryant, David Felty, Hope Harris, Capathia Jenkins, Keith Byron Kirk, Wayne Pretlow, Jim Price, Royal Reed, Christopher Roberts, John Sawyer, Ron Sharpe, Bart Shatto, Kim Strauss and Cassandra White.

Production spokesperson Mara Engel (of Dan Klores Associates) cautioned (Aug. 11) that the Alley staging was really a regional production, rather than the official Broadway try-out, which is reserved for New Haven, CT's Shubert Theatre, Feb. 16-Mar. 7, 1999. In other words, not necessarily all the Alley's cast members are going into the Broadway production, targeted for April 1999. No casting or theatre have been announced for NY, as of Aug. 11.

Engel also noted that The Civil War has changed its subtitle, from "An American Musical" to "Our Story In Song." The piece has lyrics by Jack Murphy and will draw its material from original Civil War documents, Walt Whitman poetry and other correspondence of the time. Gregory Boyd will do book and lyrics, and is scheduled to "supervise" the project, which will feature staging by Nick Corley and musical staging by George Faison.

Wildhorn had hoped to release a concept album of The Civil War in May or June, but the album was first postponed until Sept. 1 and more recently pushed up to Oct. 12. That Atlantic Records CD, nicknamed "The Nashville Sessions," is a single disk and features songs from the show sung by Charlie Daniels, Trace Adkins, Deana Carter, Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood, Tracy Lawrence and other country notables. Then, in early January 1999, Atlantic will release a concept double-disk of the show, with guest artists including Eder, Tori Amos, Patti La Belle, Dr. John, Hootie and the Blowfish, Betty Buckley, Amy Grant, Amy Grant, Bryan White, John Popper, and Bebe Winans & Sounds of Blackness.

[Reached July 9, Wildhorn told Playbill On-Line, "Yesterday was one of the most amazing days of my life. I was with Dr. Maya Angelou, who speaks on the album. Artistically it's great, and she adds so much credibility to it. I'm so grateful. Last week we got Danny Glover to be Frederick Douglass. And we've recorded James Garner as Lincoln, Ellen Burstyn playing the White House maid, and Charlie Daniels as narrator."]

Gary Gunas (of PACE Theatricals) told Playbill On-Line in late 1997 that the "star-studded" concept CD of The Civil War is expected to be followed by a televised concert special. Plans are still underway for the broadcast, due in summer 1999. No network or concept for the special has been announced, as of Aug. 11.

Wildhorn told Playbill On-Line (Nov. 1997) that the Civil War CD is "the largest American theatre album ever made: 28-30 major acts. Such a sweep of wonderful artists, I'm in heaven!" said Wildhorn. "[Civil War] combines what I love the most: theatre and the best pop singers in the world today making a record. It brings the record-making and theatre worlds together. This is an enormous commitment from Atlantic Records to a theatre piece. Not just RCA Victor or Sony Classics -- this is Atlantic Records, home of Led Zep and Jewel."

Wildhorn said of The Civil War, "This thing will have a very different kind of life from a Broadway show. It's not an oratorio, nor a play with music, nor a concert -- but it has elements of all those things. It's a huge emotional tapestry, the people of the times and the loss that defined those times. It consists of letters and diary entries and speeches -- that's the thread of the piece. Even Jack Murphy's song lyrics are based on poetry and speeches. The piece goes from Secession to the dawn of Gettysburg. (There was too much stuff to go to the entire inaugural.) And if it all works, maybe a year from now, we'll do the next part."

For tickets ($19-$33 previews; $31-$46 regular performances) and information on The Civil War: Our Story in Song at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave., call (713) 228-8421.

 

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Some people can concentrate on only one thing at a time. Composer Wildhorn seems to concentrate on four dozen things at once -- and seemed unhappy unless he has four dozen more in reserve.

"I like to switch around a lot," he told Playbill On-Line (Nov. 1997). "It keeps me from getting bored. You keep a lot of projects in the works, and when one is ready to be born, you feel the momentum around it."

Feb. 1999 will see the Jekyll & Hyde national tour take wing, while an international tour will start in Belgium.

And what's on the Wildhorn back-burner after Civil War gets going? As reported by Playbill On-Line in November 1997, Wildhorn, composer of Broadway's The Scarlet Pimpernel and Jekyll & Hyde, is working on a new musical, Havana. Wildhorn's wife and Hyde star Linda Eder has officially signed to appear in the Latin-rhythmed revue.

Said Wildhorn of the project (Nov. 1997), "It'll start as an Atlantic Records concept recording, but I'm hoping it'll be a real vehicle for my fiance [Eder]... The record will feature many of the world's best Latin and Cuban artists." According to Wildhorn's assistant, Martha Ashton (reached June 10), the disk and the Broadway show are expected for fall 1999/ winter-spring 2000, about half a season later than originally anticipated.

Calling it "a film noir musical," Wildhorn said Havana is set in pre- Castro Cuba, with "romance and intrigue and high stakes." The show is being co-created by Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy -- the same team as on Wildhorn's oratorio, The Civil War.

In Havana, Eder will play the wife of a high-level Mafioso. Eder and Wildhorn married in real life May 3.

Asked about his propensity to start the theatre process with a cast recording first -- often way before any public performance, Wildhorn told Playbill On-Line, "I would never begin to do a theatre piece without a record company's support for the recording. You pour your heart and soul i e things, they take forever to do, and the deck is always stacked against you. Why not have the machinery of a music business behind you from the beginning? It's a calling card for the show and a barometer of the audience's temperature. And they become workshops for the shows themselves. With Pimpernel, we've already had a top-40 hit with Linda and Peabo Bryson ["You Are My Home."]"

 

Projects to follow Havana include:
Svengali, which won the 1991 Alton Jones Foundation Award. "We did it in Houston and Florida," said Wildhorn, "but Jekyll & Hyde reared its head and took over our lives. Svengali was written for Linda, and we'll be doing it -- and, of course, a recording of it."

A version of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland & Through The Looking Glass is also in the offing -- another collaboration between Wildhorn, Boyd and Murphy. "I see it as `Magical Mystery Tour/Sergeant Pepper meets Danny Elfman," said Wildhorn. "We're talking to a major, major female artist for the concept recording."

And last but not least, Carnivale. "We're in the beginning stages," said Wildhorn. "Me and Sergio Mendes are creating a Brazilian Riverdance -- and not, it's not like Oba Oba. We figure it'll open in Spain or South America before it even gets here."

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