The Civil War officially got underway Sept. 16 at Houston's Alley Theatre. Previews began Sept. 8 for Frank Wildhorn's oratorio, which runs through Oct. 11 before prepping for a New Haven try-out and Broadaway visit in the spring.
Linda Eder, composer Wildhorn's real-life wife and a star of his Jekyll & Hyde, appears in the show as Hannah Ropes, a nurse, as do Show Boat Tony nominee Michel Bell (Clayton Toler, a slave) and Play On! star Cheryl Freeman as his wife, Bessie. Also in the cast are Irene Molloy (Whistle Down The Wind) as Sarah McEwen, wife of Gilles Chaisson's Union corporal William McEwen, Matt Bogart as Union private Nathaniel Taylor, Michael Lanning as Union captain Emmet Lochran, Gene Miller as Confederate captain Billy Pierce, Jesse Lenat as Autolycus Fell, a pimp, Lawrence Clayton as slave Benjamin Reynolds, Dave Clemmons as Confederate sergeant Virgil Franklin, Beth Leavel as Mrs. Lydia Bixby and "Violet", a prostitute, and David Lutken as Confederate corporal Henry Stewart.
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, opening April 23, 1999 at the St. James Theatre.
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. For now, the show moves in "episodes", subtitled scenes with names like "A House Divided", "The Peculiar Instituion", "River Jordan", "Returning Home", and the final piece of this Civil War: "Gettysburg". The current running order for the show, as it is being performed at the Alley, follows:
"Brother, My Brother" -- Lochran
"By The Sword/Sons of Dixie" -- Union and Confederate Soldiers
"Tell My Father" -- Taylor
"Freedom's Child" -- Douglass and the Enslaved
"Missing You (My Bill) -- Sarah
"Virginia" -- Pierce
"The Peculiar Institution" -- The Enslaved
"If Prayin' Were Horses" -- Clayton Toler and Bessie Toler
"Greenback" -- Autolycus Fell, "Violet", "Mabel" [sic]
"Judgement Day" -- Pierce, Lochran, Union and Confederate Soldiers
"The Day The Sun Stood Still" -- Barksdale
"I Never Knew His Name" -- Hannah Ropes
"Father, How Long?" -- Clayton Toler
"River Jordan" -- Reynolds and The Enslaved
"I'll Never Pass This Way Again" -- Stewart
"How Many Devils" -- Union and Confederate Soldiers
"Five Boys" -- Mrs. Bixby
"Candle In The Window" -- Hope Jackson, Hannah Ropes
"Someday" -- Bessie Toler, the Enslaved
"Sarah" -- McEwen
"The Honor of Your Name" -- Sarah
"North Bound Train" -- Lochran
"Last Waltz For Dixie" -- Pierce and Company
"The Glory" -- Lochran, Pierce, the Angel, the Company
Atlantic Records will release "The Civil War: The Nashville Sessions" Nov. 3, a single disk of country & pop artists covering tunes from the show. Early 1999 will see a double CD "concept album" of the show, featuring music stars of many genres, as well as such well-known narrators as Ellen Burstyn, James Garner, Danny Glover and Maya Angelou. Spring 1999 will then see the official Original Cast Recording of the Broadway show.
Among the artists to be on the Nashville Sessions CD: Deana Carter, Charlie Daniels, Amy Grant, Shiloh, Travis Tritt and Trisha Yearwood. The double-CD will also include Patti LaBelle, Dr. John and John Popper of Blues Traveler.
Turner Network Television will air a TV special about Civil War in July 1999, with a national tour of the show eyed for later that year.