Gospel Singer BeBe Winans Sings of Freedom in Civil War Tour

News   Gospel Singer BeBe Winans Sings of Freedom in Civil War Tour Gospel star BeBe Winans will add vocal power to the new national tour of The Civil War, the producers announced Jan. 5.

Gospel star BeBe Winans will add vocal power to the new national tour of The Civil War, the producers announced Jan. 5.

The multiple Grammy Award-winner will help represent the African American voice of yearning and freedom in the conceptual concert about The War Between the States. Performances begin Jan. 18 at Cincinnati's Aronoff Center.

The company of the freshly-conceived national tour of Frank Wildhorn's The Civil War includes members of the original Broadway cast and newcomers, along with the previously-announced Larry Gatlin and John Schneider.

Stars Gatlin and Schneider will alternate in different cities, playing the Confederate captain, now positioned as the lead vocal role.

Unlike Broadway, tour performers will be playing non-specific characters -- officers, soldiers, slaves, wives, African-American abolitionists, etc. -- in what is being called a conceptual concert rather than a musical. Rehearsals in Manhattan under British director Stephen Rayne have focused on exploration and development of the material by composer Frank Wildhorn and writers Jack Murphy and Gregory Boyd, leading to the Jan. 18 debut of what is the third version of the show (after Houston's Alley Theatre in 1998 and Broadway's St. James Theatre in spring 1999).

Now in rehearsal are original cast members Keith Byron Kirk (who played Frederick Douglass), Michael Lanning (who was Capt. Emmett Lochran of the Union Army), Mike Eldred (who was Cpl. John Beauregard, Confederate Army), Royal Reed (who was Sgt. Byron Richardson, Union), Chris Roberts (a swing on Broadway) and Bart Shatto (who was Pvt. Elmore Hotchkiss, Union).

Newcomers are John Ayres, Moses Braxton, Dan Cooney, Steve Gannon, Dawana Gudgers-Richardson, Amy Rutberg, Maylayna Syms, Carolyn Saxton and Traci Lyn Thomas.

The run at Cincy's Aronoff Center is Jan. 18-30 and will star country singer Gatlin (who is also a vet of The Will Rogers Follies).

Winans is best known as the male half of the Grammy Award-winning duo, BeBe & CeCe Winans, who first began recording together in 1987. Winans himself received four Grammy Awards, two of which were for Best Soul Gospel Performance by a Male.

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Stephen Rayne, a Trevor Nunn associate whose background includes Shakespeare, will stage the conceptual concert about the war between the states. Bookings covering six months have been announced by tour producer Ken Gentry, of NETworks Presentations, LLC. More dates are expected.

The musical, co-authored by Wildhorn, Murphy and Boyd, had a short run on Broadway in spring 1999 at the St. James Theatre. Wildhorn's fans embraced the pop conceptualization of the American Civil War (directed by Jerry Zaks), but critics rejected it. High-profile partly for being Wildhorn's third concurrent show on Broadway (including The Scarlet Pimpernel and Jekyll & Hyde), the show earned two Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical.

The tour will have a smaller cast, an on-stage band, and will be more loosely theatrical, handing many of the big songs about the people, personalities and tensions of the 1861-65 conflict, to the lead performer.

"At the end of each performance of The Civil War in New York City we saw audiences standing and cheering; some with smiles and some with tears," producer Gentry said in a statement. "And we felt this was a grand reason to bring this wonderful experience to the rest of the country."

It is not yet known how much of the original score would be used (about 22 songs in all are expected), or if Wildhorn and lyricist Murphy are writing any new material.

"With this new staging we are taking the best of what the piece has to offer and placing it in a new context that makes it work," director Rayne said in a statement. "We are finding the true spirit of this amazing work."

The new creative credits (with some holdovers from Broadway) include musical staging by Peter Pucci (The Joffrey Ballet, Pilobolus Dance Company); scenic design by Douglas W. Schmidt (Broadway's Civil War, Grease, They're Playing Our Song); lighting design by Howell Binkley (Kiss of the Spider Woman); costume design by Christine Hanak (NETworks' current touring production of Show Boat); projections by Wendall K. Harrington (The Who's Tommy, Ragtime, Putting It Together, Civil War); and orchestrations by Kim Scharnberg (Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Civil War).

Grammy Award-winning country singer and Broadway actor Gatlin (The Will Rogers Follies) and television and stage actor John Schneider ("The Dukes of Hazzard," Grand Hotel) will share the starring role.

Rayne directed stagings of the Royal Shakespeare Company's Othello, The Comedy of Errors, Hamlet, They Shoot Horses Don't They? and The Great White Hope.

NETworks Presentations, LLC, is a theatrical production company based in Maryland. The current season includes national tours of Annie, directed by Martin Charnin; Leslie Bricusse and Frank Wildhorn's Jekyll & Hyde; Hammerstein and Kern's Show Boat; and a newly mounted production of Victor/Victoria.

The 2000 tour cities include Cincinnati Jan. 18-30 (Larry Gatlin), Indianapolis Feb. 1-6 (Gatlin), Baltimore Feb. 8-13 (John Schneider), Chicago Feb. 23-27 (Gatlin), Providence Feb. 29-March 5 (Gatlin), Cleveland March 7-19 (Gatlin), Atlanta March 21-26 (Gatlin), Wilmington, DE, March 28-April 9 (Gatlin), Nashville April 11-16 (Gatlin), Pittsburgh April 18-23 (Schneider), Louisville April 25-30 (Schneider), Columbus, OH, May 2-7 (Schneider), Hershey, PA, May 9-14 (Schneider), Hartford May 16-21 (Schneider), Tempe, AZ, May 30-June 4 (Gatlin), Costa Mesa, CA June 6-11 (Gatlin), Denver June 13-25 (Gatlin).