It's been called the "other" Civil War show in New York City -- and now it's almost over.
Off-Broadway's Reunion: A Civil War Musical Epic in Miniature, which opened an Actors' Equity showcase limited-run April 5 and extended four weeks in an Equity "mini-contract" at Theatre Row Theatre, will cease fire May 16.
The show is not to be confused with Frank Wildhorn's Tomny Award nominated The Civil War: Our Story in Song at the St. James Theatre.
Conceived and written by Jack Kyrieleison, Reunion, presented by AMAS Musical Theatre in association with Eugene Kallman and Stephen Hollis, shows the North-and-South struggle through the antics of a rag tag 19th-century touring company lead by actor-manager Harry Hawks.
The conceit of the show, first presented at the Goodspeed Opera House as The Battle Cry of Freedom, has the 1890 troupe earning their stay in a backwater town by presenting the history of the Civil War, from Lincoln's election to his assassination. (The fictional Hawks, as a young man, witnessed the murder of Lincoln at Ford's Theatre.)
Previews for the "epic in miniature" began March 26; it was to close April 18 but was extended to April 22, and then to May 16. During the run, actor Michael A. Shepperd was replaced by Keith Lee Grant. A spokesperson for the show said regional theatre directors have expressed interest in the show, and it may be published. Scholars and followers of the Civil War embraced the show.
For two nights during the run of Reunion, producer Kallman stood outside the St. James Theatre handing brochures for his show to Civil War theatregoers and stage-door personnel. An argument between Kallman and Civil War artists one night prompted the police officer on the 44th Street beat to shoo Kallman away. Kallman admits the shouting reached a pitch when he suggested that the Wildhorn musical promoted and glorified slavery.
Kallman's take on Reunion was that it "bravely" showed the Civil War from the morally superior angle, the north.
The intimate staging is directed by Ron Holgate, known for his acting role as Richard Henry Lee in the original 1776 and for his performance as Col. Buffalo Bill in the current Annie Get Your Gun revival. He also shares "story" credit with book writer Jack Kyrieleison.
Six actors play freed slaves, a nurse, a seamstress, a temperance advocate, soldiers, Lincoln's secretary, John Wilkes Booth and others. Reunion exploits the conventions of 19th-century theatre, using magic lantern slides, elements of music hall, melodrama, minstrel show and patriotic pageant.
Robert Lamont musical directs a five-piece band that plays period music that includes folk, spirituals and hymns, marches and more, including "The Battle Cry of Freedom," "John Brown's Body," "Weeping Sad and Lonely," Stephen Foster's "Hard Times Come Again No More" and others. Arrangements for the traditional music are by Michael O'Flaherty.
The acting company includes Joe Barrett, Don Burroughs, Donna Lynne Champlin, Harriett D. Foy, Jonathan Hadley and Keith Lee Grant (who replaced Michael A. Shepperd).
AMAS Musical Theatre (producing director Donna Trinkoff) was founded by Rosetta LeNoire in 1969 to promote and create multiracial new musicals. Rollin' on the T.O.B.A. was the company's most recent presentation.
Designers for Reunion are Doug Huszti (set), Jan Finnell (costume), Stephen Petrilli (lighting). Musical staging is by Karen Azenberg.
Tickets are $35. Theatre Row Theatre is at 424 W. 42nd St. For information, call (212) 279-4200.
The Reunion website can be found at www.civilwarmusical.com.
-- By Kenneth Jones