By Kenneth Jones
08 Feb 2000
|Photo by Photos by Carol Rosegg|
John Schneider, no stranger to a Southern accent, steps into the boots of the Confederate captain in the new national tour of Frank Wildhorn's The Civil War, Feb. 8-13, at Baltimore's Mechanic Theatre.
Schneider made his name playing in TV's Dixie-set action-comedy series, "The Dukes of Hazzard," and later impressed critics in Broadway's Grand Hotel.
The NETworks Presentations tour of The Civil War, helmed by British director Stephen Rayne, is said to be a leaner, more conceptual concert than the "story in song" seen at the St. James Theatre in New York City in 1999.
The tour began Jan. 18-30 in Cincinnati, with country singer Larry Gatlin (Broadway's The Will Rogers Follies) in the role of the Southern captain. The two alternate in the role from city to city, on a scattered schedule.
Gatlin will play the Chicago leg of the tour Feb 23-27.
Gospel star BeBe Winans also stars.
The 2000 tour cities include Providence, RI, 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).
The multiple Grammy Award-winning gospel star Winans will help represent the African-American voice of yearning and freedom in the conceptual concert about The War Between the States.
The company of the freshly-directed national tour includes members of the original Broadway cast and newcomers.
Unlike Broadway, tour performers will be playing non-specific characters -- officers, soldiers, slaves, wives, African-American abolitionists, etc. -- in what insiders call a conceptual concert rather than a traditional musical.
This will be the third version of the show by composer Wildhorn (Jekyll & Hyde, The Scarlet Pimpernel) and writers Jack Murphy and Gregory Boyd. It began at Houston's Alley Theatre in 1998 and was revised for Broadway by director Jerry Zaks in '99.
The company includes 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.
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.
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.
Wildhorn's fans embraced the pop conceptualization of the American Civil War, 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. Pimpernel closed Jan. 2.
The tour has 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."
"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).
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.
For ticket information about the Mechanic Theatre engagement, call (410) 752-1200.