Abe, the Musical Will Play at Illinois Historic Site That Was Lincoln's Stomping Ground

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24 Nov 2008

Abe, the new musical celebrating the early life of Abraham Lincoln, has been picked up for a second 2009 production — at the Illinois historic site where much of the show is set.



Kari Catton, executive director of Theatre in the Park, the resident non-Equity company at Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site near Petersburg, IL, told Playbill.com that the musical by lyricist-librettist Lee Goldsmith and composer Roger Anderson will be one of a handful of summer 2009 shows at the 535-seat outdoor amphitheatre there.

The bicentennial of the birth of the 16th U.S. President is being celebrated around the country in 2009.

New Salem State Historic Site, a reconstruction of the village where Abraham Lincoln spent his early adulthood (around 1834-39), is two miles south of Petersburg and about 20 miles northwest of Springfield, IL.

As previously reported, Abe — a traditional large-cast musical rooted in the Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition — will have its world premiere in February 2009 by the Muddy River Opera Company, the troupe that performs operas and musicals in Quincy, IL. Quincy was the site of one of the famous 1858 Lincoln-Douglas debates in which Lincoln and Stephen A. Douglas, candidates for the Illinois seat in the U.S. Senate, spoke on the day's issues. Sam Hepler will play Lincoln for Muddy River. Greg Anthony (Signature Theatre's Ace) penned orchestrations.

At New Salem's Theatre in the Park, Elizabeth Buttell will direct Abe, to feature local performers and a small orchestra.

Anderson and Goldsmith wrote the scores to the musicals Shine, Quality Street and Ladykiller, and the Carbonell Award-winning Chaplin, which was recently seen in a U.K. workshop production.

According to the authors, Abe concerns the life of Lincoln from his youth as a flatboat pilot on the Mississippi up to the moment he and his family leave Springfield, IL, for Washington after the 1860 election, which made him the 16th President of the United States. The play explores his early love for Ann Rutledge, his troubled marriage to the difficult and mentally fragile Mary Todd, and his attempt to be a good father to his sons.

The New Salem State Historic Site is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state of Illinois. There has been a performance component on the property, in a location known as Kelso Hollow, since 1918. Theatre in the Park, as it exists today, has been around since the mid-1990s, and was incorporated in 2004, Catton said.

The performance arm of New Salem has Lincoln-focused shows at its core, but other plays and musicals are also offered. In addition to Abe (running Aug. 14-23, 2009), the season will offer the Lincoln-inspired Heritage (a presentational piece about the women in Lincoln's life), and a revival of a show not seen at New Salem since 1951 — Kermit Hunter's Forever This Land, a play with music about Lincoln, commissioned by then Governor Adlai Stevenson.

Also in summer 2009, New Salem audiences will see a teen-oriented new musical called Camp Sunshine by Ken Bradbury (lyricist-librettist) and Roger Wainwright (composer); a play adaptation of Little Women; the musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers; and the Depression-set regional drama Mother Hicks by Suzan Zeder.

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Although the book and lyrics for Abe were originally written by Goldsmith in the 1970s, the project lay dormant until Muddy River Opera Company's artistic director, Avril-Marie Bernzen, requested its completion for the upcoming 2009 season.

Earlier this year, Goldsmith's longtime collaborator Anderson began work on the now-completed score, "which uses bold, melodic and traditional musical theatre styles that embrace the story's period and Americana roots," composer Anderson said.

For information about Abe and other works of Anderson and Goldsmith, contact Musical Makers, LLC, at jeffh123@bellsouth.net.

For more information about Lincoln's New Salem Historic Site and its performance arm, visit theatreinthepark.net or LincolnNewSalem.com.