Samuel Hepler Will Be Lincolnesque for Premiere of Abe Musical in 2009

By Ernio Hernandez
August 18, 2008

Muddy River Opera Company, the jewelbox troupe that performs operas and musicals in Quincy, IL, has found a Mr. Lincoln for its 2009 world premiere production of Abe, a musical celebrating the early life of Abraham Lincoln.

Hepler's credits include Pooh-Bah in The Mikado (Fargo-Moorhead Opera and Muddy River Opera), the Captain in HMS Pinafore (Young Victorian Theater Company), Freddy in My Fair Lady (Shreveport Opera), Noye in Noye's Fludde (Roanoke Opera), the Count in Le Nozze di Figaro (The Master Works Festival), the Sergeant in Manon Lescaut (Spoleto Festival, USA), and Duke Bluebeard in Bluebeard's Castle (Singapore Symphony). He made his national television debut on "Live from Lincoln Center" as the Father in a production of Hänsel und Gretel designed by Maurice Sendak and subsequently performed the role with the New Jersey Symphony. Hepler's performances of Sid in Albert Herring and Sam in Trouble in Tahiti are available on the Vox and Newport Classic labels.

Mark Meier will direct Abe, Scott Schoonover will conduct. Both are affiliated with Union Avenue Opera in St. Louis. Production designer is Paul Denckla. Orchestrations are by Greg Anthony (orchestrator of Ace for Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA). Production accompanist is Robert March.

Quincy, on the Mississippi River, 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. Next February marks the bicentennial of Lincoln's birth.

Anderson and Goldsmith wrote the scores to the musicals Shine, Quality Street and Ladykiller, and the Carbonell Award-winning Chaplin.

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 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.

Audiences can expect a full orchestra and a large cast for the traditional book musical.

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Although the book and lyrics 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 nearly completed score, "which uses bold, melodic and traditional musical theatre styles that embrace the story's period and Americana roots," composer Anderson said.

The Muddy River Opera Company was founded in 1989 and presents two to four productions a year — works from the opera repertoire as well as musicals. Abe will be the company's first world premiere.

For information about Muddy River Opera Company, call (217) 222-2856.

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

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Bernzen has been artistic director of Muddy River Opera Company for seven years. In 2009, the company celebrates its 20th anniversary.