Frank Wildhorn may be concentrating on readying The Scarlet Pimpernel for opening night, Nov. 9, but that heroic swashbuckler isn't the only item on the composer's plate. As reported by Playbill On-Line in March, Wildhorn -- much as Tim Rice and Alan Menken did on King David -- is developing an oratorio, alongside lyricist Jack Murphy.
Titled The Civil War: An American Musical, the piece will draw its material from original civil war documents, Walt Whitman poetry and other correspondence of the time.
According to Gary Gunas (of PACE Theatricals), a "star-studded" concept CD is expected for Summer 1998, followed by a televised concert special. Variety reports (Oct. 8) that Houston, TX's Alley Theatre has set the date for its premiere of the piece: Sept. 18, 1998. The show, to be directed by librettist Gregory Boyd, is expected to tour a year before coming to Broadway. Alley Theatre spokesperson Jennifer Garza told Playbill On Line (Oct. 8) dates haven't been confirmed yet, but the theatre is hoping to open its 1998-99 season with The Civil War.
According to Martha Ashton of Wildhorn Productions, there will be two CDs of Civil War. One will be a full-score double disk; the other will concentrate on "radio friendly mixes." Scheduled to sing are Travis Tritt, Trisha Yearwood, Deana Carter, Hootie & The Blowfish, Carl Anderson, Tracy Lawrence, Kenny Rogers, John Berry, Linda Eder (Jekyll & Hyde), Betty Buckley, Dr. John, Patti LaBelle, Bebe Winans, The Sounds Of Blackness, LeAnne Rimes, Bryan White, Carl Anderson, Michel Bell (Show Boat) and The Broadway All-Star Chorus." Ashton says a half-dozen major "pop stars" are also expected to sign on to the project "in the weeks to follow."
Reached Oct. 22, Wildhorn acknowledged that The Civil War CD is turning into a major drawing card for pop singers. Wildhorn calls it, "the largest American theatre album ever made: 28-30 major acts. Such a sweep of wonderful artists, I'm in heaven!" said Wildhorn. "[Civil War] combines what I love the most: theatre and the best pop singers in the world today making a record. It brings the record-making and theatre worlds together. This is an enormous commitment from Atlantic Records to a theatre piece. Not just RCA Victor or Sony Classics -- this is Atlantic Records, home of Led Zep and Jewel. Anyway, we expect a double album and single album in May and June. In August, Pierre Cossette will televise a 2 hour special of the album. And Sept. 18, the full-year national tour starts at the Alley Theatre in Houston." Wildhorn expects fall 1999 to bring Civil War to New York, "either to a Broadway house or the Paramount. And we'll go from there. This thing will have a very different kind of life from a Broadway show. It's not an oratorio, nor a play with music, nor a concert -- but it has elements of all those things. It's a huge emotional tapestry, the people of the times and the loss that defined those times. It consists of letters and diary entries and speeches -- that's the thread of the piece. Even Jack Murphy's song lyrics are based on poetry and speeches. The piece goes from Secession to the dawn of Gettysburg. (There was too much stuff to go to the entire inaugural.) And if it all works, maybe a year from now, we'll do the next part." Wildhorn said he has "a lot of ideas" about casting but won't be making any decisions until after Christmastime.