Sunday, January 16, 2000

New 'Civil War' comes to Aronoff

Version differs from Broadway flop

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        You've probably never heard of The Civil War. Composer Frank Wildhorn's pop take on a pivotal episode in American history was so awful in its Broadway debut last year that even Mr. Wildhorn's loyal “Jekkies” (fans obsessed with his Jekyll & Hyde) stayed away. The show tanked in less than two months.

        That's not the show that we'll be seeing on tour, says War's new director Stephen Rayne. The national tour starts here Tuesday with a two-week stint at Aronoff Center for the Arts as part of the Fifth Third Bank Broadway Series.

        War was originally conceived as a song cycle. “I wrote it for my 13-year-old son,” Mr. Wildhorn explained by phone earlier this season.

        “He was studying it and thought it was pretty boring. I asked him, "What if Hootie and the Blowfish would sing the words spoken by Frederick Douglass? Would you listen?'” His son agreed he would. Mr. Wildhorn was inspired to write a show.

        It was disastrously shaped into a book musical (with story and dialogue) for Broadway. Mr. Rayne has thrown out the book and “quite unabashedly, in a very big way, tipped my hat to Ken Burns' (TV) series” that held him “spellbound” when he watched it in his native Great Britain.

        War is again a song-cycle, with the 17 cast members essentially in modern dress reading from diaries, letters and speeches of the time. Some of the photographic images we remember from the PBS series projected behind them.

        “There are no pretensions,” says Mr. Rayne. “It's a series of songs (24) about the Civil War. It's very much a collage of Civil War voices that point out the futility and waste in that 41/2 years of conflict.

        “The images we remember from Burns are accompanied by modern, contemporary country and gospel sung by contemporary people. Frank writes romantic ballads, big emotional songs. They're good tunes and it's a subject that deserves to find an audience. Whether I've succeeded, I have no idea.”

        Headliners are Larry Gatlin and BeBe Winans. Tickets $35-$55. Call the box office at 241-7469 for reservations and information.

        There will be a free hour-long workshop starting at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday with members of the cast discussing the creation of the show. A local Civil War expert will discuss Cincinnati's involvement and and contributions to the war. For reservations call 241-2345 ext.228. NEW PRODUCER: Anton Shilov has been promoted to producer of Downtown Theatre Classics. “Every damn day, new and exciting things happen,” he says happily. Watch for the CCMer to look for more ties with College-Conservatory of Music alums. Soon-to-graduate Xavier senior Brendan Fay takes on Mr. Shilov's former production stage manager job.

        Ensemble Theatre regulars Mark Mocahbee and Greg Procaccino will, respectively, direct and star in DTC season closer, thriller Wait Until Dark (remember blind Audrey Hepburn being terrorized by psychopath Alan Arkin in the film version?) in March.

        TO WIT: The number is 421-3888. Call it now if you've been thinking about ordering tickets to Wit at Playhouse in the Park but haven't gotten around to it because the show doesn't open until Feb. 10.

        Margaret Edson's drama about a John Donne-loving professor with terminal cancer was New York's mega-hit last season (and a Pulitzer Prize winner.) The call for tickets has been heavy enough that Playhouse expects it will sell out before it opens.

        Even with two preview performances added to the Shelterhouse schedule this season, the 220-seat theater is 72 percent subscribed. That means almost three-fourths of the tickets are gone before general sales begin.

        About 10 percent of Wit's tickets were still available early this week — and that translates to about 20 seats per night. Grab them now.

        Looking even further ahead, Playhouse needs five local non-Equity actors to complete the cast of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, closing the 1999-2000 season in the Marx Theatre from April 16-May 21.

        There are roles for a young female soprano to play a 13-year-old and two non-singing males and two non-singing females in their 20s-30s to play extras.

        Don't call or e-mail. Submit a head shot and resume to: Casting, A Little Night Music, Playhouse in the Park, PO Box 6537, Cincinnati 45206. Deadline is Feb. 4. Rehearsals begin March 21.

        GOING SOMEWHERE: Every year Chris Seiler says he's going to leave town. This year he's “pretty sure it's going to happen.” But while he's waiting for responses from grad schools (Iowa, Alabama, Michigan State), he's directing Da vid Mamet's Glengarry Glen Ross for Falcon Productions.

        Mr. Seiler came to Cincinnati five years ago clutching his bachelor's of fine arts in acting. He figured community theater was where he would have to start out while he took a nine-to-five and raised money for the next round of schooling.

        He'd done some shows with Falcon and finally asked founders Dave Radtke and Ted Weil whether their off-the-beaten-track choices had included Chicago tough guy playwright Mamet. “It seemed like something they should do.”

        They agreed, and Mr. Seiler decided “if you're going to do Mamet you may as well go all out with his best.” Mr. Seiler figures that is his award-winner about the cutthroat world of real estate sales. He judges it “one of the better contemporary plays — if you can stand the language.”

        Among the players are Ed Cohen and Chuck Haungs (headed for Stage First's Long Day's Journey Into Night as soon as Glengarry closes.) Another cast member, George Alexander, will direct Falcon's next outing, a new political comedy by Northern Kentucky University faculty member Ken Jones. Victims of the Ice Age will play in March, dates to be announced.

        Glengarry continues at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Westwood Town Hall (Harrison at Montana). Tickets $10, $8 students and seniors. Call 481-9042.

        HANGING TOGETHER: Local playwright Kevin Barry and Know Theatre Tribe will continue the collaboration that began in December with American Standard. Mr. Barry is hard at work on a play about James Dean, In Rebel Country.

        “We'll workshop it here in February through April, open in May for two or possibly three weekends and,” says Mr. Barry, “if all goes well, it will move to Los Angeles and possibly Denver.

        “This method of development will be an exciting new experience for me — it's very unusual for a theater to agree to produce a play without reading a word of the script!”

        An old one-act of Mr. Barry's, Remember I'll Always Be True, last seen a few years back at Fitton Center, will be part of Launch Productions next outing, an evening of one-acts May 3-7 at Cincinnati Shakespeare Festival. Also on the bill are short plays by Joseph McDonough and Dan Luebbe.

        NO EXIT ON WAY: Benjamin Mosse was pleased enough with IF Theatre Collaborative's first outing in November (Harold Pinter's Old Times) to plan a late February return with Jean-Paul Sartre's No Exit.

        The existential classic “makes sense for right now and what I want to do with the company,” says Mr. Mosse.

        No Exit could also be a companion piece to intriguing choices from earlier this season, Cincinnati Shakespeare's Waiting for Godot and Stage First's The Chairs.

        Dates and location are to be announced because Mr. Mosse is one of many felled by the flu. He likes spaces and plays to fit, like funky Southgate House in Newport for Old Times. “Tell people to call me with suggestions,” he says.

        Auditions for No Exit are by appointment on Jan. 30. Two men and two women in their 20s-30s are needed. Call Mr. Mosse at 961-7434.

        Jackie Demaline is The Enquirer's theater critic and roving arts reporter. Write her at Cincinnati Enquirer, 312 Elm St., Cincinnati OH 45202; fax, 768-8330.


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