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Theater Info for Maryland

Tidewater Players The Civil War

By • Dec 5th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
The Civil War
Tidewater Players
Opera House Theater, Havre de Grace, MD
Through December 18th
2:30 with intermission
$15
Reviewed December 3rd, 2011

When most people think of the Civil War, they don’t readily think of Musical Theatre. In the Director’s speech prior to the show, she stressed that many people have no idea what to think and are a little hesitant about seeing a musical about the Civil War. The show is more concert than an actual musical play with a through storyline. A few of the actors had a little bit of defined background for their character, but most were simply representative of all soldiers, all wives, all nurses, and all slaves. A screen projected images and facts from the Civil War. Much of the included dialogue, which was minimal, was actual quotations from famous figures of the time: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, Sojourner Truth, etc. Each song told a story about the tiny moments that made up the fabric of the human experience during this tumultuous time in American History.

The Civil War is an extremely ambitious production for a community theatre to tackle. The score demands vast ranges and intricate harmonies. The minimal character development in the script demands that the performers convey entire lives in the nuances and beats between notes. The cast requires a large number of men. Considering the numerous demands of the production, Tidewater Players does a good job of pulling everything together. Their production has a few bumps and missteps, but, for a small community theatre, they show that they are capable of a little more than their comparable peers.

Some of the best things about this production are the use of the projections, the lighting design, the choral strength of the male ensemble, and a few notable performances. The projections are an excellent addition to the production, providing the audience with the passage of time and key statistics that highlight the decimation caused by the war. There are also powerful images of battle. Other images are used to identify character or setting. Chad LeFleur did an excellent job in his work on the design of the projection, and Elise Starkey ran the timing of the projections perfectly. The lighting (Designed by Dickie Mahoney and ran by Will Pitcock) was another excellently designed element in setting the scenes. There was really creative use of a relatively simple light system, especially the occasional use of backlighting to create certain effects.

In general, any time that a large group sang together, there was a really powerful and beautiful sound filled with very effective harmonies. This was especially true of the male ensemble. Musical Director R. Christopher Rose and the members of the cast did an excellent job of bringing robust sound to the large group. As soloists, the talent of the cast varied along a large spectrum. This was also true of some of the smaller moments of harmony with just two or three singers. However, there were enough really strong vocalists that they balanced out many of the others who struggled.

Two of those incredible vocalists were Lauren Spencer-Harris and Rob Tucker. Both shined on their ballads in terms of excellent pitch, incredible dexterity in moving through their range, and just lovely vocal tones. Both had a few moments were they over-acted in their songs a little pulling them and the audience out of the moment, but their performances were overall solid and their vocals amazing. Another incredible vocalist was Jason Crawford, and he really showed genuine emotion in “Virginia.” Paul Meehan had a beautiful voice as well; unfortunately, he always seemed to be “performing” and was wildly over-the-top.

A few other cast members had moments and elements that stood out as well. Leanto Jones’ performance was hot and cold, but he really made his mark in “Father, How Long?” and showed what he was capable of, both vocally and as an actor. J. Jeffrey Harrison and Jenny Wassom showed some of their nuances as actors in their featured bits and as part of the ensemble but were a little less vocally ideal for the score. Wassom had a beautiful lower register, and, although she could hit the soprano notes, it lacked the same color as her low range.

One of the best performances came from the underused Mike Schafer. Every time he sang, it was warm, beautiful, and melted the room. He was also always in character every time that you looked at him and really conveyed some of the most genuine emotion in the cast. It was believable that he was living the war throughout the piece.

Schafer was only topped by the brilliance that was Hudson Imhoff. “Tell My Father” could have easily been plucked out of a Tony-award winning Broadway moment. His vocals were beautiful and haunting. His performance was heartfelt and nuanced. He transported the audience to the battlefield and into his pain. If Imhoff choses to pursue acting as a profession after high school, it would be shocking if he does not end up becoming legendary. This was one of the best, most real, most beautiful moments in theatre.

Somewhere in the middle was the set. It was simple and mostly effective, although it was a shame that the slightly tattered flag center stage was bright white and obviously clean and new before the cuts made in it. Just a little more attention to some of these tiny details would have really made the production. The sound was a little rocky at first. The microphones were turned up too much and many of the actors’ words were lost on the first two songs. After that, though, the technical crew got things fixed.

Another way in which attention to detail may have helped to strengthen the performance would have been if the actors had shown a little more of the passage of time and changes in feeling through their performances. As a whole, the production was a little static. There was not a strong enough distinction between the cast in their reaction to the various stages of the war.

The only real problem with the production was the choreography. For the most part, it just didn’t work. It was a little too “musical theatre” for such an intimate, realistic score. It was especially distracting in the numbers “Peculiar Institution,” “Someday,” and “River Jordan.” The cast also tackled the choreography in such different ways that it did not help. Some switched from soldiers to chorus boys; others tried to stay in character which made the choreography seem very stiff. It would have been better to have a clear vision of how the choreography should be delivered and convey that to the cast. It also would have been nice to see something a little more inventive with the choreography to keep it in line with the rest of the show.

Despite the flaws, it is key to remember that this is an extremely difficult piece and this is volunteer, community theatre. With that in mind, Tidewater Players really achieved something significant. This is an interesting piece with a beautiful score, sprinkled with a few incredible performances. It is especially ideal for any history buffs that are interested in anything having to do with The Civil War, as it presents the information in a new and creative way.

Cast

  • Mark Briner
  • Jason Crawford
  • Jay Golden
  • Michelle Harmon
  • J. Jeffrey Harrison
  • Hudson Imhoff
  • Leanto Jones
  • H. Ray Lawson
  • Donnie Lewis
  • Paul Meehan
  • Mike Schafer
  • Paula Diggs Smith
  • Lauren Spencer-Harris
  • Todd Starkey
  • Amy Tucker
  • Rob Tucker
  • Erica Vick
  • Rondy Vick
  • Jenny Wassom
  • Tyler Daniel as the voice in the Prologue
  • Chad LeFleur as the voice of Joshua Chamberlain
  • and Chuck Klausmeyer as the voice of Abraham Lincoln

Production Staff

  • Director: Laurie Starkey
  • Musical Director: R. Christopher Rose
  • Stage Manager: Janet Dill
  • Technical Director: Todd Starkey
  • Lighting Design: Dickie Mahoney
  • Costume Coordinator: Mark Briner
  • Costumes: C & C Sutlery
  • Set Design: Laurie Starkey
  • Lightboard Operator: Will Pitcock
  • Soundboard Operator: Ken Williamson
  • Sound Mixing: Jeff Thompson
  • Projections Design: Chad LaFleur
  • Projections Operator: Elise Starkey
  • Graphic Design: Chad LeFleur
  • Set Construction/Painting: Todd Starkey, Janet Dill, Ken Williamson, H. Ray Lawson, Jay Golden, Rob Tucker, Amy Tucker, Jason Crawford, Jenny Wassom, Paula Diggs Smith, Tim Hartley, Paul Mauldin, Mark Briner

The Band

  • Conductor/Keyboards: R. Christopher Rose
  • Keyboards: Jake Bauer
  • Guitar: Christie MacDonald
  • Guitar: Jim Bowley
  • Bass: Greg Bell
  • Violin: Terry O’Neill
  • Violin: Amy Tucker
  • Percussion: Lisa Wood

Disclaimer: Tidewater Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.

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has been involved in theatre in the state of Maryland and DC for most of her life. She has acted, directed, choreographed, stage managed, and held a million other odd jobs. She has a B.S. in English from Towson University, and is currently pursuing her Master's Degree to become a Reading Specialist. She is a Maryland State Certified English, Theatre, Elementary, and Mathematics Educator. After teaching English and Drama for many years, she now teaches 6th grade Language Arts at Magnolia Middle School in Harford County, Maryland. She wrote the curriculum currently used in Prince George’s County Public Schools for Drama I and Drama II. She now writes and directs plays and musicals for use in church.

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