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The Civil War
by Broadway - San Diego

The Civil War is currently raging at the San Diego Civic Theatre. 140 years ago, nearly 500,000 lost their lives over a unbelievably bloody period of four years. By far the most deadly war Americans have ever faced. More than 56,000 were loss at Gettysburg alone. By way of comparison, in three days at Gettysburg we lost approximately as many American lives as we did during the entire Vietnam War.

As in any war, and most plays, there were moments of both gore and glory in this stage version of the war. Fortunately, in the stage version, the glory managed to outweigh the gore. The glory is in the astounding singing of the extraordinary cast. Larry Gatlin leads as the southern Rebel captain. His strength is in his dynamic, talented, and entertaining singing. He shines the brightest in Old Gray Coat, a rousing country western tune that is right up Gatlin's alley.

However, the best and biggest numbers of the night did not belong to the soldiers, but to the slaves. David Jennings and Gwen Jackson provide one of the few truly moving scenes as a husband and wife who are parted when auctioned to different slave owners in If Prayin Were Horses (a song that's better than its name). David Jennings, Moses Braxton Jr., and Keith Byron combine their voices with beautiful precision in Father, How Long. And the most inspiring number of the night concludes Act One, when Dawana Gudger-Richardson electrifies the theatre with the gospel-like Someday. The slaves get the crowd going again in Act Two's River Jordan led by David Jennings.

The northern Yankees certainly weren't without their great scenes as well. Keith Byron Kirk's powerful voice did the great orator and abolitionist Frederick Douglas justice in Freedom's Child. Kenita Miller, Gwen Jackson, and Nicolette Hart combine elegantly for the tender Candle in the Window. Nicolette Hart really demonstrates her tremendous voice in her solo The Honor of Your Name. Steve Gannon delivers on the sensitive Sarah. And Michael Lanning, as a northern captain, certainly holds his own against his southern adversary Larry Gatlin, in Northbound Train.

As previously mentioned, there was some gore, too. The basic idea was good, to do a story based on the lives of the common people affected by the war. But the montage of disconnected scenes and the lack of a storyline make it difficult to become emotionally involved in the play. Few scenes affected me except for being wowed by the singing. The choreography was bland, repetitive, and unimaginative. The lyrics by Jack Murphy (not San Diego's Jack Murphy) are average at best. Fortunately the musical score by Frank Wildhorn (The Scarlet Pimerpenel, Jekyll and Hyde) made it possible to ignore the lyrics and enjoy the music and singing. Although not quite equal to Wildhorn's other works, The Civil War includes several appealing pieces that allow the actors to showcase their incredible vocal talents. I eagerly anticipate Wildhorn's next production, Dracula: The Musical, making its world premiere at the La Jolla Playhouse this October!

Rob Hopper
San Diego Playbill

~ Cast ~

The Southern Captain: Larry Gatlin
A Soldier: Rich Affannato
A Slave: Moses Braxton, Jr.
The Husband: Steve Gannon
A Slave: Dawana Gudger-Richardson
The Soldier's Wife: Nicolette Hart
The Slave's Wife: Gwen Jackson
A Slave: Fran Jaye
A Slave: David Jennings
A Soldier: Chad Kimball
The Abolitionist: Keith Byron Kirk
The Union Captain: Michael Lanning
A Slave: Kenita Miller
A Soldier: Royal Reed
A Slave: Roy Richardson, Jr.
A Soldier: Clay Roberts
A Soldier: Travis Turpin