By: Sandi Durell
The history of the Civil War has never been presented so creatively as in this production written by Jim Harris, a lawyer by profession, and also a singer, who found the Civil War diary of his great great uncle Joseph Henry Harris (Stephen Hope), a cotton planter from Alabama. Other letters and writings left behind are true stories in the actual words of the people who lived during the era.
The true to life characters include Theophilus (Stephen Trafton) and Harriet (Dani Marcus) Perry, a young married couple from Texas, separated when Theo went off to fight for the South and were brought to life in letters of love and sorrow, read with great intensity; Elizabeth Keckley (Danielle Lee Greaves), a slave who eventually bought her freedom and went on to live and work in the White House for Mary Todd Lincoln, and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Michael Sample), a college professor from Maine who enlisted to fight for the Union.
Their hardships, chilling stories of battle and death, injustices and hope for the future are all cleverly intertwined with songs of the period, newly arranged by Mark Hayes and presented by a thrilling cast that included Arthur W. Marks, Bruce Warren, Carly Zien, Catherine Fries Vaughn and Michael Markham who portrays Abe Lincoln.
“Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” “Oh Freedom” (post-Civil War Freedom song), “Steal Away” (pre 1862, Wallace Willis), “Amazing Grace” (1779 Christian hymn, John Newton), “Beautiful Dreamer (circa 1856, published 1864, Stephen Foster) and “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (abolitionist hymn: music 1855 William Steffe, lyrics 1862 Julia Ward Howe) are only a small part of the spectacular music, a total of 17 songs, woven in and through the actual dialogue. The music was sung by a stellar cast with poignancy and inspiring emotions. Many moments brought tears.
The 90 minute production was creatively staged and directed by Dennis Courtney on a basic barebones stage with well-placed cubes and some historical flags. The grand authentic costuming is by Janell Berte, musical direction by Laura Bergquist with Austin Hartman on violin.
Civil War Voices is an essential piece of American history that brings into focus the hard to believe fact that Americans were shedding each other’s blood on their own soil, the horrors of war and cruelty of mankind. Just as the holocaust must be kept alive so must these voices of America. There is talk that this production will have a continuing life as part of the upcoming Sesquicentennial (150 year) commemoration of the Civil War next year. This production was part of the 11th Annual Midtown International Theatre Festival.