Serenbe Playhouse is presenting the musical drama “Shenandoah,” with a book by James Lee Barrett, Peter Udell, and Philip Rose; music by Gary Geld, lyrics by Peter Udell. The show is directed by Serenbe Artistic Director Brian Clowdus and has already been extended until April 14.
It is based on a 1965 Civil War film with James Stewart; it became a Broadway musical in 1975 and was briefly revived there in 1989. It is a lilting slice of Americana; it bravely attempts to wave the flag of civility as this country is nearly torn apart by the bloodiest war in its history.
Charlie (the family owns no slaves) has decreed that the war is not part of his brood, as he doesn’t believe in fighting other people’s wars (“That’s what war is, boys—open season on strangers”). For awhile they are sort of a Trapp family encampment of peace in the middle of the conflict raging all about them.
But Charlie’s pacific philosophy becomes impossible to maintain once his youngest son Robert (Pilot Bunch) is kidnapped and taken prisoner by Union soldiers. All but one of the Anderson men leave home to look for him. James (Daniel Burns) stays on the farm to care for his wife and newborn child. They become victims of scavenger soldiers.
I can’t tell you any more of the plot, but I want to mention the moving friendship between young Robert (sometimes called “Boy”) and Gabriel (Caleb Baumann), who is black. The color difference means nothing to them, and they steal your heart immediately. Remember the song “Carefully Taught” in “South Pacific”? These boys have not been taught prejudice of any kind and have none—only love for their best friend.
In addition to those whom I’ve mentioned, the entire cast is able and admirable: They include Chase Davidson, Cullen Gray, Jeremy Gee, Aaron Schilling, and Jeremy Skidmore. Many are fine dancers; choreography is by Bubba Carr.
The music is tuneful and serviceable but not memorable in a Rodgers and Hammerstein way. However, it’s performed very well; and the orchestra, under Chris Brent Davis’ direction, is superb. Major kudos for the scenic design (Adam Koch), costumes (Emmie Thompson), lighting (Joel Coady), and sound (Rob Brooksher). You do recall we are outside, so excellent technical work is a necessity; and we’ve got it. Mr. Clowdus has a talent for working with the best.
You recall that Serenbe has become nationally prominent for creating art in the middle of woods and fields; they’ve given new meaning to the term “site specific.” As you enter, you are immediately plunged into a Civil War ambience, complete with army encampments, and skirmishes between Union and Confederate soldiers. And all of this flows into and ignites the show!
I have one major caveat to tell you: spring may have sprung, but when I saw the show it became cold. You absolutely must dress warmly. The audience is admonished by the theatre in emails to do this; please heed them. When night falls, it becomes colder, as you know. We’re not seeing “Hair” in the summertime (although it’s coming again!).
“Shenandoah” may not rank with Serenbe Playhouse’s greatest shows (such as “Oklahoma,” “Evita,” “Miss Saigon,” “Cabaret”), but it has charm, beauty, humor, and great humanity.
For tickets and information, visit serenbeplayhouse.com.