The Huntington Theatre Co Presents A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS: An American Musical Celebration Opens 11/13
The gladness of your heart is the greatest gift of all. The Huntington Theatre Company continues its 28th season - a season of American Stories - with A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration, a new uplifting holiday event by Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive, The Mineola Twins, The Baltimore Waltz). Steppenwolf Associate Artist Jessica Thebus (Intimate Apparel, Dead Man's Cell Phone, Sonia Flew) directs. Andrew Resnick (A Civil War Christmas at Long Wharf Theatre) provides musical direction of beloved holiday music supervised, arranged, and orchestrated by Daryl Waters (Tony and Grammy Award nominee for Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk). The Huntington's production will be enhanced by local choirs caroling from the stage before each performance.
"With A Civil War Christmas, I was struck once again by the strength of Paula's voice," says Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois. "Her writing is consistently innovative and intellectually rich. With this play, she's given a great gift to us all: a new American Christmas celebration."
A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration takes place on Christmas Eve 1864. In the White House, President and Mrs. Lincoln plot their gift giving. On the Potomac, a young rebel soldier challenges a Union blacksmith's mercy. In the streets, a fugitive from slavery searches for her daughter on the night she finds freedom. Playwright Vogel weaves these stories and more into an American tapestry, showing us that the gladness of your heart is the greatest gift of all.
"This story of a nation in transformation, emerging from slavery is half imagined and half true and told partly in honor of all of the stories that are erased from history by the hand of the historians, all of the stories hidden from us by prejudice," explains Vogel.
"The image of the Christmas tree is central to Paula's play," remarks Thebus. "The tree that our characters chase around the freezing streets is a small, domestic celebration of the possibility of grace interrupting even the most terrible moment. In each home, despite the devastation of the Civil War, a humble, homemade pageant is made manifest. The tree urges us to be brave enough to celebrate, for how can we not?"
Thebus continues, "The story of A Civil War Christmas, told directly to the audience by a community of actors, is told through fantastic music and song - originally written by forgotten hands and sung by so many voices before us. Paula's story is about transformation, and throughout the play, the cast transforms themselves into men, women, horses, mules, merchants, soldiers, figures in a dream and more. Paula's play shows with virtuosity how many twists and turns are possible with very little. You never know what magic will happen when endless transformation is possible."
The ensemble cast, including a youth chorus of six, will bring Waters' musical arrangements to life at each performance. In addition, the production will be enhanced by local choirs caroling before each performance. "We aim to wrap our arms around Greater Boston with this special production that celebrates the American spirit and our many diverse communities," says Huntington Managing Director Michael Maso. "In addition to welcoming a number of Boston's finest actors into the Huntington family, we look forward to having 34 choral groups from throughout our region take to our stage throughout the run." Participating choirs range from the Revels Touring Ensemble to the Spirit Gospel Singers to the Boston Children's Chorus.
Playwright Paula Vogel received the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the Lucille Lortel, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, OBIE, and New York Drama Critics Awards for Best Play for How I Learned to Drive. Her other plays include The Long Christmas Ride Home, The Mineola Twins, The Baltimore Waltz (OBIE Award), Hot ‘n' Throbbing, Desdemona, And Baby Makes Seven, and The Oldest Profession. She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including the Rhode Island Pell Award in the Arts, the PEN/Laura Fells Foundation Award, and an AT&T New Plays Award. She currently serves as the Eugene O'Neill Professor and Chair of the Playwriting Department at the Yale School of Drama.
Vogel says, "I am thrilled to join the Huntington Theatre Company and Peter DuBois this season with my newest work. I am particularly proud and happy to work with Peter, an artist I have long admired. It is wonderful to produce this work in Boston, a place that was so actively involved in the Union effort during the Civil War, and wonderful, too, to produce the work in a theatre that has enriched the city and American theatre for decades. I am excited about working on the piece where friends and younger members of my family reside, for this work was written especially for the children in my family."
Director Jessica Thebus is an associate artist with Steppenwolf Theatre Company where she directed Intimate Apparel, Dead Man's Cell Phone, When the Messenger is Hot (also 59E59 Theatres, NYC), and Sonia Flew. Other directing credits include The Clean House (Goodman Theatre), Jekyll and Hyde, Inherit the Wind, and Red Herring (Northlight Theatre), and Turn of the Screw (Writers' Theatre.) Ms. Thebus holds a doctorate in performance studies from Northwestern University where she is currently on faculty in the directing program and has designed courses and taught at The University of Chicago, DePaul University, Columbia College, and Roosevelt University.
Music supervisor, arranger, and orchestrator Daryl Waters received Tony and Grammy Award nominations for his original music in Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk. For Broadway, he also composed the music for ReGina Taylor's Drowning Crow, orchestrated the new musical Memphis, and wrote dance arrangements for The Color Purple and Jelly's Last Jam. He worked with many entertainment legends including Cab Calloway, Nell Carter, Sammy Davis Jr., Luther Henderson, and Eartha Kitt, for whom he served as music director for 22 years.
The Huntington's season of American stories is the first in the company's 27-year history comprised entirely of shows by American writers. The plays of the season relate to one another through stories of opportunities lost and found, of intergenerational struggles and successes, and of the most intimate and meaningful relationships. Drawn from some of the best writing the country has to offer, the Huntington will engage its audience in a season-long conversation about issues of race, class, values, and a shared American experience. "This season at the Huntington, we are taking on a range of compelling American writing," says Mr. DuBois. "Each production offers us a singular point of view about the American experience, and I'm very excited by the diverse perspectives these artists bring."
The cast is led by acclaimed local actors Ken Cheeseman (President Abraham Lincoln), Karen MacDonald (Mary Todd Lincoln), and Jacqui Parker (Elizabeth Keckley). Cheeseman's Off Broadway credits include A Midsummer Night's Dream and Measure for Measure (The Public Theater/NYSF), King Lear (La Mama E.T.C.), Amphitryon and Scapin (Classic Stage Company), and numerous appearances with Actors' Shakespeare Project. Elliot Norton Award winner MacDonald is a founding member of the American Repertory Theater where she appeared in over 70 productions, most recently The Seagull, Endgame, and Trojan Barbie. Elliot Norton Award winner Parker previously appeared in Breath, Boom at the Huntington, where she is also a Playwriting Fellow, and appeared in Macbeth with Actors' Shakespeare Project and as the title role in Caroline, or Change with SpeakEasy Stage Company (IRNE Award for Best Actress).
Cheeseman, MacDonald, and Parker and each of the other members of the ensemble cast will play multiple roles in this production. The cast also includes:
· Uzo Aduba (Coram Boy on Broadway; The Seven Off Broadway) as Hannah and others;
· Chris Bannow (Speech and Debate at Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theatre; The Tempest on the National Players tour) as Chester Manton Saunders and others;
· Jason Bowen (The Duchess of Malfi, The Merchant of Venice, The Tempest and more for Actors' Shakespeare Project; A House with No Walls at New Repertory Theatre) as Jim Wormley and others
· Gilbert Glenn Brown (Forgive Me at Midtown InterNational Theatre Festival; Topdog/Underdog at Seattle Repertory Theatre/Circle Theatre Group) as Bronson Decatur and others;
· Ed Hoopman (Mr. Roberts at New Repertory Theatre; The Importance of Being Earnest at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston) as John Wilkes Booth and others;
· Savannah Koplow (a member of the Boston Children's chorus and a former member of NEC's The Singing Circle) as Jessa (alternating);
· DeLance Minefee (Dust Off Broadway; Donnie Darko at the American Repertory Theater) as Ely Parker and others;
· Stephen Russell (The Last Hurrah at the Huntington; The Life of Galileo at Underground Railway Theatre; A Pinter Duet at New Repertory Theatre) as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and others;
· Molly Schreiber (Two Men of Florence at the Huntington; A Christmas Carol at Trinity Repertory Company) as Raz and others; and
· Hyacinth Tauriac (Fences at the Huntington) as Jessa (alternating).
The cast also includes local university students Aaron Parker Fouhey, Alicia Hunt, Sarajane Mullins, Blake Pfeil, and Rebbekah Vega Romero. The following children will appear at alternating performances: Jonah Yannis, Kalaria Okali, Oliver Jay, Lily Steven, Grace Brakeman, Cameron Kelly, Gabriele Lyman-von Steig, Lauren Sabbag, Abby Spare, and Amari Veale.
The creative team for A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration includes music director/pianist Andrew Resnick (A Civil War Christmas at Long Wharf Theatre; One Night Stand: An Improvised Musical at New York Musical Theatre Festival, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and Hudson Theatre; Twilight in Manchego at NYMTF); scenic designer Dan Ostling (Tony Award nomination for Metamorphoses and Lookingglass Alice for Broadway; La Sonnambula at The Metropolitan Opera); costume designer Miranda Hoffman (Well and Mauritius for the Huntington; Well on Broadway; Stunning at Lincoln Center Theater); lighting designer T.J. Gerckens (Journey to the West for the Huntington; Metamorphoses on and Off Broadway; La Sonnambula at The Metropolitan Opera); and sound designer Ben Emerson (A Long and Winding Road, Fences, and The Miracle at Naples for the Huntington). Production Stage Manager is Gail P. Luna. Stage Manager is Leslie Sears.
The Huntington's Grand Patron is Boston University. The 2009-2010 Season Sponsor is J. David Wimberly. Production Co-Sponsors of A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration are Dola H. Stemberg and one anonymous donor.
ABOUT THE HUNTINGTON
The Huntington Theatre Company is Boston's largest and most popular theatre company, hosting 64 Tony Award-winning artists, garnering 36 Elliot Norton Awards, and sending ten shows to Broadway since its founding in 1982. In July 2008, Peter DuBois became the Huntington's third artistic leader and works in partnership with longtime Managing Director Michael Maso. In residence at and in partnership with Boston University, the Huntington is renowned for presenting seven outstanding productions each season, created by world-class artists and the most promising emerging talent, and reaching an annual audience of over 130,000. The company has premiered plays by Pulitzer Prize, Academy Award, and Tony Award-winning luminaries such as August Wilson and Tom Stoppard, as well as rising local literary stars such as Melinda Lopez and Ronan Noone. The Huntington has transferred more productions to Broadway than any other theatre in Boston, including current Broadway hit and Tony Award-winner Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps. The Huntington is also represented in New York by Carrie Fisher's currently running Wishful Drinking. The upcoming Broadway production of Present Laughter starring Victor Garber was first produced at the Huntington in 2007.
In 2004, the Huntington opened the state-of-the-art Stanford Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts, which includes 370-seat and 200-seat theatres to support the company's new works activities and to complement the company's 890-seat, Broadway-style main stage, the Boston University Theatre. The Huntington is a national leader in the development and support of new plays, producing more than 50 New England, American, or world premieres in its 28-year history. The Huntington's nationally-recognized education programs have served more than 200,000 middle school and high school students in individual and group settings and community programs bring theatre to the Deaf and blind communities, the elderly, and other underserved populations in the Greater Boston area.