Review Roundup: Connecticut Repertory Theatre Presents A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS
Connecticut Repertory Theatre (CRT) continues its 2018-19 season with Paula Vogel's "A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration." Elizabeth VanDyke will direct. Performances will be held in the Harriet S. Jorgenson Theatre from November 29th - December 9th, 2018. For tickets and information please visit crt.uconn.edu or call (860) 486-2113.
Christmas, 1864. With the nation at war, it is not a silent night. All is not peaceful or bright. On one side of the Potomac, an escaped slave hurries her daughter toward the capital and freedom. On the other side, a young Confederate runs away from home with hopes of joining the fight. In the capital, Mrs. Lincoln is in desperate need of the perfect gift for her husband Abe. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paula Vogel creates a historical and musical masterpiece in "A Civil War Christmas," one that is uniquely American. In the shadow of our own partisan divide, can the nation put aside its differences and share in the hope and generosity the Christmas season has to offer, and the promise of Christmas future?
The ensemble cast is led by Tony Award-nominee Forrest McClendon. McClendon is a UCONN alum and grew up in Connecticut. He last appeared onstage at Connecticut Repertory Theatre in "Peter and the Starcatcher" in 2016.
Forrest McClendon is a Tony Award nominee for his Broadway debut as Mr. Tambo in "The Scottsboro Boys," first created at the Vineyard and Guthrie Theaters. Post-Broadway, Forrest received a Barrymore Award for his reprisal of the role at the Philadelphia Theatre Company. He also starred in the London premiere at the Garrick Theatre, which received the London Evening Standard Award for Best Musical, and he is featured on the Off-Broadway and West End recordings. Forrest received his Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from UConn, and made his professional debut as the Padre in "Man of La Mancha" at Nutmeg Summer Theatre. A recipient of the prestigious Lunt-Fontanne Fellowship, Forrest's nationwide appearances in plays and musicals range from the Foundling Father in Suzan-Lori Parks'; "The America Play" (B. Iden Payne Award) to Roscoe in "Avenue X" (Barrymore Award) by Ray Leslee (music) and John Jiler (lyrics). His recent Off-Broadway credits include "Cabin in the Sky" (City Center Encores), "Their Eyes Were Watching God" (Billie Holiday Theatre), as well as developmental readings of the musical "The Waves" with Raul Esparza and Sutton Foster, and the play "Thoughts of a Colored Man" directed by Taye Diggs.
Tabatha Gayle is an AEA Jamaican-Asian performer, multidisciplinary creative, and activist based in NYC. A 2018 BFA Acting graduate of the University of Connecticut, she performed with the Connecticut Repertory Theater in productions such as 'The Importance of Being Earnest' (Gwendolen), 'Shrek The Musical' (Humpty Dumpty/Soloist), and 'Our Country's Good' (Mary Brenham). Gayle has worked with The Resident Acting Company of New York on productions such as 'Electra,' directed by Margarett Perry, and 'Big Night' (Vera Murphy). Recent Off-Broadway credits include "If Sand Were Stone" at the New York Musical Festival and her self-written play, 'Misogynoir,' which debuted at Ars Nova and returned to the Prelude Festival 2018 in October.
Director Elizabeth Van Dyke serves as the Producing Artistic Director of Going to the River and The River Crosses River: A Festival of Short Plays by Women of Color. These programs support and champion the work of African-American Female playwrights and women playwrights of color. The artistic home-base for these programs is the Ensemble Studio Theatre in New York City. Directorial credits include: "The Ballad of Emmit Till" (Giorgee Award, Best Director), "Gee's Bend," "From Sun to Sun," "Great Men of Gospel: Spirit into Sound" (Audelco Award, Best Director), "A Raisin in the Sun," "Waiting to be Invited," "The Piano Lesson," "Sophisticated Ladies" (Onyx Award, Best Director & Best Musical Production of the Year), "The Old Settler, "Sweet Mama Stringbean," "For Colored Girls," "Ti Jean and His Brother," "Remembering Weselves: The Black Renaissance."
Let's see what the critics have to say!
Christopher Arnott, Hartford Courant: The student cast, which works beautifully together as an ensemble, also wears all those fancy dresses and soldier uniforms very well. The strapping Rob Barnes is eerily right for the role of a muscular, brooding Lincoln. As Mary Todd Lincoln, Erin Cessna follows the nuances of Vogel's script, which allows the first lady to appear "manic" and understandably depressed at times, but doesn't buy into the myths that she was unstable and severely mentally ill.
Tim Leininger, Journal Inquirer: Because there are so many different characters in this play that runs about 2½ hours, most of them don't get too much development, but there is trust in the audience to have familiarity enough with the more famous ones that they don't need as much development as the less prominent ones.
Joseph Harrison, BroadwayWorld: The music for A CIVIL WAR BWW Review: A CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS: AN AMERICAN MUSICAL CELEBRATION at Connecticut Repertory TheatreCHRISTMAS, by Daryl Waters, is a mix of familiar carols, civil war songs and spirituals. There are moments where these songs work quite nicely into a particular scene and others where the placement of the song seems a bit forced. The musical performances in this production are decent with a few standout musical moments. Paul Feyer serves as Musical Director and creates the strongest of these moments whenever the full cast is involved. Anna Brewster's scenic design is simple, yet effective and Corey Brittain's period costumes work very well, particularly the beautiful hoop-skirted dresses of Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckley. Sound design by Mitchell Prescott is solid as is Matt Lazarus' lighting.