The unabashedly old-fashioned Civil War musical shines in Broadway revival
NEW YORK — SHENANDOAH Musical starring John Cullum, at the Virginia Theatre (through Sept. 2). Music by Gary Geld, lyrics by Peter Udell. Book by James Lee Barrett, Mr. Udell, and Philip Rose, based on the screenplay by Mr. Barrett. Directed by Mr. Rose. BUOYED by John Culum's resonant performance in the central role, ``Shenandoah'' has returned briefly to Broadway to demonstrate anew the virtues that made it a surprise hit nearly 15 years ago. The musical adaptation of James Lee Barrett's screenplay opened to mixed notices in 1975. It went on to run for 1,050 performances, and win a Tony Award for the star.
``Shenandoah'' comes to New York for its first Broadway revival since the original production. Audience enthusiasm at a preview confirmed the continuing appeal of this forthrightly old-fashioned musical that aspires to the Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition.
Once again Mr. Cullum plays widower Charlie Anderson, a proud Virginia farmer adamantly determined to remain neutral in the Civil War threatening to close in on his well tended acres. His family and his independence mean everything to Charlie. He is affectionate, dictatorial, and pugnaciously pacifist. How the brutal war intrudes on his isolationism provides the dramatic substance and musical cues of the libretto.
The score enhances and extends the comic as well as the sentimental and serious elements of the tale. The opening ``Raise the Flag of Dixie'' plunges the spectator into the thick of battle (choreographed by Robert Tucker). The musical numbers include comic ditties like ``Next to Lovin' (I Like Fightin')''; reflections on identity for young Boy Anderson and his slave pal Gabriel (Jason Zimbler and Roy McKay); sentimental ballads and stirring tunes like ``Freedom,'' with which Anne Anderson (Camilla Scott) and Gabriel open the eventful second act.
Through it all, Mr. Cullum responds to the show's wide range of demands, from Charlie's contentious ``I've Heard It All Before'' to the widower's introspective meditations and the tender ``Papa's Gonna Make It Alright.''
The producers have chosen a vocally strong cast, well directed by Mr. Rose and supportively guided by conductor David Warrack. The principals include Tracey Moore (Jenny Anderson); Christopher Martin, Nigel Hamer, Burke Lawrence, Robin Black, and Stephen McIntyre (as Anderson's boisterous older sons); Thomas Cavanaugh (Jenny's beau); and Donald Saunders (doubling as minister and railroad man). The tracery settings were adapated by Reginald Bronskill from Kert Lundell's original designs, with costumes by Guy Geoly and lighting by Stephen Ross.