'Civil War' musical full of song, sad story

Published: Saturday, March 9 2013 2:00 p.m. MST

"THE CIVIL WAR"; directed by Neal C. Johnson; music direction by Korianne Orton Johnson; now through April 20; Hale Center Theater Orem; running time 2 hours 15 minutes

OREM — "The Civil War" is an unfortunate choice for Hale Center Theater.

The topic is sad, even brutal — a war that cost 620,000 soldiers their lives and divided families.

And it's not just music-heavy, it's music all the time, so much so that the few bits of spoken dialogue sprinkled sparingly throughout are like drops of water to slake a mighty thirst.

Choose this production if you really like musical theater and really want to get a history lesson on the Civil War.

It's a tough go.

The elderly people whose arrival delayed the opening night watched mostly with stony faces and the youngsters in the audience grew increasingly restless.

It's not that the director hasn't tried to pep this show up and it isn't the actors' or the singers' fault.

The cast is spot-on with their lines and into their parts. Some of the songs are haunting, a couple even lively.

The set was decked out with ragged flags and vintage accouterments like whips, leather pouches and old, but interactive portraits that are interesting.

But the show, for one thing, is too big for the tiny venue. When the soldiers are lunging about with their long swords and sharp bayonets, it's scary — when bodies are falling, the stage is full of the dying men, from end to end.

It must have been challenging to choreograph this production.

The vocals are fairly well done throughout, but there are songs with notes so low even the man singing lustily from the bottom of the scale couldn't carry them well.

Cody Hale, playing the part of Captain Billy Pierce (Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday cast) has a strong voice, and Lita Little Giddins (Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday cast) as Bessie is a standout — particularly when she sings about being a woman and bearing 13 children who were all "mostly sold into slavery" as the lash cracks behind her.

The story is a raw, harsh look at the costs of the Civil War as husbands leave their wives, brother fights against brother and good people die.

It's definitely poignant.

And it's valuable as a look back to a time when the nation nearly tore itself apart.

But there's no one character that grabs your heart and compels you to care. There's no strong theme song that lives on afterward.

Then there are a couple of minor questions that boggle the mind. Why, after all the slogging through mud and bloody battles are the soldiers' coats still pristine and clean?

Their faces are cut and dirty and their pants stained, but even in "The Old Gray Coat" song that's all about the sorry condition of the coat, the coat looks like new.

But that's picky and probably it's so because this is intended to be somewhat of a reader's theater kind of production.

Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.

Email: haddoc@desnews.com

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