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Hale Center Theater Orem
The illustration of "The Civil War" at Hale Center Theater Orem Feb. 28-April 20.

OREM — An nontraditional musical based on the events of perhaps the most difficult test the United States of America has undergone, "The Civil War" is a production that will teach history as well as entertain.

Director Neal C. Johnson calls it the most real show he's directed in his career.

"It's a tapestry, a musical fest of styles, stories, letters and works," Johnson said as he explained the show, which does not have a traditional storyline, but rather the show is a kind of musical event that borrows techniques from rock music, concert performance, oratorio and song cycles.

Drawn on the accounts of Abraham Lincoln, statesman Frederick Douglass and writer Walt Whitman as well as journals and letters from Hannah Ropes, Mary Chestnut, Henry Kyd Douglas of the 2nd Virginia Infantry and Henry H. Pearson of the 6th New Hampshire Company, "The Civil War" puts a human face on the conflict, said Hale Center managing director Anne Swenson.

The show is a "gut-wrenching, awe-inspiring musical" that passionately asks the audience to consider their beliefs about freedom, honor and faith, she said.

The stories and songs describe the emotions of the time as brothers and friends fought one another to preserve a way of life and yet give freedom to thousands of slaves in a new America.

"It's a beautiful way of human connection and truth," Johnson said. "There's anger and conflict and prejudice and bias but there's also a love story. It becomes clear that God doesn't have a particular race he prefers. He's color blind."

The show is written by Gregory Boyd and Frank Wildhorn, with lyrics by Jack Murphy and music by Wildhorn.

It was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical in 1999 and toured the nation in 2000.

Johnson said it's been a challenge for him and for his cast of 17 men who can sing high tenor and six women whom he has asked not to act but to simply be.

"I told them at the auditions, 'You're not actors. You're real people.' I want them to become the people who wrote these accounts, who lived these lives," he said.

Johnson said the show is perfect for history buffs and students learning about the Civil War. That's the reason Cody and Anne Swenson chose it to be presented to schoolchildren using funding from Orem City's CARE tax to help defray the costs.

"They (the Swensons) asked me to find these nuggets of truth in the show and share them with the audience," Johnson said.

If you go:

What: "The Civil War"

When: 7:30 p.m. Mon-Saturday with 3 p.m. Saturday matinees Feb. 28-April 20

Where: Hale Center Theater Orem, 225 W. 400 North

Tickets: $16-$20 available at Haletheater.org or 801-226-8600 (Preview tickets $11 for Feb. 22, 23, 25, 26. Student matinees $4 for 9 a.m. March 5, 13, 19)

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