Directed by Henry Godinez
Music Direction by Chuck Larkin
At Northlight Theatre, Skokie
Ambitious glimpse into America’s past at Christmas has its moments
Paula Vogel’s epic glimpse into Civil War Washington, D.C. in 1864 is a series of episodes with interlocking stories set during Christmas in war weary times. It is more of a play with music rather than a musical. What music there is, and it could use more period songs, is a mixture of period music including marches, folksy patriotic numbers and stirring gospel tunes.
Director Henry Godinez staged the show deftly having his dozen principal players weave their stories on and off the open stage so swiftly that the show plays as if their were 50 + actors!. The songs consisted of mostly individuals singing short solos moving from character to character with ensemble harmonies. One could wish that singers like Felicia P. Fields, Paula Scrofano and James Earl Jones II could have had more to sing.
The story line finds Mary Todd Lincoln (Paula Scrofano) and her friend Elizabeth Keckley (Felicia P. Fields) shopping for Christmas gifts and for a Christmas tree – a rarity in 1864 Washington, D.C. A fugitive from slavery and her young daughter get separated in D.C. on the snowy Christmas Eve.
A Black soldier shoes horses as he plots how to kill more Confederates in revenge for their kidnapping his wife. President Lincoln (Will Clinger) defies his security and rides alone on the streets of D.C. while John Wilkes Booth (Derek Hasenstab) and his cohorts plan to kidnap or assassinate Lincoln. Moses Levy (Samuel Roberson) escapes a Confederate prison and now is suffering fatal ailments in a D. C. hospital. He is visited by Mary Todd Lincoln but he request a visit from Walt Whitman (Will Clinger). There is a Union supply soldier (James Earl Jones II), a Black tradesman and his employees and various Army Generals and Cabinet officials all having contributions to the story lines.
While the sense of community is established and the spirit of the times evolves as uplifting, I wonder how accurate that was when one considers that 1864 ended with the Civil War becoming a deadlocked trench war outside Richmond with mass slaughter on both sides?
As presented by Paula Vogal, the spirit of community emerges as the best of human nature comes out during the Christmas holiday. I only wish that Vogel had picked fewer stories and developed those more instead of trying to tell so many stories that each is reduced to a mere anecdote. Talents such as Felicia P. Fileds, Will Clinger, David Girolmo, James Earl Jones II and Bethany Jorgensen were underused.
The message of communal hope and reconciliation comes across here and the musical moments sounded fine. Too bad there wasn’t more songs and less stories. Still, A Civil War Christmas carries a nice message.
At Northlight Theatre, 9501 N. Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL, call 847-673-6300, www.northlight.org, tickets $45 – $55, Tuesdays at 7:30 pm, Wednesdays at 1 & 7:30 pm, Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 2;30 & 8 pm, Sundays at 2:30 and 7 pm, running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with intermission.