In between planning great shows like concerts from country music star's Charlie Daniels and Kellie Pickler, the Overlook Theatre Company has been hard at work putting the final touches on “The Civil War Musical,” which will take the stage Aug. 23- 26 at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts.
Although the cast has been rehearsing for a little more than a month, the musical's production crew has been working on the creative design of the play for more than a year.
Drawing on the letters, diaries, firsthand accounts, and the words of Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass and Walt Whitman, The Civil War promises to be a thrilling, gut-wrenching and awe-inspiring dramatic theatrical presentation that will cover the enormous emotional landscape of the most difficult test our nation has ever endured. This epic thematic revue, puts a human face on the greatest tragedy of American history, exploring not only the experiences of the soldiers and leaders who fought for their way of life and the loved ones and families they left behind, but also the hopes and fears of the slaves and citizens whose freedom was at stake.
The musical spans the thoughts and feelings of many different characters from all walks of life from the upper class to the slaves and workers. The play is less of a story and more of an experience for what each of these people felt and went through.
According to Artistic Director Scotty Corbin, the two-act theatrical presentation will be the first show to focus on minimal setting. “Most of the story is told through moving projections rather than a physical set so we can take the audience from a battle field, to a snowy street in Washington, DC,” said Corbin. “The show is not so much a book musical as it is a character study as the audience experiences the emotions and uncertainty that these people were going through in such a violent time.”
The 90-minute production utilizes a group of roughly 50 people who make up the cast and crew. Between the group, there are Civil War soldiers, a quilting circle, and countless hands helping with make-up and costumes.
To draw inspiration for the production's costumes, Corbin explained that the design team studied historical photos to make the costumes as accurate as possible. “We looked at lots of old photos and tried to make costumes as authentic as possible, but still make them comfortable for the performers,” said Corbin. “Most of the soldiers’ uniforms were made of wool, but on stage under the hot lights, that can roast a performer.”
According to Corbin, the production's music is heart wrenching and is intended to force emotion out of the audience in order to make the performances relatable and realistic. “The music in the Civil War is completely original and written for this production which played Broadway in the late 1990s.” said Corbin. “Although most of the music will be unfamiliar to the audience, the melodies and lyrics are very “stick to you.” It will be hard to let go of the emotion once the audience has left the building.
“The Civil War is a beautiful production full of emotion and power.” said Corbin. “Although it is historical, the show is more about the human experience and how the footprint of this generation ripples to the generations after.”
According to cast member Samuel Crabtree, he is most excited for the emotion that he anticipates will be sparked in the audience through the music. “My favorite part of this show is the last song,” said Crabtree. “It's a great song that I think will really touch many people emotionally and they will leave with a realization of what impact the Civil War had on our nation.”
Dedicated to his character, Crabtree has found being able to accurately portray the emotion of the solider he plays to the audience to be his greatest challenge. “The most challenging part of this show, for me personally, has been trying to find an emotional connection to the character that I portray so that I can really get a feel of what he might have been going through at that time,” he said. “It's almost impossible to know how someone might have felt in this war. Having to go to war against your own country, brothers fighting brothers? You really have to dig deep to give the best portrayal of what these characters might have felt.”
One piece of advice Crabtree offers people who plan to attend, is bring a tissue. “This show is a very emotional show. Everyone who comes to see it just know that we have tissues for sale in our concession stand because you will need them,” said Crabtree. “I really enjoy the music to this show and everyone in the cast does a great job, as usual.”