Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Some shows can feel both dated and entirely relevant at the same time. Shenandoah is one such show, as evidenced by the current production by The Human Race Theatre Company in Dayton, Ohio, presented in association with the Victoria Theatre Association. Though the 1975 show itself comes off as one of the last Broadway musicals constructed in the "traditional" style that seems old fashioned by comparison to today's Broadway musicals, its strong messages about war and the collateral damage that it brings resonate as strongly now as they did during Shenandoah's Civil War setting or the piece's Vietnam-era premiere. Human Race gives this rarely seen show a worthwhile mounting with a strong cast and production team.
Shenandoah follows the story of Virginian Charlie Anderson and his family of six sons and one daughter during the Civil War. Charlie is a pacifist and strives to keep his family out of the war. However, others have different ideas and the brood is soon forced into action when the youngest son is kidnapped. The book by James Lee Barrett, Peter Udell, and Philip Rose is somewhat episodic in nature, has some slow spots, and is certainly far from a "feel-good" story. But the show's commentary on war is biting and timeless, and especially thought-provoking as this country's own war drags on.
The score by Gary Geld (music) and Peter Udell (lyrics) is brighter in disposition. With a good mix of pleasant country-flavored ballads ("The Pickers Are Comin'," "We Make A Beautiful Pair," "The Only Home I Know"), comical charm songs ("Why Am I Me?," "Next to Lovin'"), and soliloquy-like anthems ("I've Heard It All Before," "Meditation"), each with easy on the ears homespun lyrics, there is much to enjoy.
A solid and talented cast has been assembled for Human Race's production. The role of Charlie Anderson is a good fit for Human Race regular Scott Stoney's talent, and he gives a committed and praiseworthy performance. All of the actors portraying the sons perform their roles admirably, with the youngest, Alex Roesch, getting the largest opportunity to shine. Kelly Mengelkoch (Jenny) and Morgan Grahame (Anne) provide some welcome softness as primary women in this male-heavy show. Scott Hunt (Sam) and Trey Melvin (Gabriel) also come across well in supporting roles.
Director Kevin Moore does an excellent job with his blocking, and the humor of the piece comes across magnificently. However, the scene transitions need to be accomplished a bit more smoothly. The choreography by Kevin Iega Jeff is the production's weakest element, with many of the dances seeming non-organic, and too planned and overdone. Scot Wooley capably leads an 8-piece orchestra.
Scenic Designer Mark Halpin provides a well-suited wood paneled set that is era appropriate. Flags of the Union and Confederacy made from wood are especially noteworthy. The period costumes are by Bruce Goodrich, and John Rensel's professional lighting is highlighted with several nice effects in "Meditation."
Shenandoah seems a bit creaky in its structure and features a book that sometimes works against the piece. Still, the timely message of peace and a good score give the show some relevance to both theater fans and general audiences. The Human Race Theatre Company gives this lesser known Broadway tuner a solid production in almost every respect. Shenandoah continues at the Victoria Theatre through May 18, 2008. For performance and ticket information, call (937) 228-3630 or visit www.humanracetheatre.org.-- Scott Cain