Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of The Sex Habits of American Women
The 1975 musical by with music by Gary Geld, lyrics by Peter Udell, and book by James Lee Barrett, Udell, and Philip Rose originated with a 1963 screenplay by Barrett, which starred Jimmy Stewart as a Virginia farmer determined to keep his family safe from the Civil War. John Cullum headed the Broadway cast with an outsized, heroic performance. Scott Bakula takes the role at Ford's and makes it his own, playing patriarch Charlie Anderson not as a symbol, but on a human scale, a man deeply invested in his family.
The core of Tobin Ost's scenic design is a large, weathered picture frame inscribed with the words "The Nation Mourns." The frame sets up a diorama effect for the opening number, "Raise the Flag of Dixie," which depicts a Civil War battle among members of the male chorus who, in costumes also designed by Ost, are wearing Rebel gray on one side, Union blue on the other. The singers need only reverse profiles to become the enemy, a neat metaphor for the brother-against-brother nature of the conflict.
Charlie believes that, since he and his family have never owned slaves and work their own land by themselves, the battle between north and south is none of their business. He works the land with the help of his six sons, one daughter, and a pregnant daughter-in-law, and only becomes involved with the war when it strikes his own family.
Bakula's portrayal of Charlie is deeply thoughtful and ultimately anguished, whether recounting his concerns at his wife's grave or taking decisive action on behalf of his children. Through it all, he ably portrays an ordinary man pushed to do things he never thought he would have to do.
The older Anderson sons (Aaron Ramey, Andrew Samonsky, Rick Faugno, Bret Shuford, Ryan Jackson) tend to blur into each other, but they're all strapping fellows whose gymnastic dance to "Next to Lovin' (I Like Fightin')" is closely related to the muscular choreography of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. The youngest son (Kevin Clay) gets more chance to show off, and he's well matched in size and voice with Mike Mainwaring as a slave child.
Perhaps because of the changing perception of women's roles since 1975, this production builds up the role of Charlie's daughter Jenny (Megan Lewis), allowing her to roughhouse with her brothers while also giving her comic romantic scenes with her bashful suitor, Sam (Noah Racey). Jenny's assertiveness also provides an ironic counterpoint to the "wisdom about women" her father gives Sam when he asks to marry her.