'Shenandoah' review

"Come on rebel grab your gun. Yankee Doodle wants to have some fun. Union blue sure looks fine, runnin' away from a long gray line."

— "Shenandoah," the musical, playing at the Camelot Theatre in Talent.

Based on a 1965 Civil War film starring James Stewart, "Shenandoah," is an entertaining all-American musical, yet it still reflects strong anti-war and humanitarian themes.

As the Civil War rages around his farm in the Shenandoah Valley, free-thinking, church-going Charlie Anderson (widower and father of seven grown children) sees no reason to send his sons to war. He and his family have tilled the soil themselves to reap a bountiful harvest. Charlie has no use for slavery and feels no obligation to the Confederacy to sacrifice his children for a cause he distains. Charlie is not a pacifist; he is a hunter who also likes a good fight. However, he sees war as "open season on strangers." As the tragedy of war envelopes his family, Charlie does some serious soul searching and finds sorrow and joy in the cycle of life.

Bob Miner is commanding as the hardworking patriarch, Charlie Anderson. Miner plays a mean harmonica; his performance is solid and always entertaining. The lively Anderson brothers set aside their own attitudes, and they unflinchingly obey and support their father's wishes, with rifles if necessary. The Andersons engage in exuberant choral and acrobatic dance numbers such as, "Next to Lovin' (I Like Fightin')."

As for the gun-toting ladies: Shannon McReynolds, as Jenny Anderson, is a remarkable comedienne, and Rebecca K. Campbell, as Anne, exhibits a sweet personality. The two engage in sparkling harmonies in "We make a Beautiful Pair."

Grant Shepard plays the cantankerous Reverend Byrd, who passionately preaches to his Sunday morning congregation, gradually becoming more and more disillusioned, and then spiritually lost.

Kevin Weatherby turns in a strong and engaging performance as the slave child Gabriel. Lucas Gandy as Boy (Charlie's youngest child, Robert Anderson) delivers his cute quips with aplomb.

Costume designer Emily Ehrlich Inget has dressed the civilian characters in well-appointed period costumes. However, the mismatched ill-fitting uniforms of the soldiers, meant to reflect the failing fortunes of the Confederate army, show no signs of soil or distress, making the soldiers appear comic rather than unfortunate.

Lighting design by Bart Grady displays starry skies, brilliant sunsets, shadowy woods, and stained glass reflections. The sturdy and intricately painted set was designed and built by Don Zastoupil. The intimacy of the Camelot Theatre, plus the close proximity of the audience, lends power to the production.

The surround sound designed by Brian O'Connor (with its realistic horse whinnies, crickets, train engines, whistles and baby cries) supplies the production with surprising realism and humor.

Music, under the capable direction of Don Tull, allows soothing instrumental melodies to envelope clever lyrics highlighting strong choral work throughout the show. Challenging choreography by Rebecca K. Campbell is neatly executed by all members of the cast.

Director Livia Genise has skillfully managed to sanitize the story's inherent violence without lessening its anti-war message. "Shenandoah" ultimately celebrates family ties, though the family's hopes and dreams have been roundly plowed under. A depleted Anderson family joins the Sunday congregation as the last hymn is sung, "If the struggle be his will, I am ready "¦ you can pass the cross to me." The evening ends with rousing "freedom bows," "Freedom is a body's 'magination, freedom is a fulltime occupation, freedom is the state of mind."

"Shenandoah" plays through April 12. For tickets and information, call 535-5250 or visit www.camelottheatre.org.

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