New Jersey Stage

Monday, October 24, 2011

'Civil War' speaks anew to the 21st century, at Monmouth University

(WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ) -– Its bloody battles decimated a generation, tore families asunder and exposed wounds that a nation still struggles to come to grips with.

At the heart of America's Civil War, however, were personal stories of courage, conscience and complicated emotions that played out on the most intimate of battlefields.

Here in the 150th anniversary year of the outbreak of the War Between the States, the people who lived this history — from plantation slaves to storied commanders — have returned to speak to us through Civil War Voices: Songs and Memoirs of Five Extraordinary Lives, a touring multimedia theatrical presentation that adds light and life to this darkest chapter in U.S. history.

On the afternoon of Sunday, October 30, the Center for the Arts at Monmouth University welcomes Civil War Voices to the stage of the Pollak Theatre, as part of the 2011-2012 Performing Arts Series on our West Long Branch, NJ campus.

Using stirring renditions of period songs, as well as the actual diaries and letters of the people who lived it, this musical drama by composer/arranger Mark Hayes and book author James R. Harris conjures the era of the Civil War through illuminating portraits of five real life Americans — the conflicted Southern planter and reluctant soldier Joe Harris, the former slave Elizabeth Keckley (who became Mary Todd Lincoln's closest confidante), the separated-by-war spouses Theo and Harriet Perry, and the college professor who would go down in history as the heroic General Joshua Chamberlain.

Investing familiar hymns, marches and folk spirituals like "Amazing Grace," "Dixie," "When Johnny Comes marching Home" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" with new relevance, the play traces the timeline of the Civil War through triumphs and tragedies that impact an entire nation, or just a single household — from the birth of a child whose father has gone off to war, to the joy and grief of a freed slave at the news of the Confederate surrender and the Lincoln assassination. An ensemble of professional actors brings this fully staged and costumed musical to life in a production that's been seen at colleges, museums and performing arts centers from the Manhattan theater district to the battlegrounds at Gettysburg.

"Civil War Voices" is not just for Civil War buffs. The show reflects the struggles, large and small, of both the North and the South – stories not found in history books. "The really beautiful thing is, by the end of the play, we see that even though it was North vs. the South, we all were so much the same, with such similar human hopes and fears," said Assistant Director Katy Brown.

The Center for the Arts at Monmouth University is proud to offer the New Jersey premiere of Civil War Voices, on a Performing Arts Series program that's been honored by the NJ State Council on the Arts and the Monmouth County Arts Council for an ongoing mission of education, enrichment and dedication to the community.

To purchase tickets, or for additional information on the 2011-2012 Performing Arts season, please contact the Monmouth University Performing Arts Box Office at 732-263-6889, or online at