I know, I promised you part 3 of “The Wedding Singer” today which is about our trip last week to Vermont for a destination wedding. Instead there’s something I want to write about that’s incredibly self-serving of me to do so, or it would be if it didn’t involve over 100 talented people. And that’s the first concert of this season by the Manassas Chorale (full disclosure: my wife directs the group and I sing second tenor in it) on Friday, October 7 and Saturday, October 8 at 7:30 PM in Merchant Hall of the Hylton Performing Arts Center on the Prince William Campus of George Mason University. From all I’ve seen in rehearsals, it should be an intense and special theater experience.
Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory is a dramatic reading version of Civil War Voices, a new work with book by James Harris and arrangements of traditional American folk songs by the American composer, pianist, conductor, and workshop leader Mark Hayes. Among other things, Mark writes music for the church that is sophisticated and light-years from being overly simplistic or “dumbed down.” The musical won six awards at the Midtown Theater Festival in New York City in June, 2011, including “Best Production of a Musical.”
The production uses the words and thoughts taken from letters and diaries of five characters embroiled in the conflict. Joe Harris was a cotton planter from Alabama with a conflicted conscience. (The discovery of the existence of his Civil War diary inspired the play.) Elizabeth Keckley was born a slave, bought her freedom, and became Mary Todd Lincoln’s closest friend and personal assistant in the White House. Theo and Harriet Perry were a young married couple from Texas, who were seperated by the war. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was a college professor from Maine, who enlisted to fight for the Union.
The play follows the lives of these five characters as the Civil War progresses. Theo Perry’s wife gives birth to a son a few months after he leaves to fight in the war. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain becomes a national war hero as a result of his actions at Gettysburg and accepts the Confederate surrender at Appomattox. Elizabeth Keckley endures the indignity of slavery in early life, but eventually gains her freedom and moves to Washington, D.C. There she becomes close friends with the Lincoln family. Her joy at the news of the Confederate surrender turns to sorrow when President Lincoln is assassinated. She eventually wrote a tell-all book about experiences in the White House called Behind the Scenes. The nation was not ready for such a book written by a black woman and she was scorned and ridiculed for it. She died alone and nearly destitute.
These characters are animated by the actors of the Gray Ghost Theater Company directed by Ken Elston; the music consists of solos and multipart arrangements sung by the over 100-voice award-winning Manassas Chorale directed by Becky Verner.
Even if you care nothing about the Civil War, you owe it to yourself to experience the thoughts and anguish of these five people, brought to life in a haunting, beautiful and powerful fashion.
Tickets for this concert are $18 for Orchestra and Parterre Boxes;
$15 for First Balcony; and $12 for Second Balcony.
They may be obtained by Phone: 888-945-2468 (daily 10:00 AM to 9:00 PM) (service charge added)
Online: www.hyltoncenter.org (service charge added)
and in Person at the:
- Hylton Center Box Office (Wednesday through Saturday, 12:00 PM to 6:00 PM)
- Hylton Center Box Office on the night of the concert
GMU Students (with a valid student ID) and Children (12 and under) are free but must pick up a ticket at the Hylton Box Office. If you are purchasing tickets ahead of time, you must inform the Hylton that you require one or more children’s tickets so that they can reserve those next to the seats that you purchase.