The gladness of your heart is the greatest gift of all. The Huntington Theatre Company continues its 28th season - a season of American Stories - with A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration, a new uplifting holiday event by Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive, The Mineola Twins, The Baltimore Waltz). Steppenwolf Associate Artist Jessica Thebus (Intimate Apparel, Dead Man's Cell Phone, Sonia Flew) directs. Andrew Resnick (A Civil War Christmas at Long Wharf Theatre) provides musical direction of beloved holiday music supervised, arranged, and orchestrated by Daryl Waters (Tony and Grammy Award nominee for Bring in 'da Noise, Bring in 'da Funk). The Huntington's production will be enhanced by local choirs caroling from the stage before each performance.
"With A Civil War Christmas, I was struck once again by the strength of Paula's voice," says Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois. "Her writing is consistently innovative and intellectually rich. With this play, she's given a great gift to us all: a new American Christmas celebration."
A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration takes place on Christmas Eve 1864. In the White House, President and Mrs. Lincoln plot their gift giving. On the Potomac, a young rebel soldier challenges a Union blacksmith's mercy. In the streets, a fugitive from slavery searches for her daughter on the night she finds freedom. Playwright Vogel weaves these stories and more into an American tapestry, showing us that the gladness of your heart is the greatest gift of all.
"This story of a nation in transformation, emerging from slavery is half imagined and half true and told partly in honor of all of the stories that are erased from history by the hand of the historians, all of the stories hidden from us by prejudice," explains Vogel.
"The image of the Christmas tree is central to Paula's play," remarks Thebus. "The tree that our characters chase around the freezing streets is a small, domestic celebration of the possibility of grace interrupting even the most terrible moment. In each home, despite the devastation of the Civil War, a humble, homemade pageant is made manifest. The tree urges us to be brave enough to celebrate, for how can we not?"
Thebus continues, "The story of A Civil War Christmas, told directly to the audience by a community of actors, is told through fantastic music and song - originally written by forgotten hands and sung by so many voices before us. Paula's story is about transformation, and throughout the play, the cast transforms themselves into men, women, horses, mules, merchants, soldiers, figures in a dream and more. Paula's play shows with virtuosity how many twists and turns are possible with very little. You never know what magic will happen when endless transformation is possible."
The ensemble cast, including a youth chorus of six, will bring Waters' musical arrangements to life at each performance. In addition, the production will be enhanced by local choirs caroling before each performance. "We aim to wrap our arms around Greater Boston with this special production that celebrates the American spirit and our many diverse communities," says Huntington Managing Director Michael Maso. "In addition to welcoming a number of Boston's finest actors into the Huntington family, we look forward to having 34 choral groups from throughout our region take to our stage throughout the run." Participating choirs range from the Revels Touring Ensemble to the Spirit Gospel Singers to the Boston Children's Chorus.
Playwright Paula Vogel received the 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and the Lucille Lortel, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, OBIE, and New York Drama Critics Awards for Best Play for How I Learned to Drive. Her other plays include The Long Christmas Ride Home, The Mineola Twins, The Baltimore Waltz (OBIE Award), Hot ‘n' Throbbing, Desdemona, And Baby Makes Seven, and The Oldest Profession. She is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including the Rhode Island Pell Award in the Arts, the PEN/Laura Fells Foundation Award, and an AT&T New Plays Award. She currently serves as the Eugene O'Neill Professor and Chair of the Playwriting Department at the Yale School of Drama.
Vogel says, "I am thrilled to join the Huntington Theatre Company and Peter DuBois this season with my newest work. I am particularly proud and happy to work with Peter, an artist I have long admired. It is wonderful to produce this work in Boston, a place that was so actively involved in the Union effort during the Civil War, and wonderful, too, to produce the work in a theatre that has enriched the city and American theatre for decades. I am excited about working on the piece where friends and younger members of my family reside, for this work was written especially for the children in my family."