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Theatre Review (Thousand Oaks): Shenandoah by Gelb, Udell, and Barrett at Civics Oaks Plaza

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I make a habit of listening to Sirius XM Broadway channel. One of the frequent selections broadcast is from the Broadway production of Shenandoah with John Cullum. I have always regretted not seeing it when I lived in New York, so I jumped at the chance to see it when Musical Theatre Guild presented it as part of their season. This is the company that presents staged readings (although often off book) of neglected musicals with very little rehearsal (25 hours). As always, the result was wonderful with a breakout performance by Gordon Goodman as Charlie Anderson, the role that made Cullum a star.

The musical is by Gary Geld and Peter Udell with a book by Udell, Phillip Rose, and James Lee Barrett. The only other show they wrote together was Purlie. The director for the reading was the talented Calvin Remsberg with musical direction by Alby Potts. The plot of Shenandoah concerns a pacifist father (Goodwin) and his family of six sons and one daughter. It takes place during the Civil War in Virginia, and the father does his best to keep his family out of the war. This all changes when his youngest son is taken prisoner. What he consideres “not his war” is now a matter of family.

The musical lasts two and a half hours but then the Civil War wasn’t short either. The songs run the gamut of solos (many by Goodman), chorale pieces, and dance routines (although simplified for the reading). The score is blatantly sentimental and gives us a clear picture of this family at war. Its book, which won a Tony as did Cullum, doesn’t shirk from the horrors and loss of war.

The cast featured Mark C Reis, Roger Belefer, Dan Callaway, Ciaran McCarthy, Aaron Scheff, Mateo Gonzales, Kim Huber, and Melissa Lyons. These are all good performers with some great voices. I got my wish to finally see and hear this mighty score acted and sung well. Goodman’s low key but firmly grounded portrayal was the glue that held it together. If all were right in the world, he would become a star from this performance. Shenandoah played at the Alex Theatre in Glendale and at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza on June 11 and 17th.

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