- Grand and Glorious CHAMBERLAIN Stirs the Heart
by Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold
Maine State Music Theatre's second production of the season, a revival of the Knapp-Alper 1996 musical Chamberlain A Civil War Romance, proves to be a grand and glorious theatrical experience, an endeavor of epic proportions that delivers spectacle, emotion, and inspiration in equal measure.
Spanning more than fifty years in the life of Brunswick's legendary Civil War hero, Maine governor, and Bowdoin college president, Joshua L. Chamberlain, and focusing on his relationship with his passionate, mercurial wife, Fannie Adams, the musical, in this brilliantly executed new production, directed and choreographed by Marc Robin, offers both epic sweep and touching intimacy. Large in musical and dramatic scale, lavish in production values, and cast with a first rate ensemble of singing-actors, Chamberlain dazzles the ear and eye and warms the heart.
Originally commissioned by MSMT's then-artistic director, Charles Abbott, Chamberlain - like other shows such as Les Miserables, Camelot, or Man of LaMancha - must create a coherent narrative from sprawling historical events and larger- than-life characters. Lyricist/ book writer, Sarah Knapp succeeds admirably at this tricky task, weaving a tale of parallel, frequently conflicting loves - that of Chamberlain for duty and destiny pitted against his devotion to his wife Fannie. She gracefully intersperses private moments with panoramic events, always approaching the latter (except in the rousing Act I finale at the Battle of Little Round Top) from the private perspective of her protagonists. Relying on the letters of Joshua and Fannie, Chamberlain's own rousing rhetoric, and the words of poets like Shakespeare and the Brownings, Knapp fashions unabashedly romantic and inspiring lyrics that easily translate into song. In this version, revised for the current revival, she keeps the dramatic arc taut and filled with palpable tension, while humanizing her characters with tender wit and vulnerability.
Steven M. Alper's music rises to the dramatic challenge, finding a language that blends the 19th century vernacular of religious and patriotic hymns and parlor tunes with the show-stopping expansiveness of the legitimate Broadway style. His musical idiom is an organic outgrowth not only of the material and the period, but also of the individual characters' psyches and milieus, and he balances big solos with complex ensemble pieces. Speech seamlessly segues into song, and dialogue is often stirringly underscored. The orchestrations by Larry Hochman, Douglas Besterman, and Bruce Coughlin combine subtlety and sweep, and add luxuriant texture to the overall canvas. The six pit musicians under the direction of Ray Fellman play passionately and sensitively, creating the impression of a much larger orchestra.
Marc Robin directs with a cinematic flair, moving the action seamlessly from scene to scene, keeping a tight reign on pace, and creating panoramic, painterly tableaux that resonate with historic grandeur, all the while, not losing sight of the human dimensions of the drama. His choreography is fluid and his musical staging has a naturalistic ease. His handling of Act I, scene 5 Little Round Top battle is brilliantly conceived and executed. At the same time he is able to elicit highly nuanced performances, not only from the principals, but also from the ensemble, each of whom assumes a number of character identities throughout the evening. But most of all, Robin imparts to this production a strong visionary bent: Chamberlain is about ideals that are worth living and dying for, just as it is about flawed human beings, who rise to occasions thrust upon them by life and history.
MSMT's cast, a combination of veteran actors and young performers, outdoes itself in fulfilling Robin's concept. In the title role James Patterson gives a towering performance, capturing the dignity and self-doubt of the hero, the determination and vulnerability, the agonizing conflict between destiny and self, and he convincingly conveys Chamberlain's advancing age and physical ailments. His chocolaty velvet baritone soars and caresses, summoning the heroic power needed for "I Believe in Destiny." Kathy Voytko captures the prismic personality of Fannie Chamberlain, by turns, capricious, captivating, cranky, passionate, needy, fearful, and ultimately forgiving. Her luminous soprano handles the musical challenges of the part with flexibility and bravura, shining in her big moments such as the vulnerable "Alone in the Dark" and the angry "So Sorry for Me."
Sam Weber and Ben Mayne play Chamberlain's brothers Tom and John with incisive contrast. Weber embodies the youthful energy and optimism of the young Union solider in Act I and the jaded despair of a disappointed and drifting alcoholic in Act II, while Mayne manages to convey the consumptive clergyman John's sweet, gentle idealism without ever descending into the saccharine. David Girolomo is an imposing Reverend Adams, Heidi Kettenring a strong-voiced, sharp-tongued Mildred, while Mike Schwitter enjoys a show stopping turn as the southern soldier Jebediah Logan, who delivers "Heaven Must Have Plans" with a moving innocence. The remainder of the extremely talented cast is called upon to create a series of cameos as soldiers and townsfolk, often grouped musically into smaller units, as well as large ensembles.
The company has spared no efforts in creating a lavish production to match the heroic scope of the drama. Robert Klingelhoefer's masterful scenic design is structurally spare - a series of sliding panels which evoke First Parish Church or a series of interior-exterior combinations, coupled with atmospherically painted drops of woods and the Bowdoin Chapel; these, taken together with the meticulously executed period props by Kyle Melton, at once evoke a sense of place and a timeless fluidity. In Jeffrey S. Koger's lighting design with its subtly changing time and mood shifts, the overall picture is one of dreamy Romanticism. Kurt Alger's costumes, always a visual treat, are exceptionally lavish and elegant, especially Fannie's wardrobe, which reflects her penchant for striking, fashionable attire. Colin Whitely's sound design - (with the exception of a few instances where underscored dialogue struggles against the orchestration) - handles the technical demands of the large ensemble scenes as well as the intimate moments with assured balance.
Performed, as it is in this revival, in Chamberlain's own state and hometown, naturally enhances the emotional impact of the performance. But Chamberlain A Civil War Romance speaks to themes more universal than Maine-centric ones. MSMT's new production makes an eloquent case for bringing this contemporary musical to a wider audience. Quite simply, this show offers the kind of inspiration that is sometimes rare in modern musicals. It demands of its audience and its interpreters a commitment and passion worthy of its hero.
MSMT rises boldly to the challenge. The company, which has a fifty-six-year history of professional excellence, continues to raise the bar. This magnificent Chamberlain represents a new high in artistic vision and accomplishment.
© 2014 by BroadwayWorld (Wisdom Digital Media)
Portland Press Herald (2014)
- 'Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance'
Maine State Music Theatre pulls out all the stops with its grand retelling of the story of Maine hero Joshua Chamberlain and the love of his life.
by April Boyle
Maine State Music Theatre's "Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance" is history at its best.
With an epic story, soaring score and stunning costumes, it captures and breathes life into the biography of Maine's Civil War hero, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.
"Chamberlain" premiered at Maine State Music Theatre 18 years ago but has returned with a reworked script, directed and choreographed by Marc Robin.
[...] This production's cast is dynamic, from the top-billed stars to the 22-member ensemble. James Patterson heads up the cast in the title role. He is paired with Kathy Voytko as Chamberlain's headstrong wife, Fanny. Patterson and Voytko have strong chemistry that sizzles on stage. And their captivating performances are made all the more gripping by their powerfully moving vocals. The duet "Alone in the Dark" was rich with emotion.
Although the musical, written by Sarah Knapp and Steven Alper, gives insight into the impact the war had on Chamberlain's life, the heart of the play is a love story filled with highs and lows.
It's not only a love story between a husband and wife, but one that explores a man's love for his country, familial love and the bond between brothers.
Ben Mayne and Sam Weber play John and Tom Chamberlain, Joshua's strikingly different siblings. John is an ailing chaplain, and Tom is rambunctious and prone to bad habits. Both idolize their big brother, who constantly worries about them. The actors are well paired, vividly bringing their characters to life on the stage with a wonderfully humanizing quality. Their duet "The Fighting Professor from Maine" is both entertaining and touching. And, Mayne's final vocal in Act II is hauntingly beautiful.
David Girolmo and Mike Schwitter round out the primary cast. Girolmo delivers a memorable performance as Fanny's father, Reverend Adams. His rich vocals playfully draw the audience in on "The Burden." Schwitter is a Confederate soldier, Jebediah Logan. He delivers a gorgeous solo on "Heaven Must Have Plans." It's a pop/rock song, providing an unforgettable change of pace among the more traditional ballads. A group of Confederate soldiers back Schwitter with beautifully harmonizing vocals.
"Chamberlain" is a thoroughly entraining way to mark the 100-year anniversary of Joshua Chamberlain's death. History leaps off the pages and into the hearts of the audience with this mesmerizing musical.
© 2014 by The Portland Press Herald
The Forecaster (2014)
- 'Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance'
by Scott Andrews
In Brunswick, Maine State Music Theatre just opened its revival of “Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance.” First produced in 1996 by the company, it is based on the very real exploits of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, hero of Gettysburg, governor of Maine and president of Bowdoin College.
...Far less known was Chamberlain’s private life. The fascinating, intertwined story of the public figure and private man is the subject of the current show at Maine State Music Theatre. “Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance” was commissioned by MSMT and written by the husband-wife team of Steve Alper (music) and Sarah Knapp (libretto).
I was there when “Chamberlain” premiered in 1996, and I was mesmerized again last week when it was revived for the 2014 season. “Chamberlain” recounts his victories on the war front and his domestic struggles on the home front with a thoroughly compelling narrative and engaging melodic score. Director Marc Robin has assembled a first-rate professional team to bring this classic of enduring love and timeless values to a Maine stage.
Told in a series of flashbacks and flash-forwards, “Chamberlain” begins in the 1850s, as an aspiring Bowdoin College student, who knows seven modern and ancient languages, courts Fannie Adams, the strong-willed daughter of a Brunswick minister. They marry when he is appointed professor of rhetoric and religion. But the Civil War soon intervenes, and the two are separated, much to Fannie’s distress.
Both are physically afflicted in ways that shape their lives. Chamberlain returns from the war with a disability caused by a bullet wound, while Fannie suffers from a congenital eye disease that leaves her blind.
I loved James Patterson, who is strong and passionate as the title character. He is wonderfully paired with Kathy Voytko, who brilliantly and plays the difficult role as the emotionally needy wife of a national hero and famous public figure. (Co-author Knapp played Fannie in the original.)
Top supporting performances are given by Ben Mayne and Sam Weber as Chamberlain’s two brothers; their very different weaknesses provide a dramatic foil to the war hero’s excellence.
Kudos are earned by the technical team – scenery, lighting and costumes – of Robert Klingelhoefer, Jeffrey Koger and Kurt Alger. With so much of the action taking place a stone’s throw from the stage – the Chamberlains’ house is just across Maine Street – this production deserves and gets this team’s all-stops approach.
© 2014 by The Forecaster
Portland Press Herald (1996)
- Loving sense of hope energizes 'Chamberlain'
by Mary Snell
...But "Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance," which had its premiere here, is not all hometown hurrah. Passionate, heartfelt and inspiring, the show deals with larger issues of a man's call to duty and public service and how that affects his choices in his private life and relationships.
"Chamberlain" is filled with the spirits of the past and is energized by a poetic, idealistic and loving sense of hope and redemption....
Mark Jacoby is terrific in the title role of Chamberlain. His charming voice and command of the stage bring the needed aura of kind authority to his character. ...Knapp shows her skill as a playwright and as an actor in her depiction of Fannie as a difficult person, but one tortured by the fact of her impending blindness. This selfish, unhappy character becomes more sympathetic when seen from her perspective -- how Chamberlain's "duty" meant broken promises and abandonment.
...[Charles] Abbott has ably pulled together the many pieces of this big production -- the musical elements and dancing, the large cast with many costumes, the multiple set changes, the broad range of time -- to give us an energetic and generally quick paced show....
Bonnie Walker served as choreographer and must be credited particularly for the lively dance number at the train station (Union Station in Portland) as the men go off to war. And kudos to the costume designer, Susan Picinich, for her stunning period dresses for Fannie and for the other dresses, men's formalwear and soldier uniforms.
...I particularly like the rousing opening number, "For the Union"; Fannie's unusual lament, "So Sorry For Me", and Fannie's and Chamberlain's poignant duet, "Alone in the Dark."
...Supporting cast include Bradley Dean, a stand-out with his great voice and heartfelt performances as Union solder Capt. Spear and Confederate soldier Jebediah Logan; Michael Tapley and Reed Armstrong as Tom and John Chamberlain, Joshua's brothers; Bernard Wurger as Fannie's father, the Rev. Adams; and John-Charles Kelly and Joseph Kolinski in multiple roles of soldiers, academics and townspeople.
© 1996 by The Portland Press Herald
Courier Gazette (1996)
- Chamberlain comes home: New musical based on life of Civil War hero
by Van Reid
The best stories not only stand up to retelling, they demand it, and certainly the defense of Little Round Top at the Battle of Gettysburg falls into this category. Exhausted, out of ammunition, outnumbered and yet victorious -- it is a perfect example of history accomplishing what fiction would never dare. To those of us who honor the memory of Joshua Chamberlain and the 20th Maine, who held that pivotal piece of real estate, they are forever frozen upon that slope, swords and bayonets raised.
It was Chamberlain's burden to be profoundly struck, both physically and mentally, by the horrors of war, while recognizing that it was the most immense and, in some ways, the most fulfilling experience of his life. Chamberlain, the new musical being premiered by Maine State Music Theatre, never loses sight of this central paradox, even as it touches on its hero's other accomplishments.
The work does justice to Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain by not flinching from the darker aspects of his life, which were best reflected in his stormy relationship with his wife, Fannie Adams Chamberlain has always been a tough nut for biographers to crack but Sarah Knapp... has given us a full-fledged person to envision beside the icon of her husband, doing them both justice.
Knapp's book is vivid, literate and witty. Her respect for words is obvious and her skill with words is evident throughout the book, never more so than in the show's frequent darts of humor.... Knapp's lyrics are of a piece with her book. The rhyme schemes are never trite, but clever and unexpected. The songs manage to propel both plot and character -- a trick some of our more celebrated lyricists might do well to learn.
The music of Steven M. Alper is in perfect harmony with the words, generating a sense of familiarity with something totally new by honoring the traditions of the past. That is not to say that the score is at all derivative: it is, rather, appropriately influenced.... Military themes, hymns and southern rock ("Heaven Must Have Plans") have been blended into a cohesive statement that carries cast and audience along through laughter, goosebumps and even a brief moment of shock and horror ("So Sorry For Me").
The show as written is expert and confident. The show as performed... was equally so. Everyone here has something to brag about. First in line for praise is Mark Jacoby, whose portrayal of Chamberlain hits all the marks, engendering laughter, sympathy and thrills, according to the moment. With a distinctive tenor, Jacoby found tenderness ("You [Are] Always on My Mind") and power as he led an extraordinary chorus of men in "Hold the Line, Boys," one of the most rousing songs I have ever heard....
The staging was imaginative and surprising -- never more than in the almost ghostly "Heaven Must Have Plans:" while Chamberlain reads a letter from a former foe, rebel soldiers quite actually come out of the woodwork to sing its haunting contents. It is a remarkable moment.... Choreography, costumes and lighting were first-rate, as was the orchestra, which was led with vigorous panache by musical director Douglas Coates.
Premiering a work of theater must be a nerve-wracking business. Premiering a work about a beloved hero in his hometown takes absolute courage. To all those who honor the memory of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, rest easy -- both art and hero have been done great justice.
© 1996 by Courier Publications
Brunswick Times Record (1996)
- 'Chamberlain' hit of season -- Strong story, music mark show's debut
by Barbara Bartels
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain is no longer an unsung hero.... But not until last night... were his life and loves recreated in story and song. And the hometown crowd was there to respond as if the hero himself were returning from war.
"Chamberlain,"... is moving, complex, dramatic and without question the hit of the season for the MSMT audience.
The story is well-told, the music strong and performances by Mark Jacoby as Chamberlain and Sarah Knapp, as his wife, Fanny, are superior. Jacoby assumes nobility in his stature and strength in voice with grace and ease. Knapp is at once charming and spoiled as the petulant, difficult woman Fannie was known to be.
© 1996 by The Brunswick Times Record
Lewiston Sun-Journal (1996)
- 'Chamberlain' cast 'does itself proud' ...the audience gives it 'standing O'
by Faunce Pendexter (Special to the Sun-Journal)
...The Maine State Music Theatre did itself proud in its presentation of this musical biography.... Mark Jacoby presented Chamberlain as depicted in the history books; a man who is quietly self-effacing and yet who possessed the charisma and firmness essential to success in carrying out triumphant military engagements. The scene in the play where Chamberlain orders the 20th Maine to "charge" with bayonets make[s] one feel present at Little Round Top.
Sarah Knapp as Fannie was simply outstanding.... She portrayed a wife who could be disliked intensely for her self-centered attitude and yet pitied for her inability to recognize Chamberlain's qualities of patience and forbearance.
Strong supporting roles were played by Bernard Wurger as Fannie's father through adoption, the Reverend Adams, and by Michael Tapley and Reed Armstrong as Joshua's brothers Tom and John respectively....
The performers were rewarded with a much deserved "Standing O". This musical should gravitate from Brunswick to the big city stages. It is that excellent.
©1996 by The Lewiston Sun-Journal
- Sarah Knapp and Steven M. Alper Revisit Chamberlain
by Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold
I sat there alone on the storied crest, till the sun went down as it did before over the misty hills, and the darkness crept up the slopes, till from all earthly sight I was buried as with those before. But oh, what radiant companionship rose around, what steadfast ranks of power, what bearing of heroic souls. Oh, the glory that beamed through those days and nights. Nobody will ever know it here! - I am sorry most of all for that! The proud young valor that rose above the mortal, and then at last was mortal after all....When she read these lines written by Civil War hero and Maine Legend Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain more than eighteen years ago, lyricist/ book writer Sarah Knapp became convinced that she and her husband composer Steven M. Alper had to write their "memory play." The musical, commissioned by Charles Abbott, then-Artistic Director of Maine State Music Theatre, became one of the greatest successes in the company's history, selling out before it even opened ("it was the only show where they were scalping tickets on the lawn," Knapp recalls).
Now almost two decades later, Chamberlain, A Civil War Romance will receive its first new production since that world premiere in 1996, once again at the Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick, the hometown of Chamberlain and his wife Fannie. Speaking with the composer and writer just days before the opening, they shared their palpable excitement at the prospect of this revival.
Knapp explains the notion of a "memory play." "The show is a series of flashbacks inspired by Chamberlain's own words, as he talks about the ghosts which rise up around him." But in many other ways, the play evokes an entire series of memories for its creators as well. Knapp talks about how returning to Brunswick for rehearsals after the long interval has felt like its own kind of homecoming. "I had spent quite a lot of time there as an actress, and we had been embraced by the community all during the time we were researching and writing Chamberlain. It was a creative high in our lives."
Alper tells how Charles Abbott, "who lived a block away from us in Manhattan had called us and invited us to a movie. We went to see Gettysburg, and after the movie, he told us that Chamberlain was from Brunswick and that he would like to commission us to write a musical about him."
Knapp adds, "At first I couldn't imagine a musical about the war, but as we did our research, I was taken with Chamberlain's own words. His writing is so beautiful, so musical, romantic, and inspiring, and his relationship with his wife was stirring and full of dramatic conflict. And the letters!" she sighs. "In the library at Bowdoin they have his letter from Petersburg when he thought he was dying. I got to hold it in my hand. It was an amazing experience!"
Asked whether bringing material like this back to its "source" is a plus or a pitfall, Knapp reflects that she is fortunate to have had this experience. "How many writers have ever had the chance to see their play performed in the building for which your hero oversaw the construction, or to have his house directly across the street from the theatre, or to go to church and sit in their pew, or visit his grave, and walk the same famed streets. I felt as if he were watching us. It's unique in the life of a writer to do something like this."
But both Knapp and Alper feel that the story of Chamberlain is not confined in its appeal to Brunswick alone. The play, which recently had a staged reading at the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, PA, "has broader themes about the conflict between public duty and private devotion," Knapp says. "And Chamberlain's story and that of the sacrifice of his soldiers are important ones for all Americans to hear. It is the story of the sacrifice of all Civil War soldiers to preserve the ideas which define us."
But if Knapp and Alper's musical is about heroism and duty, it is also very much about "the love story of Chamberlain and his wife, Fannie Adams, that is the driving force of the tale. It is their passion that is the crux of the show," she affirms. Knapp, herself, played Fannie in the original production, is greatly impressed by the revival's interpreter, Kathy Voytko. And like Voytko, she finds sympathy for Fannie's sometimes difficult nature. "She was a surprising, unusual, amazingly intelligent woman for the time period. She was going blind even before they had married, and she wanted to be taken care of, and her husband was always pulling away from her to do what he felt he was divinely meant to do." Knapp tells the anecdote about Fannie's gossiping with the ladies that Chamberlain had struck her, and how the then-governor wrote furiously chiding his wife. "You could tell how angry he was just from the way the pencil imprinted the paper," Knapp recounts. "I think she wanted his attention and she got it!" she laughs.
The new production, which opens on June 26 at the Pickard Theatre, is directed/choreographed by Marc Robin. Asked how they think this will differ from the premiere which Charles Abbott mounted, Knapp says "Marc likes things to flow cinematically," and Alper concurs, "Chuck liked things encapsulated, buttoned... so this is different."
The change in directorial sensibilities has occasioned some revisions in the show, the most major of these the reordering of a major scene, as well as the streamlining of some transitions to keep the piece flowing. Alper says that the book changes then necessitated some musical revisions as well. "Other than moving that big scene and restructuring one
number a great deal, the alterations were relatively minor in most cases. When we changed a few lines, I had to change the character of the musical accompaniment, and I adjusted the music to the other nips and tucks we did."
Asked to characterize Chamberlain's musical style, Alper explains that "when I am working on a period piece, I like to tip my hat to the actual styles of the time without feeling overly beholden. In a few places in this show I tried to sound exactly like what you might hear in the Civil War era. It was an interesting period in musical terms because in classical music, the shift from the Classical style to the Romantic was taking place. I try to have each character's music reflect the world in which they live. Fannie and Joshua's music alludes to the higher social strata from which they came, while when Chamberlain speaks to his soldiers or the soldiers, themselves, sing, I use a vernacular." Given Chamberlain and Fannie's religious convictions and associations with First Parish Church, Alper also has incorporated many hymn tunes, including the Chamberlains' favorite "Abide with Me," just as he has used actual bugle calls, among them the call for the 20th Maine, throughout the show.
Though Alper, himself, has worked as an orchestrator, the orchestrations for Chamberlain have been provided by the elite team of Larry Hochman, Doug Besterman, and Bruce Coughlin. He jokes by saying "the orchestrators have better credits than the rest of us," referring to "the huge number of Tony awards" they have garnered.
But while Chamberlain, A Civil War Romance promises to be a new high, Knapp and Alper boast a long and distinguished resume of theatrical endeavors bookended between these two Chamberlain productions. Most recently, they enjoyed a huge success with their musical adaptation of Mark Harelik's play, The Immigrant, for which Alper was nominated for a Drama Desk award for his outstanding orchestrations. That project was born from a serendipitous meeting with Harelik at the New Harmony Project, when the author heard Knapp and Alper musing about what their next project might be, and he proposed his own play. Knapp says that as, with Chamberlain, as soon as she read Harelik's text, she "was struck by his language, and I knew where the songs would go."
In their collaborations words seem to be the departure point for Knapp and Alper. Of their shared creative process Knapp says, "I usually like to get going first."
Alper chimes in: "I have to know what the language is going to be before I start writing the music. I research sounds until I can develop a vernacular. Once it comes to be, whether as a single song or piece of a song or an idea for underscoring, then the musical world starts to open up."
Since their meeting at a dinner theatre in Tampa, Florida, and subsequent marriage, Alper and Knapp have collaborated on several other musicals, beginning with The Library which also had its premiere in 1996, The Audition, and are at work on adaptations of Hawthorne's Rappaccini's Daughter - an idea which began in Brunswick when they stayed at the Federal Street home where Hawthorne had lived during his Bowdoin years - and a new "three-character manic musical version of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night" (with a book by D. W. Gregory). The last of these is in the workshop stage with a tentative title of Yellow Stockings.
Separately, Knapp has pursued her acting career Broadway, off-Broadway, in Europe, and in regional theatre, while Alper has composed incidental theatre music, written a textbook, Next! Auditioning for the Musical Theatre, based on his experiences teaching at CAP21, and worked as a conductor, music director, vocal arranger, orchestrator, and supervising musical copyist for numerous Broadway shows. Alper has referred to himself as "a musical handyman. I have done pretty much everything in the theatrical music business."
Knapp adds, "And one of his handy skills is that he is a computer genius!"
Alper says that he has embraced the computer revolution in the music business. "The first demo we did for Chamberlain was on a four-track tape recorder, but everything else after that was digital," and he was at the forefront of the movement in which Broadway copyists switched from hand copying scores to doing them by computer.
"I still use pen and paper," Knapp laughs.
Yet, whatever their methods, their creative collaboration has been an energetic and fruitful one. Sarah Knapp and Steven M. Alper bubble with new ideas and with an obvious passion for the work they share. They cannot resist mentioning the upcoming Chamberlain opening one more time. "We are so thrilled that MSMT and the fantastic new Artistic Director, Curt Dale Clark, wanted to do our show again! And Marc Robin is our new favorite director! Best of all, this time we will get to bring our sixteen-year-old son, Sam."
"It's the show he knows least about," Alper says. "I told him it had guns," he teases.
Joking aside, however, Alper and Knapp enthusiastically agree that in assembling the entire cast and creative team for this revival, MSMT has outdone itself. "From all that we have seen, this will be a fantastic production, elaborate, big, really amazing, and very fluid. We can't wait!"
© 2014 by BroadwayWorld (Wisdom Digital Media)
- 'Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance'
by Bob Keyes
Eighteen years after its debut, “Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance” will be restaged beginning June 25 at Pickard Theater on the Bowdoin College campus. With songs and a script that is loyal to history, “Chamberlain” tells the story of the complicated relationship between the Civil War hero and his wife, Fanny.
Artistic director Curt Dale Clark enlisted the creative team of last year’s hit “Les Miserables” to stage “Chamberlain.” He also called back authors Steve Alper and Sarah Knapp for a rewrite.
He promises a big, bold show that will keep Brunswick talking all summer. Clark compared it to “1776,” a musical based on U.S. history with a compelling personal storyline.
Maine State commissioned the show 18 years ago. It was well received but not revisited, Clark said.
“When I arrived here eight years ago as an actor, the first 20 people I met all told me about the production of ‘Chamberlain’ and expressed hope we could do it again,” Clark said.
When he became artistic director last year, Clark remembered those comments and explored a revival. The first task was getting Alper and Knapp to make revisions.
Clark said, “We really wanted to do it, but we really wanted to make changes. We got in touch with Steve and Sarah, and they were happy to do so.”
The second task was hiring a creative team. Clark tapped his partner, Marc Robin, who directed last year’s “Les Miserables.” Robin is artistic director at Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
He hired a cast for workshops and a staged reading. The new show includes much of the original, with revisions that came out of the staged reading in Pennsylvania.
The musical tells the epic story of Chamberlain, who led the 20th Maine Regiment in the Civil War. He was a native Mainer, and later became governor. He received the Medal of Honor for his performance at Gettysburg, and commanded Union troops at the surrender of Robert E. Lee at Appomattox, Virginia.
He had a difficult relationship with his wife, complicated by the demands of his service to his country and his state.
In tone and tenor, part of the new “Chamberlain” will be informed by Clark’s visit to Gettysburg over the winter. Chamberlain is respected by Civil War buffs from the North and South, and is a fitting subject for grand artistic treatment.
“We’re constantly looking for heroes. In Maine, we’ve got one, and he’s still relevant today,” Clark said. “Chamberlain has a dignity, a humility.”
© 2014 by MaineToday.com
Brunswick Times Record (1996)
- 'Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance'...with a contemporary reprise
by Barbara Bartels
Neither could sleep. He, as musical director for a non-Equity dinner theater in Florida was worried about the new cast. She, a member of that new cast, was worried about rehearsals. In the middle of the night he got up from his bed and went out to skulk. She got up from hers to jog.
They ran into each other near a beach, an area littered with broken concrete slabs and pieces of construction material. They stopped, talked and instantly disliked each other.
About six hours later, she began to change her mind, when he, crammed alone with her in a lady's room turned rehearsal hall, told her she had a beautiful voice.
A few weeks later, he came down with food poisoning from eating the dinner theater's food. "I nursed him back to health, and we were joined for life," she says. Five years to the day of that meeting in October 1980, Steven Alper and Sarah Knapp married, and he's been composing for her voice ever since.
Next week, she will sing the part of another man's wife in Maine State Music Theatre's production of "Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance" the musical they co-wrote; she penning the book and lyrics; he, the music.
She will be Fanny to Mark Jacoby's Joshua Chamberlain. After Maine State Music Theatre director Charles Abbott suggested working some part of the life of the local and national hero into a musical, Knapp began her research.
Unlike her own love story Knapp knew from the beginning the Chamberlains' story was a romance. The only thing hers had in common with theirs was that music was the bond that brought them together. Joshua fell in love with Fanny in Brunswick's First Parish Church, where she was organist at the church and he was choir master.
Alper says that their relationship shares little more in common with the Chamberlains' than other couples. Nevertheless, when asked, he and Knapp willingly explore similarities — and differences. Fanny and Joshua's story as told in this musical, is one marked by conflict when Joshua is called upon to play great historical roles and Fanny must deal with that greatness. This is what Alper calls "a theme of the conflict of private devotion versus public duty "A lot of people who are in love go through this in some way when one of them has a calling, a duty they have to sacrifice for, something that they have to do for the greater good or God, something bigger than their relationship. This conflict between husband and wife over these issues is universal."
Except for husbands and wives like Alper and Knapp. Their problem is finding time and ways to work as a team. They're gambling for greatness together.
• Talented team
Together they have had written two musicals that have been produced.
Knapp has written two musicals, "The Library" and "The Audition," for which her husband composed the score. She has also written a quasi opera called "Rappaccini's Daughter" under the auspices of Playwright's Horizons and Collaborative Arts Project 21.
Alper has written more than 60 musicals for school and community performances. He has arranged and conducted at various theater venues in New York and environs. Together they've also worked on fragments of other pieces begun and dropped for one reason or another
But balance and togetherness in work is not easily maintained.
She works primarily as an actress and he's done many things to pay the bills in addition to composing. He's done computer consulting for music software and written a book, called "Next," about auditioning for musical theater. Sometimes Knapp has to interfere to get him back on the composing track.
"I've been the one to say, 'You've got to stop that now. You're a composer now," says Knapp.
Over the past three years as they've developed the musical, they've grown fond of the Chamberlains.
So fond that when Alper recently gave Knapp Jeff Shere's new Civil War book "Gods and Generals," among the first she's seen that includes Fanny, he inscribed it "To My Fanny".
Knapp wasn't sure how to take it at first. She asked "you don't mean that I'm crazy do you?"
But she didn't really mean really crazy, just that Fanny had a 'challenging' personality. "But for good reasons," says Knapp. "She was given away as a child. She was going blind and she knew it. In this day and age, psychologists would be very busy and supportive. In those days, she was considered 'difficult' and sometimes they used stronger words than that to describe her," she says.
Knapp also thinks that might have been part what charmed Joshua Chamberlain. "There must have been parts of her that were incredible because he loved her so much. My theory is, he found her challenging and not as insipid and shallow as the rest of the ladies and girls that were buying into how they were supposed to behave in that era. Fanny never did, and I think he finds that attractive," she said.
• Similarities in character
It may be similar to what charms Alper. "I think there is more of Fannie in Sarah than she sees," he says.
When she took the role of Fanny he told her: "Now you get to be that person that you never allowed anybody to see but me."
Knapp, whose girl-next door good looks might be described as spanking clean, wholesome, even perky, explains, "When people say 'you're so nice, you're so patient, you're such a nice girl,' he rolls his eyes."
Behind closed doors, they say he knows better
Alper explains: "They both go after what they want despite obstacles."
She acknowledges her bad behavior: "It does make it embarrassing when you stamp your feet when you can't get something or achieve something you want," she said.
Alper, whose eyes are long-lashed and bashful, whose cheeks are covered in mutton chop whiskers, whose dark dramatic good looks suggest a romantic moodiness, reveals he is not always so smooth either, "I quit everyday. I'd say, 'I'll never work with you again'," he says.
A photocopy of the original music still bears testimony to such moods: You can see crumpled marks from when it was torn off the piano and thrown on the floor.
But they share even when it comes to fits. "It's a trade off as to who is the calming influence," she says.
Still they believe they have a calmer relationship than the Chamberlains.
If she's like Fanny, does he have anything of Chamberlain in him?
Alper doesn't see it. "He's certainly more verbal than I am. He spoke and wrote prose so beautifully" he says.
Knapp jumps in. "But if you take your music, you do the same with that," she says.
"You're so sweet," he tells her
While Alper wrote the music so Knapp could sing it, Knapp did not write the role of Fanny for herself
But when Maine State Music artistic director Charles Abbott asked her to take the part, she was flattered.
"I swallowed and said 'OK.' He felt that it was the wisest way to go. I'm thrilled. I really did not write it with me in mind," says Knapp.
But it was something that Alper says he vaguely wanted from the start, though he wouldn't have pressured Abbott to cast his wife.
"But If Sarah's not playing it, we would have wanted somebody who could do it as well as Sarah," he says.
© 1996 by The Brunswick Times Record
Maine Sunday Telegram (1996)
- Chamberlain: A husband, not just a hero
by Shoshana Hoose
Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the Bowdoin College professor who led his troops to a crucial victory at the battle of Gettysburg, may be Maine's most. famous hero. But few know about his passionate and sometime stormy relationship with his wife, Fannie.
Fannie was an artistic, independent—minded woman. Chamberlain began courting her when he sang in the Brunswick church where she played organ. He wrote her some "pretty hot" love letters, says Sarah Knapp, author of a new musical about the couple.
But the couple, who had ﬁve children, went through rough times after Chamberlain returned from the Civil War. Fannie Chamberlain reportedly accused him of hitting her and threatened divorce while he was governor of Maine. ,
"Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance," which premieres this month at the Maine State Music Theatre (MSMT) in Brunswick, probes their love affair of nearly 50 years. The play, with a cast of 30, explores the conﬂicts between Chamberlain's private life and his sense of duty and destiny, which led him to public service.
The musical is the first ever commissioned by MSMT in its 38-year history. Mark Jacoby, the Broadway actor and veteran MSMT star, plays Joshua Chamberlain. Knapp stars as Fannie Chamberlain.
Knapp, who has performed in several MSMT productions, wrote the book and lyrics. Her husband, Steven M. Alper, composed the music. The couple teamed up on another musical, "The Library," which was performed for the first time this spring at Stamford Theatre Works in Connecticut.
Knapp and Alper, who live in New York City, talked about "Chamberlain" recently at MSMT's administrative ofﬁces. They sat side by side on a couch, their knees touching. They often ﬁnished each other's sentences.
Alper, 38, wore white jeans and a green-and-blue sports shirt. He has curly black hair streaked with gray, amustache and sideburns.
Knapp, 37, is slender and graceful. Straight black hair frames her carefully made-up face. She wore a sleeveless, denim jumper and dangling, silver earrings. She spoke in an animated way, often breaking into hearty laughter.
Knapp first learned about Joshua Chamberlain three years ago, when she performed in MSMT's "Into the Woods." She spent a lot of time walking around Brunswick. One day she took a tour of the Chamberlain house.
That fall, Charles Abbott, MSMT's artistic director, approached her with the idea of a musical about the Civil War hero. After reading a Chamberlain biography and seeing the movie "Gettysburg," she agreed to give it a try.
From the beginning, Knapp was fascinated by the relationship between Joshua and Fannie Chamberlain.
She also was struck by Chamberlain's integrity. Like others who have studied his life, she wondered how anybody could be that good. Knapp read every book about Chamberlain that she could find. She visited the Gettysburg battlefield. She returned to MSMT in 1994 and 1995 to act in "My Fair Lady," "Lucky Guy" and "Nunsense 2." While there, she spent many hours doing research at the Pejebscot Historical Society and at Bowdoin's special collections.
"My imagination was starting to have them speak and sing," she says. "And then to get hold of a letter he actually wrote and hold it was very emotional."
Knapp was so taken by the beauty of Joshua Chamberlain's writing that she quoted him verbatim many times in the play. It was harder to hear Fannie Chamberlain's voice because she wrote much less frequently than her husband.
...Knapp found much to admire about Fannie Chamberlain. She broke with tradition by refusing to join the church led by her adopted father. An artist and musician, she held held off on marrying until the then-late age of 30. Even after her marriage she continued to travel alone to New York.
Knapp shows Fannie Chamberlain grappling with her past (she was given up for adoption) and her future (she had an inherited eye disease that caused her much pain and eventually left her blind).
...Knapp tried to stay true to the historical figures as she came to know them.
Joshua Chamberlain's four years as governor were a rocky period in their marriage. He had come home from the Civil War with a painful, pelvic wound that hindered him sexually, says Julia Oehmig, curator of the Pejebscot Historical Society in Brunswick. He had difficulty making the transition from military to civilian life.
Oehmig has only heard a small part of the play. But she says she's impressed by Knapp's research, and by the playwright's effort to understand the Chamberlains as people "instead of just trying to promote (Joshua) as a superhero and Fannie as some kind of negative influence on him."
Knapp wrote the play in spurts. "I get obsessed," she says. "I stop answering the phone. I stop doing the dishes. That can go on for as long as two weeks. I just write. And then I take a break to read it, let it go for a while, see what I've done."
Knapp spent a lot of time sharpening the play's focus. She made major revisions after reading the play at a writing workshop in New Harmony, Indiana, and at a New York theater. The rewriting continued until last month. She says the hardest part was deciding which Chamberlain stories to leave out.
Meanwhile, Alper researched music of the Civil War period. His score includes Joshua Chamberlain's favorite hymn, "Abide With Me," and the authentic bugle calls used by the 20th Maine regiment. The battle scenes feature a lusty, male chorus.
"I spent a lot of time at (Chamberlain's) grave, apologizing in case he wasn't happy with the way I made him sing," Alper says.
The opening scene takes place at Gettysburg, where Chamberlain is writing a letter to Fannie before the big battle.
From there, time moves both forward and backward. Fannie and Joshua Chamberlain meet for the first time and quote poetry to each other. Her adopted father, Rev. Adams, tries to come between them, but they marry anyway. They argue about whether he will go to war. Interspersed are scenes from the battle of Little Round Top. With his troops out of ammunition, Chamberlain leads a bayonet charge that preserves the hill for the Union.
A pivotal scene takes place after Chamberlain's return from the war, when he and Fannie argue about whether he will run for governor. He suggests that it is God's will. She replies that he always uses that as his excuse.
...The play ends at the Gettysburg battlefield, where Chamberlain returns as an old man to come to terms with Fannie and the choices he has made in his life.
Commissioning "Chamberlain" was a major undertaking for MSMT. The theater raised $50,000 from foundations and individuals to cover the costs.
The play will open Aug. 13 at Bowdoin's Pickard Theater. That setting carries special meaning because the building was constructed while Chamberlain was college president as a memorial for Bowdoin alumni who served in the Civil War. A plaque on the front of the building lists some of the soldiers portrayed in the play.
When Alper and Knapp told people they were writing a play about Chamberlain, most thought of Wilt Chamberlain, the basketball star, or Richard Chamberlain, star of the TV series, "Dr. Kildare." Some mentioned Neville Chamberlain, the former prime minister of England. "Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain was generally the last guess," says Alper.
© 1996 by The Maine Sunday Telegram
Brunswick Times Record (1996)
- MSMT's Charles Abbott set 'Chamberlain' in motion
by Barbara Bartels
Charles Abbott knew from the start of his artistic directorship that he wanted Maine State Music Theatre to be involved in the development of new musicals.
"I wanted the theater to be a part of what was happening around the country in musical theater and light opera companies," he said.
Under his leadership over the past six years, MSMT has been involved in various stages of new works including the production of two new musicals, one of them a world premiere, as well a new book for an old musical and an early production of another new work. "Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance" will mark the first production that started here from scratch and evolved into a full production.
"Chamberlain," written by the husband and wife team of Sarah Knapp and Steven Alper. was Abbott's idea.
After MSMT's part in the development of the other projects, a musical developed from inception by this theater company was the next logical step, he said.
"Nothing had really hit me between the eyes until in conversation with some board members who were also involved with the Chamberlain museum, I saw how the community revered him. Even then it was just a nucleus of an idea," he said.
Then when the movie "Gettysburg" came out, Abbott grew convinced it was the right project, but he still didn't know that the project would be about Chamberlain's personal life.
"That came out of Sarah's research. I take credit for coming up with the idea." The other challenge was finding the right talent to develop it. "I went to Sarah first. That seemed right and then I got to know her husband," he said.
Abbott suggested the musical to Knapp in 1993 while she was performing here in "Into the Woods." She returned to her home in New York to begin the research. The musical has gone through two workshop stages.
In 1995 it was one of three scripts chosen for full developmental workshop at the New Harmony Workshop in New Harmony, Ind. And then last February, MSMT held a staged reading in New York City. The musical has been through several rewrites.
Three years in the works, it opens next week. That's not a long time for musical development, which usually takes from three to 10 years from conception to production these days, says Abbott.
"Nothing happens quickly," he said.
© 1996 by The Brunswick Times Record