Get ready for a holiday musical at Dobama

The year is 1864. The time and place: Christmas Eve in Washington, D.C. It’s the coldest December in memory and the country is still divided and at war. An escaped slave searches for her daughter, the first lady searches for a Christmas tree, a Union officer’s character is challenged by a young Confederate, conspirators plan an assassination, and the president prepares his inaugural address while on a mission to select a Christmas gift for his wife.

A lot happens in “A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration,” which Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel wrote to give the audiences a holiday play that incorporates a range of American themes and culture—a broad tapestry that weaves together many characters, storylines and music.

The play includes Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa traditions. Many of the characters, such as Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Clara Barton, Mary Todd Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Walt Whitman, are historical figures. A multi-racial and multi-generational cast of 15 actors plays more than 60 characters in Dobama Theatre’s third mainstage production of its 2014–15 season. The play runs from Dec. 5 through Jan. 4.

In a departure from Dobama’s usual straight dramatic works, elements of this production include an 18-foot manual turntable, projections, puppetry and live music. Actors will play most of the instruments, which include piano, guitar, fiddle and harmonica.

In 1998, Vogel received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Lortel Prize, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle and New York Drama Critics Awards for Best Play for “How I Learned to Drive,” and also won her second Obie. She is currently playwright-in-residence at the Yale Repertory Theatre, as well as an artistic associate at Long Wharf Theatre. 

Her more recent awards include the William Inge Festival Distinguished Achievement in the American Theatre Award and the Stephen and Christine Schwarzman Legacy Award for lifetime achievement and excellence in teaching. She is an inductee of the College of Fellows of the American Theatre at the Kennedy Center.

Composer Daryl Waters, an East Cleveland native, received Tony and Grammy award nominations for his original music for “Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk.” Working on Broadway, he composed the music for “Drowning Crow,” orchestrated the musical “Memphis,” and wrote the dance music arrangements for “The Color Purple” and “Jelly’s Last Jam.” He has worked with many entertainment legends, including Cab Calloway, Nell Carter and Eartha Kitt, for whom he served as music director for 22 years.

Nathan Motta, Dobama’s artistic director is in the director’s chair for this production. He previously directed “Time Stands Still,” “The Aliens,” “A Bright New Boise” and “The Lyons.” A professional director, conductor and composer/lyricist, Motta has worked with Cleveland Play House, Great Lakes Theater, Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Opera Cleveland, Ohio Light Opera, Cain Park, Cleveland Orchestra, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, Mercury Opera Rochester, and Civic Light Opera (Pittsburgh). He is the founding artistic director of the Dobama Emerging Actors Program, an auditioned summer acting program.

Performances are Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoons. For a complete schedule, ticket prices, and reservations, call the Dobama Theatre box office at 216-932-3396. Ask about reduced prices for RUSH tickets (as available, no earlier that five minutes before curtain), the preview performance on Thursday, Dec. 4, and the pay-as-you-can performance on Sunday, Dec. 7. There will be no performances on Dec. 25 and Jan. 1, but two Saturday matinees have been added—Dec. 27 and Jan. 3.

Jewel Moulthrop

Jewel Moulthrop is a Cleveland Heights resident and member of the Heights Observer's Advisory Committee.

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Volume 8, Issue 1, Posted 8:57 AM, 12.02.2014