Review of For the Glory

Many of us have been curious to see just what Flat Rock Playhouse would look like under the regime of new Artistic Director Vincent Marini. If the current offering there is any indication, it looks very, very good. For the Glory is in every respect a spectacular piece of entertainment: The music and the singing are near flawless, the staging runs like a well-oiled machine, the set is stunning, and the lights contribute beautifully to the whole effect. In short, it’s a great show — in the time-honored American sense of the word — and the kind you’d expect to see in one of the bigger Broadway houses. If you thought Flat Rock held itself to high professional standards before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

One of the most important changes Marini, who directs For the Glory, has made at Flat Rock is to reduce the number of shows in the season so that he can put more resources into the shows he does. (To get a richer sense of the changes underway at Flat Rock, take a look at Steve Samuels’s story in the June 2 Xpress, “Flat Rock Rising.”) In For the Glory, the gamble pays off. The show is lavish in a way one rarely sees here, both in terms of production values and personnel. The cast has what sports writers call “depth”; in his program note, Marini describes them as “hand picked.” Moreover, there are a lot of them — something near forty people, counting the musicians.

But despite the subtitle (“The Civil War Musical”), For the Glory is no more a musical than it is a computer game. For one thing, there is no story, unless you count the contextual story of the American Civil War, and the only really identifiable characters are the “Northern Captain” and the “Southern Captain,” played with gusto by Michael Lanning and Mike Eldred respectively. The two men complement each other well, and each character is brought out to some extent by the foil of the other. But who are they? We never find out.

Naturally there is also a chorus of soldiers for each of the captains, as well as a third (and — somewhat creepily — segregated) chorus of slaves. But while one or another voice will come forward from time to time, these characters too remain for the most part undeveloped. They are musical snapshots, if you will. Without a doubt, some of them quite arresting: Bryonha Parham gives a powerful and wrenching performance in Act 1, and in Act 2, she is answered by Troy Scarborough, who delights the audience with his vocal exuberance, physical precision, and charm.

The words we hear in the songs are largely excerpted from actual writings of the time, ranging from private letters, to Abraham Lincoln’s “Emancipation Proclamation,” to a speech by Frederick Douglass. Many of these are remarkable for their eloquence; and the old-fashioned turns of phrase are not without a certain pathos.

The music, though, is a mélange of contemporary, main-stream American pop and gospel. Given the rich catalogue of banjo and fiddle tunes from the Civil War and earlier, this is a bit disappointing; but the show’s original creators (Frank Wildhorn, Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy — all with Broadway credentials) did not intend a musical documentary about the actual Civil War. Evidently what they intended was something more universal, something about people struggling to maintain or achieve their dignity, to realize an ideal, or to defend a way of life — however misguided or morally dubious those struggles may seem in hindsight.

As if there weren’t enough to admire in the sheer spectacle of the show, it’s admirable too for its ability to stir the emotions without “coming down” in praise, blame, or judgment. This even-handedness is a remarkable achievement, given the degree to which the issues raised by the Civil War still perturb — if not to say plague — American society.

For the Glory: book and lyrics by Frank Wildhorn, Gregory Boyd and Jack Murphy; music by Frank Wildhorn. Director: Vincent Marini. Choreographer: Amy Elizabeth Jones. Musical Director: Galen Butler. Technical Director: Bruce R. Bailey. Scenic Designer: Dennis C. Maulden. Lighting Designer: Stephen Terry. Sound Designer: Nick Kourtides. Costume Designer: Janine McCabe. Properties Master: Paul Feraldi. Vocal Director, Casting Director, Artistic Consultant: Dave Clemmons. Production Stage Manager: Bill Muñoz. Musicians: Bill Altman (guitar), Paul Babelay (drums), Galen Butler (piano), Ralph Congdon (violin), Grant Cuthbertson (bass), Ryan Guerra (guitar), Will Moss (keyboard). Starring: Michael Lanning, Mike Eldred, David Jennings, Dustin Brayley, Gina Milo, Linda Edwards, Ryan Appleby, Erik J. Christensen, Ryan Thomas Dunn, Ben Hope, Charlie Johnson, Matthew John Kacergis, Clark Kincade, Aaron LaVigne, Mark Ludden, Regan McLellan, Matthew Meigs, Blake Rogers, James Wells, Jyreika Guest, Angela Johnson, Terrence Johnson, Kellee Knighton-Hough, Ivory McKay, Bryonha Parham, Troy Scarborough, Miriam Cumins, Abigail Cash, and Clark MacDonald. Show runs through July 4. Performances: Wednesdays through Saturdays at 2 p.m. (except Fridays) and 8 p.m.; Sundays at 2 p.m.. Tickets $34. 828-693-0731. 



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4 thoughts on “Review of For the Glory

  1. Estella Banks

    Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed this show and the singing really was excellent. My problem with it was that it’s more of a concert than a ‘musical’ and there’s just no storyline, no real narrative at all. I mean we’re talking about the civil war here folks, with countless heart wrenching tales to be told, a la Ken Burns even. But it started to get a little monotonous when even the white section of the cast started singing gospel style. The songs I enjoyed most were the simple duets, or an occasional actor with guitar solo.

    It’s almost as if the piece was conceived to appeal both in style and content to mature audience members, who were by far the majority Saturday night, and at $40 a pop now at Flat Rock, I guess few young’uns can afford the tickets anyway. Put it this way, my eyes never got moist, and they should have. Instead I felt prompted after each big number to go hooray for the singers…but let me think now…what the heck were they singing about?

    Amped up ‘professional standards’ and cool lights yes, emotional punch…well…

  2. Jason Schnell

    I saw the show on Saturday night and I was truly and completely moved by it. I have been attending theater in this area for 40 years and have never, ever heard anything like the voices in this show. The score is beautiful, the staging is magnificent and the snapshots of people’s lives were completely moving. The show is not a traditional musical but who cares! It is what it is… a beautiful, picture postcard snapshot of real people’s lives who were dealing with extraordinary, world-altering events. How anyone could complain about this show… especially considering the level of excitement, joy and applause in the audience on Saturday night is beyond me. This reviewer got it exactly right. It is a stunning, moving production!

  3. zomBgrl

    I saw it too. (I was the one in the back with dry eyes and a perplexed look.) I felt like I’d seen the show through a giant sheet of bullet-proof glass or up on a movie screen. Jason Schnell’s right that it is what it is, and it’s probably a really good example of what it is. But isn’t Flat Rock supposedly trying to attract a younger Asheville crowd? I don’t really see what such a slick and über-funded show would have to offer your average 30-ish West Asheville hipster, who might go to No Shame or check out the Fringe Festival or see their friends do burlesque, but won’t pay $$ even for that. A $40 ticket had better be Tom Waits at the Orange Peel. (I did like the drunk Union soldiers though: a welcome relief to the unrelenting earnestness.)

  4. murphyetal

    I have been a season ticket owner for years and I saw the show last Saturday with a group, one of whom is a civil war buff and who was disappointed with the songs since there were some really good songs from that era that could have possibly been used to weave together a story. The real story, as I saw it, was the collaboration of talent on stage and, along with the lighting and some of the other visual affects, made the show entertaining. The big, big disappointment for me is the new sound system that is ok for when one person is singing (although it worked to the detriment of Clint Holmes) but, with a rousing group, you absolutely cannot make out the words and the blare of this is very uncomfortable at times. I’m worried that this will really compromise the upcoming musicals unless someone does something to address this.

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