A Civil War Romance

Book & Lyrics by Sarah Knapp, Music by Steven M. Alper

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"For the Union, for Maine, for you.”
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“Pray for me, Sister, pray.”
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Tom, John, and "Lawrence"
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“It’s right here in the family bible!”
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“Lord, abide with me.”
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“Stay, illusion! If thou hast any sound, or use a voice.”
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“I’d propose to the girl…”
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“Alone in the Dark”
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“It’s a burden you’ll never be fit to bear.”
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Lawrence and Fannie
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“But the hearts at home are certain…”
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“You will not find me playing the wallflower wife.”
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“A brand new hat, a fitted glove, can almost take the place of love.”
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“Defend the flank at all costs.”
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Mutineers of the 2nd Maine
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“Hold the line, boys.”
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“What lies ahead of us will be a mighty fight.”
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“Hoorah for the Boys in Blue”
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“Godspeed and God save the boys in blue.”
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“At last the battlefields are quiet and our nation is set free…”
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“To have borne a part of it, I tell you, it is glorious…”
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“Are you interested at all in the political arena?”
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“If you loved me you would never leave!”
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“Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds.”
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“Heaven Must Have Plans for You”
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“Yours truly, Jebediah Logan.”
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“Isn’t it a shame the Governor is shackled to such a woman?”
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“Have a swallow. For medicinal purposes only.”
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“Oh, no, Fannie. I can’t be true, Fannie!’”
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The Browning Society
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“Don’t you feel so sorry for me?”
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“Do you love me, Lawrence?”
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“…the last of life, for which the first was made.…”
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“Our times are in his hand who saith, 'A whole I planned…’”
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“Why should we drill when there’s nothing to gain…?”
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“But, Tom, we have to try.”
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“I got news for you: no mountain you ever climb will be as high as Little Round Top.”
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“General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain entered the service of our nation…”
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“Everywhere I am I find that you are always on my mind.”
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“I knew I’d find you here.”
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“Without question, this was your fight.”
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Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance, is, at its core, an exploration of the perennial conflict between public duty and private devotion. This musical about the life of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain not only celebrates a great Civil War hero, but also examines a universal theme: How a person's sense of duty and destiny affect his personal life.

In their life together, Chamberlain and his wife, Fannie, demonstrated a powerful love of music -- a fact which was an inspiration in the writing of the musical. For example, one of Chamberlain's favorite hymns, "Abide With Me," is quoted throughout the piece. The rest of the score is a reflection of the music to which Chamberlain was exposed: popular songs of the era, songs of the Civil War years. Of particular import is the incorporation of the brigade bugle call of the 20th Maine (written by Daniel Butterfield, the composer of "Taps").

Chamberlain: A Civil War Romance was developed through a grant from the National Alliance of Musical Theatre Producers and Maine State Music Theatre. It received a workshop in 1995 at the prestigious New Harmony Project. A reading was done at the Lambs Theatre, New York, in February, 1996. The show premiered at Maine State Music Theatre, Brunswick, Maine, in August of 1996 and appeared there again, in a slightly revised form, in 2014 (the centennial of Chamberlain's death).
Portland Press Herald

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."

Courier Gazette

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").

...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.

Brunswick Times Record

'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.

Lewiston Sun-Journal

'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.

BroadwayWorld Reviews

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.

...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.

...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....This magnificent Chamberlain represents a new high in artistic vision and accomplishment

Portland Press Herald

Theater Review: ‘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.

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.

...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.

...“Chamberlain” is a thoroughly entertaining 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.

The Forecaster

Out & About: Powerful musicals in Brunswick, Ogunquit
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.