Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
"Shenandoah" is a thin-blooded descendant of those 1940s, and '50s musical which now are the backbone of the dinner theaters. Evidently it has enough sincere sentiment to please, for it is into its third Broadway year, it's toured successfully and had a brief visit last summer at Wolf Trap.
Tuesday night, "Shenandoah" began a three-week run in the Kennedy Center Open House with the advantages of Howard keel and a cast which has had a lot of experience with the James Lee Barrett characters and the score of Gary Geld and Peter Udell, who earlier contributed "Purlie."
Originally, this was a Jimmy Stewart film and even then it seemed to me to have been spewed out of a computer. The score, which makes you think of all sorts of scores from "Oklahoma!" and "Bloomer Girl" onwards, also strikes me as mechanically summoned.
The setting is a 500-acre from of the Shenandoah Valley during the Civil War. Widower Charlie Anderson considers the war a madness which he and his sons can ignore. By the time it's over, the killings have not ignored the Andersons and Charlie has learned that neither religion nor personal phisolophy can keep a man from killing.
The compass is small but a valid reflection of the vast conflagration of the war, and in the personal adventures of sons, daughter, daughter-in-law and son-in-law these is the appeal which humanity.
There are on the other hand, not surprise in plot, development or character. There in the reflectness of the offspring, marriage and birth. There are the valley maranders who bring violence, and the church ball which summons Charlie to the grave of the wife who died giving birth to their youngest, captured by the Yankees and the object of a full-family search.
This predictability is also in the score, which begins promisingly enough with "Raise the Flag of Dixie," though with but six men on each side you're made aware that this is today and big choruses are out.
There's the religious song, "Pass the Cross to Me," the country-style one, "Next to Lovin' (I Like Fightin')", its parenthesis a tipoff on the rhythm. There's the sentimental duet for the boy in gray who must leave his Anderson girl behind, "Violets and Silverbells." There's a duet for a black child and the Anderson sister-in-law, "Freedom," and a duet for the two girls, "We Make a Beautiful Pair."
Keel's authority gives a big boost to Charlie, for the big guy of all those musicals, stage and screen, retains his voice and also is now a fine character actor. Dennis Romer makes an appealing James and David Vann's "Freedom" child is a watchable lad. Through it all the computer whirrs away, sans blood, sans heart, all knowhow.