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‘Shenandoah’ lacks style, consistency

The best I can do in summing up the quality of the College of Southern Nevada’s "Shenandoah" is to say, "It’s OK." It’s there; it’s intermittently pleasant, never inspiring but rarely boring.

This 1975 musical asks us to root for a Civil War-era Virginia man who believes his land and family are the only things worth fighting for. Of course, our affection for this lovable eccentric might diminish drastically were he refusing to fight Hitler instead of Abe Lincoln. Needless to say, the war intrudes on his family in a big way, and he’s forced to take a stand.

Sarah Norris is listed as director, but the show is so lacking in style and consistency that it doesn’t seem to have been directed by anybody.

Doug Baker as patriarch Charlie Anderson is a capable actor and passable singer. You can see that he’d be perfect for certain roles. But he comes across as too old and nagging here, and hardly seems the sort of chap who’s spent his life toiling with his hands.

Five of the Anderson sons spend a lot of time frolicking and singing about what tough guys they are. They pal around like schoolchildren. The soldiers don’t have a clue what military bearing is all about. An opening number that kids formation drills lacks the discipline to suggest that the "soldiers" have ever seen a formation drill, let alone been a part of one. And too many cast members obviously were chosen for their ability to sing rather than act.

The bright spot is the characterization of a playful, determined black boy portrayed by twins Azariah and Ezekiel Divine. Amazingly, they alternate scenes, and, until I was informed by a stage manager, I didn’t know I was watching two people in the same role. They are both charismatic performers.

Cindy Frei’s set design contains too much black, which zaps the production of much of its zest.

There’s another disturbing element about "Shenandoah." Baker is the head of CSN’s theater faculty, and this is the third musical lead in a row that he’s taken at "his" college. I’ve asked this question before, but it bears repeating: Are tax dollars supporting a theater program for students, or are we supporting Baker’s acting career? Surely it’s reasonable to suggest that this smacks of lazy opportunism.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at DelValle@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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