Thursday, July 17, 2008

Staff Members star in Civil War musical downtown

By Courtney Westlake

Ralph Shank typically wears his hair a little shorter, but it can now almost be tied into a ponytail, and his beard is quite thick as well. But it's not personal preference - the facial hair and long locks are all part of a 1860s period role in a local musical.

Ralph, multimedia specialist with Information Technology Services at UIS, and his wife Carly, program coordinator at Sangamon Auditorium, will be performing in the musical "The Civil War," which will be put on at the Union Square Park, located at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library, from July 24 through July 27.

Carly will play Sarah McEwen, the only white female in the performance, and Ralph will be portraying Captain Billy Pierce, a captain in the confederacy.

"We went back and looked at pictures from the Civil War era, and there was usually a lot of hair, slicked down, curls in the back, and a lot of beards," Ralph said. "As captain of the confederacy, I'll be singing country for first time, so that should be interesting."

Carly's interest in the theater began when she was young, and she has been involved with numerous plays in the local community, having grown up in Riverton, as well as traveled with a theater company. She also has a degree in theater.

Ralph moved to Springfield from Austin, Texas, and his background is in music. He performed in his first play in 2004.

They now enjoy performing together when possible. Their upcoming play, The Civil War, is actually a Broadway musical, not just a local show, Carly said.

"I think there's a misconception in community that this is something that the museum put together," she said. "But it played on Broadway in the late 1990s. We have really characterized it as being a theatrical concert because it is primarily music."

"A lot of the lyrics and dialogue in the show are based on letters and speeches from civil war.," Ralph noted, but unlike many presentations about the Civil War, the music in this performance is not from the time period, Carly added.

"The creators really wanted to capture the spirit of the Civil War in a way modern audiences could relate too," Carly said. "The music is actually very poppy."

Most of the actors and singers involved in the show are very experienced, so they haven't had to hold the lengthy rehearsals that many productions do, Carly said.

"There is a large male chorus and African-American chorus," Ralph said. "They are just amazing, and they will blow your socks off with their performance. And then of course Carly has a beautiful voice as well."

The show's affiliation with the Presidential Museum and Library is really unique, Carly said.

"Most of people in show have experience in Muni, the Springfield Theatre Center and Theatre in the Park, but this is a nice endorsement by the library and museum," she said. "Hopefully it will be nice crossover for people who are really interested in exploring the theater of the Civil War and interested in the history aspect, as well as people who are just interested in shows and theater."

For tickets to the show, go online at or call the box office at 558-8934.