‘The Civil War’ at Paramount’s aim is education
By Randall G. Mielke For Sun-Times Media March 7, 2013 10:10AM
"The Civil War" will be presented at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora on March 12. | Courtesy of the Paramount
‘The Civil War’
♦ 9:30 a.m. and noon March 12
♦ Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora
♦ Tickets, $8.50
♦ (630) 896-6666
Updated: March 7, 2013 11:18AM
Tony Melson believes that he is not only an actor, but also a bit of an educator.
“We are educating people as they are being entertained,” said Melson, who plays the role of Zak in the “The Civil War,” a presentation of TheatreworksUSA. “Adults and children come away with new knowledge. That is the best kind of theater. Sometimes, the kids don’t even realize that they are learning something. Hopefully, the play sparks a conversation back in the classroom. That’s what we want it to do. It gets the kids thinking and talking about history.”
“The Civil War” will be presented on March 12 at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora.
In telling the tale of this complex event, the TheatreworksUSA production of “The Civil War” focuses on the smaller stories of some of the soldiers who are caught up in it. The show centers on Zak, a runaway slave who demands the right to fight his own fight; Will, his former best friend and master; Johnny, an Irish immigrant who volunteers to defend his new home; and Jackie, a girl who becomes a drummer.
The musical “The Civil War” has a cast of five actors playing multiple roles. The show illuminates the key elements of this epic war: its causes, conflicts, major battles and leaders.
“I play Zak,” Melson said. “He is a slave at the beginning of the play. His master is someone who he was friends with as a kid. My journey is that I want to join the fight to fight for the Union.
“The story is told in broad strokes,” Melson continued. “It is very balanced. The show tells why the war was fought — it was economic reasons for the South. And when it is the South’s view, you understand why they felt that the North was pushing them around. Then you have the North’s view, who were trying to keep the country together.”
Once cast in the role of Zak, Melson decided to do some research on the Civil War.
“After rehearsals started, I watched the Public Broadcasting Service series ‘The Civil War’ and I got a book on Civil War history,” he said. “I learned what my character might be going through.”
But despite the show’s serious tone, “The Civil War” is full of humor, wit, dances and songs, many of which are from the 1860s.
“There is one original piece and the rest of the songs are traditional songs from the Civil War era,” Melson said. “People will recognize ‘Dixie’ and some other songs.”
Audience members might also recognize that not everyone views the same events from the same perspective.
“There are two sides to every story,” said Melson about the message of the piece. “It is not all black and white; it’s not all blue and gray.”