Review: Shenandoah at Serenbe

by Jody Tuso-Key Managing Editor — Cover photo credit: BreeAnne Clowdus

March 25, 2019

Nothing beats theater under the stars, and no one in Georgia does it as big as Serenbe Playhouse. From now until April 14th, Serenbe’s production of Shenandoah offers an immersive experience that allows audiences to step back in time to the American Civil War.

Immersive doesn’t even begin to describe this theater experience. This play literally starts off with a bang, beginning with a 100 soldier Civil War re-enactment complete with horses, and cannon fire. From there we are taken to the home of Charlie Anderson and his family. Charlie refuses allow his sons to take part in the war, as he feels it’s not “his” war. Eventually, the family is dragged into the conflict when Charlie’s youngest son, Robert, is taken prisoner by Union Soldiers.

To start, Kudos to artistic director Brian Clowdus for his vision. Every performer was perfectly cast and worked together as an ensemble to tell a compelling story. In addition the sets, lighting, sound, and concept of the Civil war re-enactment and encampment complete with a cooking fire where tasty meals are served to patrons in tin cups are all stitched together into a theatrical quilt as meaningful as those used to signify safe-homes for the underground railroad.

Serenbe has assembled a stellar cast for this production beginning with headliner Taylor Hicks. Fans will remember Taylor from his success in American Idol’s 5th season. He proves to be as dynamic an actor as singer, and especially delights audiences in “Meditation” and “Meditation II”. Hicks commands the part of Charlie Anderson with an authenticity that seems as if the part had been written for him.

In addition to Kicks, X Factor finalist Rachel Potter plays Anderson’s daughter-in-law, Anne Anderson. Not only does she have a beautiful and powerful country voice, she also plays string instruments, and is a true credit to the production. Her acting ability is also every bit as powerful as her rich vocals.

I was especially impressed with the performances of the two young boys, Gabriel and Boy Anderson, played by Caleb Baumann and Pilot Bunch. Gabriel is a slave who lives at a nearby plantation, and he and Boy Anderson are best friends. Their friendship holds a lens to the stark differences between slave and free in an innocent, matter of fact manner that is also heart-wrenching as the audience is reminded of the oppression of human chattel.

I’ve never given Key-Noteworthy performances to an entire cast by name, but this one deserves the accolades, beginning with the stellar performances of the entire Anderson Clan: Daniel Burns as James Anderson; Chase Davidson as Jacob Anderson; Sophie DeLeo as Jenny Anderson; Jeremy Gee as John Anderson; Cullen Gray as Nathan Anderson; and Aaron Schilling as Henry Anderson. In addition, Jordan Patrick as Sam and Jeremy Skidmore as Rev. Byrd delivered remarkable performances along with the rest of the ensemble: Andrew Anderson, Alden Burroughs, Brady Dunn, Destiny Freeman, Alexandria Joy, and Terrence Smith. Last but not least, those behind the scenes framed the performance’s breathtaking picture: The creative team for Shenandoah includes Bubba Carr (choreography), Chris Brent Davis (music director), Adam Koch (scenic designer), Joel Coady (lighting designer/director of production), My dear friend Rob Brooksher (sound designer), Emmie Thompson (costume designer), Mark Warner (technical director), and Jake Guinn (stunt coordinator). Special thanks to Binder Casting for a stellar casting job.

Overall, with Shenandoah, Serenbe has outdone themselves in going above and beyond to fulfill expectations of patrons with the highest caliber in immersive theater.

Tickets for this phenomenal show can be purchased online at http://www.serenbeplayhouse.com/shenandoah

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