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Musical asks questions
'Shenandoah' at Ford's Theatre is an enjoyable production that has audience members pondering their principles

 Kevin Clay and Mike Mainwaring are among the standouts in 'Shenandoah,' now onstage at Ford's Theatre.
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Date published: 4/13/2006

WASHINGTON--What is worth fighting for? A way of life? A piece of land? Family safety?

This question, as relevant to post-Sept. 11 America as it was during the Civil War, is the basis for "Shenandoah," a musical version of which is currently onstage at Ford's Theatre.

"Shenandoah" first met the public in 1965 as a movie starring Jimmy Stewart. James Lee Barrett revised his screenplay for Broadway in 1975, with music written for the theatrical production by Gary Geld and Peter Udell. The play received six Tony nominations and won two, Best Book of a Musical and Best Actor in a Musical for the lead, John Cullum.

Both versions tell the story of Charlie Anderson, a prosperous farmer in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. The Civil War is raging all around them, but Anderson and his six sons aren't part of the fray.

This war has nothing to do with them, Anderson says. His interest lies solely with the acres that he has cleared and cultivated. He put the farm together with his own hands; he doesn't owe anybody anything. Let the rest of the world bleed and die. As long as his family is safe, Charlie Anderson will turn his back.

Then his youngest son, mistakenly identified as a Confederate soldier, is captured by the Yankees. Now Anderson is involved.

His search for Boy sets him on a course that eventually leads to the death of another of his sons and exposes those left at home to mortal danger. In the end, the remnant returns to the farm, Boy makes his way back home, and Charlie tells the audience that you can't keep the world out forever.

The philosophical question posed by the show is an interesting one. When does one stand up and say: "This is worth fighting for. I'm not going to talk about it anymore; I'm not going to compromise. I'm going to pick up a gun, and if you try to take this away from me, I'm going to kill you"?

When does leaving other people to do their own thing trample so far into the way you live your life that you have to say: "That's it. No more"?

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WHAT: 'Shenandoah'

WHERE: Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St., N.W., Washington

WHEN: Through May 21

COST: $25-$52

INFO: 202/347-4833, fordstheatre.org