The Lincolns of Springfield, a new musical by Terrence L. Cranert, directed by Corey Brunish (who produced the original Broadway musical Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, among other well known projects) is a history lesson lacking in complexity and nuance. From the first inexplicable moments of a modern-day gospel singer opening the show to the almost three hours of scenes documenting Lincoln’s rise to the presidency and ultimate demise, The Lincolns of Springfield is a tale that skims the surface of the Lincolns’ interior emotional life.
The narrative details the lives of Honest Abe and his bride, beginning with Mary Todd as a girl off to finishing school, and young Abe forging his destiny. It’s difficult to maintain dramatic tension in a narrative faithfully based on biography; the natural highs and lows of a person’s life are challenging to craft into the traditional shape of rising action and climax. For instance, Abe’s romance with Mary Todd contains little dramatic action — which is not surprising for a show that gives women little to do but cry and fret and dance and mind children. The songs are classic-style musical theater tunes (with a song about bear meat as a bizarre highlight). There are precious few crescendos in the dramatic narrative: every scene is diffused by its accompanying song when the music should be elevating the tension and strengthening the story.
The actors have lovely voices and genuinely give this show their all — they infuse this musical with energy and authenticity. Deborah Robin presents Mary Todd Lincoln with as much strength as the script allows and Matthew Patrick Davis as Abe is a quietly charismatic leader who, unfortunately, is given too few opportunities to be somber and appropriately reflective about his position as commander in chief in this devastating conflict. American history may be a popular trope in musicals right now, but The Lincolns of Springfield is no Hamilton.
The Santa Barbara run of The Lincolns of Springfield serves as the professional world premiere of this new musical. The show will travel from city to city across the country as it heads to New York and Broadway. Additional shows will be held at 7:30 p.m. on October 19-22, with matinees at 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 23. Tickets are on sale now at Center Stage Theater in Santa Barbara or online at https://thelincolnsofspringfield.com/