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With "Civil War", Showbiz Players Takes Final Bow After 30 Seasons

Showbiz Players is bringing down its curtain after 30 seasons – but not before it presents a final production, a reprise of Frank Wildhorn musical The Civil War at The Carnegie from April 28-May 6.

Founding producer Bunny Arszman fell in love with the show when she saw a performance on Broadway. The Civil War was inspired by the award-winning Ken Burns PBS documentary series and is based on letters written by soldiers, speeches from Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, and poetry from Walt Whitman, Sojourner Truth, and Maya Angelou.  

Arszman pursued the rights with the kind of energy and focus it takes to put on musicals for 30 seasons. Showbiz’s 2002 production went on to win Ohio’s annual community theatre competition (OCTA) and went on to the American Association of Community Theatre (AACT) Festival Midwest Regional competition, where it was first runner-up.

Showbiz revived the show in 2006 for at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center during Tall Stacks.  

Arszman’s commitment to The Civil War included becoming acquainted with the composer and, she says, “Frank Wildhorn has given us a new song for the show. (Ludlow resdient) Emily Rowekamp gets to sing it (along with Zac Huffman). They are very pumped about it. It's the first time this song has ever been done as part of The Civil War.”

Several original cast members from 2002 are returning including Adia Dobbins, who later played Nala in the national touring company of The Lion King.

For Arszman, it’s a poignant time as Showbiz, which has been based at Covington's Carnegie since 2012, preps its last show.

“Doing theatre is not for the faint of heart,” she muses. “It puts a tremendous strain on your body, your family, your social life, your other responsibilities. “It seems like every minute that wasn't devoted to work or family was devoted to Showbiz Players for half of my life - not to mention half of my garage and almost everything on my laptop. It is all consuming.”

One of the greatest challenges for people who make community theater is that it’s DIY and then some.

“Most of us are holding down full-time jobs along with building sets, designing programs, loading trucks. I've gotten especially good at backing a 26-foot truck into a loading dock!"

Producing has gotten harder every year for Showbiz. “Talent and tech people are stretched to the breaking point by going from show to show to show. It's very difficult to find and keep good people who aren't completely overbooked. Multiply that by ten when you don't have your own facility. It's a battle that we've fought for years.”

“People ask me all of the time what will I do without it?," Arszman says. "My honest answer is, I don't know, I've never tried.”

What’s made it all worthwhile, Arszman says, are the special moments. “A rehearsal when an actor who is really shy suddenly breaks out of their shell and blossoms into what you knew was inside of them all along, or at a performance when you see them absolutely nail something that they've worked so incredibly hard on. There's always that moment when you just know it's worth it.”

The Civil War, she promises, “is going to be an amazing production. It will be our legacy.”

Arszman maybe hanging up her producing hat, but she’s keeping active in community theater. “I'm directing Urinetown for Footlighters next season!”

The Civil War, April 28-May 6. The Carnegie Theatre, 1028 Scott Blvd., Covington. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets $24, seniors and students $21.  859-957-1940 and www.thecarnegie.com. For more information about the show visit www.showbizplayers.com/the-civil-war.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts