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'Lincoln' for a Valentine's date night? Why not, the director says

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“Lincoln” actors (left to right) Christian McCormick as John Wilkes Booth, Nik Tidquist as Ford’s Theatre owner John T. Ford, Rubin Shirley as Robert Lincoln, Maddie Greenawald as Mary Todd Lincoln, Dan Calwell as Abraham Lincoln, and Wilkes Aliff as Tad Lincoln. The show, in connection with the West Virginia Youth Symphony, opens Friday at Christ Church United Methodist.

Contemporary Youth Arts Company director Dan Kehde never gets tired of a challenge.

As is often the case with CYAC productions, the material is difficult for the latest show, and it’s set to music. This time, however, the theater company is working outside its usual venue, working with a live orchestra — and oh, it’s Valentine’s Day.

Kehde laughed about that. “Lincoln” sounded like a good date night to him.

CYAC opens the show about the 16th president, in collaboration with the West Virginia Youth Symphony, on Friday night at Christ Church United Methodist in Charleston.

“I’d go,” he said. “I tell you what. It’s pretty spectacular — and it’s early. The show only lasts like an hour and 15 minutes. It starts at 7 and you’re out by 8:30. You can go to dinner after.”

“It’s perfect for date night,” Kehde added, though he acknowledged maybe not great if you were actually President Abraham Lincoln or his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln.

“Lincoln” isn’t a new show, but the approach is new.

“We did an abbreviated version as part of the best of [Mark] Scarpelli and Kehde back 15 years ago, maybe,” the director said. “That was a lot of fun. We had a good time.”

They did another version with Grant Cooper and the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra a few years back. That was a larger production at the Clay Center and included better-known, local singers doing parts and the Symphony Chorus.

“This time, it’s all CYAC,” Kehde said. “It’s all our actors.”

But they’ve got some good ones, he promised — and they have some good voices.

“Daniel Caldwell is Lincoln,” he said. “He was Robert, the last time we did this, and his voice is just impressive. He has the kind of baritone you’d just kill for — and he’s only, like, 23.”

Kehde was also complimentary of the youth symphony. Their part in the production is no less complicated than what the actors on stage face.

“I love working with [conductor] Bob Turizziani,” the playwright said. “The guy has been a pro from beginning to end and the way he works with the student musicians is outstanding.”

The two groups haven’t rehearsed together that much — just a couple of times really, Kehde said — but he wasn’t concerned about that. He was more worried about where they were staging the show.

“It’s going to be hard because we’re not in a traditional setting,” he said. “I had to build a set visible enough for people to see. Sound could be tricky, but we will prevail.”

Still, Kehde had high hopes. Each venue has its own particular strengths.

“I hope we can take advantage of what the church has to offer with acoustics and the surrounding ambiance,” he said. “I hope we can bring the show into the souls of the audience in a really effective way.”

Kehde has high hopes for how it would all turn out and thought, who knows? Maybe it could lead to other collaborations.

“But I don’t know,” he said. “We’re a one-day-at-a-time kind of organization.”

Reach Bill Lynch at, 304-348-5195 or follow @lostHwys on Twitter. He’s also on Instagram at and read his blog at

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