Spring-ing Back to Lincoln Land 

By Steven Libowitz   |   October 18, 2022
Part of the plot of the play revolves around the relationship between Mary Lincoln and her closest friend and confidante, Elizabeth Keckley

Given that Abraham Lincoln might be the most popular president in U.S. history, one whose story is the stuff of legends, it would seem there isn’t a whole lot left to tell about Abe. And even less likely, that a practicing insurance litigator would be the one to tell it. 

Yet, here’s Terrence L. Cranert, an attorney who grew up in Lincoln Country and studied composing musicals alongside his friend Howard Ashman at Lehman Engel’s BMI Musical Theater Workshop in New York, who has written the book, lyrics, and music for The Lincolns of Springfield, which has its professional world premiere at the Center Stage Theater October 12-23. Call (805) 963-0408 or visit centerstagetheater.org.

Billed as the love story we never knew, the musical chronicles the story of Lincoln through his relationship with his beloved wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, from their first meeting through the Civil War and his assassination. 

The relationship between Mary Lincoln and her closest friend and confidante, former slave, and dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley, played by Mary Millben, is pivotal to the story. As Mary’s dearest friend, Elizabeth is privy to Mary’s most intimate and private history and is thus the ideal storyteller for the show.

“It’s a great story of how a woman from the Southern aristocracy ended up with this guy from the backwoods of Illinois and how the two of them came together and ended up saving the country and freeing people,” explained Cranert, who previously composed the musicals Joan of Arc, Pinocchio in Tinsel Town, and When the Fat Lady Sings and was associate producer of the Broadway productions of A Night With Janis Joplin. Viewing Lincoln through the eyes of his wife and her closest friend provides a twist, the idea inspired by a historical novel Cranert read that said history makes more sense when you put the women back in. 

Earlier productions of The Lincolns of Springfield have praised the songs as akin to Broadway faves Rodgers & Hammerstein and Lerner & Loewe, a reference Cranert enjoys as he intended to create a classic musical that would recall Broadway’s heyday. 

“Everything today is either an adaptation or a jukebox musical. I wanted to make something original.” 

The all-Equity cast features musical theater veterans, while director Corey Brunish is a four-time Tony winner whose productions include Beautiful: The Carole King Musical

While he’s been working on The Lincolns ever since his time at BMI, Cranert believes it’s also a musical for our times. 

“Right now is the closest to a big divide the country has faced since the Civil War,” he said. “But no matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, everybody thinks highly of Lincoln. Hopefully it will be unifying and help bring people together and, as Lincoln said, bind up the nation’s wounds.”


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