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2016 is the 60th anniversary of the completion of the Jerome Moross-Edward Eager musical, GENTLEMEN, BE SEATED!  It was commissioned by producer Roger Stevens to tell the history of the Civil War through song and dance.  While GENTLEMEN, BE SEATED!  was finished and ready to go by 1956, it wasn’t fully staged until 1963 when New York City Opera with funding from the Ford Foundation made it part of its 1963-64 season.

The format of the production was through the prism of a minstrel show, the most popular form of musical entertainment during the Civil War era.  Moross felt that by eliminating the racial overtones of the genre, it was the right vehicle to tell the story of the Civil War as seen by audiences living during the time of the conflict.

GENTLEMEN, BE SEATED!  was originally scheduled to be performed seven times. Unfortunately, after only three performances, the lead, Dick Shawn, withdrew because of a scheduling conflict and the remaining shows were cancelled, not to be seen again in its complete form.

Despite the fact that the performances were well attended and well received by its audiences according to those who were there, the critics were conflicted.  How can an opera company present a musical? How could audiences accept the format of the minstrel show with its history of negative stereotypes? And as one critic noted, the American public would never be comfortable with a retelling of the events of the noble Civil War in its all grandeur through political and historical satire.  Jerome Moross and Edward Eager created an iconoclastic picture of the Civil War and its legacy that has not been fully heard since 1963.   In the context of today’s headlines, it may be as controversial today as it was when it was originally performed.

But the music and the message have not been lost.   Moross’s daughter, Susanna Moross Tarjan, has created a recording to keep awareness of the music and book alive.  In 1985, she produced excerpts from GENTLEMEN, BE SEATED!  with music director Mark Mitchell and an able cast. They are found on this website.  The tracks are not complete pieces but the full libretto is available to follow along and to see the complete text.  

Also on the website are original NYCO set designs for GENTLEMEN, BE SEATED!  by William Pitkin, as well as articles and reviews, courtesy Columbia University Library and Archives.

This website is dedicated to those who love the world of musicals and who are just plain curious. Please enjoy.

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