The Jerome Moross-Edward Eager musical, GENTLEMEN, BE SEATED! was ahead of its time. While the country continued to debate whether the Civil War was fought to protect States Rights versus preserving the Union or to abolish slavery and free 4 million African-Americans, Moross and Eager dispelled the myths and presented the facts of history that we have come to understand today. Slavery was systemic to American culture and the war was fought to end the bondage of Black slaves and protect them under the tenet that all men are entitled to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
The show was commissioned by producer Roger Stevens of the Kennedy Center. 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 additional 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 racist tropes existed in all forms of American culture but by eliminating the racial overtones of the genre, it was the right vehicle to tell the story of the Civil War as experienced 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.
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i can't remember from gentlemen, be seated!
SUNG BY JENNY GIERING
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Windflowers: The Songs of Jerome Moross
℗ 2001 PS Classics.
gentlemen, be seated!
THE COMPLETE VOCAL SCORE
Gentlemen, Be Seated! is an anti-war, anti-racist musical history of the War Between the States. Music was composed by Jerome Moross with lyrics by Edward Eager. It was completed in 1956 and produced and presented by New York City Opera in 1963. This is the complete vocal score.