The City's tenth annual Abraham Lincoln Birthday Celebration is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, February 12 at the newly renovated theater at Lincoln High School, 2229 "J" Street. The free celebration will feature Kentucky actor Michael E. Crutcher Sr. as abolitionist Frederick Douglass, and local actor Dave Shamblin as Lincoln in a show called "A Friendship Unique."
Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., and Lincoln musician Chris Sayre will perform at 7 p.m. All children and students attending will receive free souvenirs. The celebration is presented by the City of Lincoln with support from the Nebraska Humanities Council, Lincoln Benefit Life and the Lincoln Public Schools.
Crutcher has become one of the most prolific and highly regarded Douglass presenters in the world, and the Washington Post called his interpretation of Frederick Douglass "uncanny." The U.S. Army retiree and former college professor has appeared in commercials and worked in films. Crutcher said he was inspired to play Douglass when he discovered his great-great grandfather was a member of the 13th U.S. Colored Troops Heavy Artillery at Camp Nelson, Kentucky, where more than 10,000 blacks trained for the Union Army during the Civil War.
Crutcher is currently featured in a History Channel film showing at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C. He recently returned from England, where he was invited to portray Douglass in a week-long commemoration of the statesman's second visit to England in 1859.
Crutcher co-authored "A Friendship Unique" with Fritz Klein, a Lincoln portrayer from Springfield, Illinois who has appeared at the City's celebration several times. Klein said the script uses their actual words, although some are paraphrased to make their intended meaning more clear. The script traces the relationship from 1861 through 1865 and concludes with Douglass' praise for Lincoln in an April 1876 speech at the dedication of a monument to the 16th President. The audience will see two historic meetings of the two men, both in 1863.
"The intent of the drama is to show two men who overcame great racial and political obstacles and actually became trusted friends," Klein said.
Shamblin has portrayed Lincoln twice, the first time in the 2002 Lincoln Community Playhouse (LCP) production of "The Civil War." A year ago, he played Lincoln in "Civil War Voices" at the Lied Center. The new musical was part of the City's celebration of Lincoln's 200th birthday. Shamblin also has appeared in "Honus and Me," "The Odd Couple," "The Boxcar Children," and "The Diary of Anne Frank" at LCP.
Sayre has performed at all nine of the City's previous Lincoln celebrations. He is self taught on more than a dozen instruments and has performed and promoted traditional and contemporary folk music for nearly 30 years. He has performed nationally at more than 1,000 schools and is a longtime participant in the Artists in Schools/Communities Program, co-sponsored by the Nebraska Arts Council.
More information is available at lincoln.ne.gov and by calling 441-7831. Crutcher's Web site is spiritoffrederickdouglass.com