Peak to Peak Chorale musical theatre delights audiences
By Patty Unruh
The Peak to Peak Chorale presented its annual musical theatre, “William, William! What Have You Done?!” The program was given May 3 at the Black Forest Restaurant in Nederland, with concert, dessert, and a cash bar; May 5 at the Coal Creek Canyon Improvement Association Hall, with concert and dessert; and May 10 at the Gilpin County Community Center, with concert and full dinner buffet. All performances were well attended and delighted the audiences with the mix of music and theatrics.
The play was a revision by choir member Karen Swigart of a script originally written by another member, Cora Jean Leenheer, for a performance in 2000. It is a true but sordid tale of territorial Colorado’s first legal execution, a tangled story of adultery and desertion, murder, and the subsequent hanging of the murderer. Leenheer’s original play was based on an actual newspaper account of the 1863 murder trial of William Van Horn. Swigart’s revision included new music, as well as touches of comedy relief.
The Chorale’s presentation at the Community Center was prefaced by a succulent meal of chicken, side dishes, and cake, provided by local caterers Mary and Lindy Perkins of Mountain Meals. Chad Manley of Manley’s BBQ, also local, collaborated with Mountain Meals by smoking the meat for the meal.
The Chorale and the cast turned in a solid performance. The music, skillfully directed by Ann Wyss, was full of variety and expression, and the singers’ voices blended well with good tone and balance. Accompanist Andre Mallinger was superb in helping Wyss guide the choir. Theatrical director David Josselyn did an excellent job coaching the actors, who portrayed their characters convincingly with facial expressions, hand gestures, and vocal inflections. The cast was adept at evoking a wide range of moods, from humor to pathos and horror. Chorale members in the roles of townspeople contributed ably to the ensemble.
The play told the tale of Nancy Squires, who was married to a Missouri farmer. Bored with farm life and enticed by dreams of adventure, Mrs. Squires ran off with William Van Horn, a ladies’ man on his way to find gold in the Colorado territory. While living in Central City, Mrs. Squires became acquainted with another man, Josiah Copeland. Van Horn became jealous of Copeland and threatened to shoot him if Mrs. Squires had anything more to do with him. On the day of the murder, Mrs. Squires and Copeland were walking together when Van Horn confronted Copeland and murdered him. Local citizens threatened to lynch Van Horn, but he was given a trial, found guilty, and sentenced to be hanged.
The performance began with “Reap What You Sow,” a peaceful arrangement based on the Biblical message that if a person does not tire from doing good or give up when the road gets rough, they will receive a reward from the Lord.
“Grandfather’s Clock,” a popular American song of the period, had a bright sound and was illustrated by pendulum motions from the singers as they cocked their heads to and fro, emphasizing Mrs. Squire’s boredom with farm life.
Other pieces included American folk song “Uncle Joe” and “Beautiful Dreamer,” the well-known song by Stephen Foster, which portrayed Nancy Squires dreaming of a life of adventure. “Run, Child, Run!” with its foreboding tone, triggered a feeling of unease at Mrs. Squires leaving her husband. This was followed by one verse of “If I Had a Wagon,” which had a hopeful outlook about life in Colorado.
Nancy Squires soon discovered that the townswomen in Central City were outnumbered by men, which meant the gals never had to sit out a waltz or square dance.
The “Fiddler Man,” a hoedown tune, conveyed the exuberance of a Colorado territory full of rough-and-ready men. At the close of that song, Van Horn sauntered out with a whiskey bottle, spouting anger against his rival Josiah Copeland.
Van Horn’s hostility came to a head when he caught Nancy Squires and Copeland together. Pulling out a pistol, he shot Copeland three times. When the gun smoke cleared, Copeland lay dead, with Nancy screaming and Van Horn urging her to be quiet. Van Horn continued venting his passion by bashing Copeland in the head with a rock. The sheriff appeared and arrested Van Horn. “De Profundis,” sung in Latin to a text adapted from Psalm 130, expressed the anguish of the moment.
The courtroom scene included “Soon I Will Be Done,” featuring a solo by Jerry Leenheer as the judge, grimly informing the defendant, “You’re goin’ to meet with God!”
The townspeople expressed unholy joy at the situation with “Little Brown Jug.” “He will die now for his sin, and we will watch it with a grin.” The accelerating music accentuated the eagerness of the townspeople to watch Van Horn get what he deserved.
“Hangman,” a traditional folk song, was sung while Van Horn was led to the gallows, looking repentant as the hangman covered his head and slipped the noose around his neck. The horror of the execution was palpable.
Nancy Squires was alone now, but appealed to God. The resonant voice of May Jarril’s cello enhanced the mournful mood of “Walk This Lonesome Valley.”
The final song incorporated the hymn “Amazing Grace.” Soloist Jane Wyss hummed the familiar tune; Cora Jean Leenheer led the audience in singing the words while the choir sang the text of “When Storms Arise” and then filed out.
Leenheer concluded the performance by giving the audience some historical background. She reported that no one knows what happened to Nancy Squires. She may have married someone else or left the area. The hanging was the first under Colorado territorial law. Public hangings were banned in Colorado in 1889. In 1897 Colorado abolished the death penalty, but reinstated it in 1901. In 1972 the Supreme Court stopped capital punishment nation-wide until states passed new laws that met the constitutionality test. Colorado again reinstated capital punishment in 1979, but there has been only one execution since then. This year a bill to repeal the death penalty was introduced in the state legislature, but it died in committee.
Chorale director Ann Wyss, who selected the music, said, “We had a wonderful time putting it all together. You always think it won’t come together, but it always does.”
Karen Swigart, the playwright/director, added that the play had been changed from the original version in order to give a bit of humor to the grim subject.
Chuck Roberts, who portrayed William Van Horn, stated, “I like playing a character that starts out good and degrades.” Roberts built the gallows himself, and fellow cast members cheerfully pointed out the irony of his allowing himself to be hung on his own gallows.
The cast included Karen Swigart (Nancy Squires), Elizabeth Jarril (Sarah Donahue), Chuck Roberts (William Van Horn), Elwood “Woody” Snyder (Mr. Squires), Ana Buckman-Hart, Jean Reynolds (Central City townswomen), Dan Garrett (Josiah Copeland), Mike Keeler (Sheriff Cozens), Bob Kaylor (Bailiff), Jerry Leenheer (Judge Armour), Dr. Don Bannallack (Dr. Bedell), John Thomas (Jury Foreman), and Cora Jean Leenheer (Reporter).
The Chorale included sopranos Barbara Adams, Judy Coleman, Anne Howarth, Elizabeth Jarril, Cora Jean Leenheer, Rebecca Lloyd, Julie James, and Jane Wyss; altos Ana Buckman-Hart, Kay Lorenz, Angela Madura, Carol Mirarck, Jean Reynolds, Karen Swigart, and Barbara Thielemann; tenors Wallace Cleaveland, Joy Kaylor, Bill Miller, and Jasper Webb; basses Don Bennallack, Dave Josselyn, Bob Kaylor, Jerry Leenheer, and John Thomas.
The Peak to Peak Chorale is a non-profit community choir which presents holiday concerts in December and an annual musical theatre in May. They invite new members to join them. Rehearsals are Wednesday evenings. For more information call Becky Lloyd at 303-582-9619.