Traitor theater?

A musical based on the life of Norwich's most notorious native, Benedict Arnold? The idea is intriguing.

Brett Bernardini, artistic director at the Spirit of Broadway Theater, told the Norwich Community Development Corp. last week that enough money has been pledged - $32,144 - to move forward with the idea. The money can secure the rights to the musical, pay an orchestra, and provide "staged readings" starting on Sept. 11 (interesting date) to get audience feedback and refine the musical. Experienced musical theater writers Jeffrey Londin and William Squier are doing the lyrics and score.

Staging a full production with period costumes and sets will cost considerably more, Mr. Bernardini said. The expectation is that support and donations will build after the rough staging of the musical.

One can envision a musical about the nation's most infamous traitor to be as ambitious as the musical "Les Miserables" or as outrageous as "Springtime for Hitler," the fictitious musical within the musical "The Producers."

The life of Arnold certainly has plenty of material for a theater production - there is tragedy, betrayal, suspense, the love of a woman and her sway on the main character, and, maybe, regret.

Arnold's young life in Norwich was anguished - his father a drunk, his mother dead by the time he was a teenager. Could a well-honed musical score use this troubled beginning to foreshadow Arnold's terrible choices to come?

Despite such setbacks Arnold would become a successful businessman and a member of the Sons of Liberty, a secret society opposed to Parliament's iron hand on the colonies. After the new nation declared its independence from the throne, Arnold began the American Revolutionary War as a militia captain. (Insert one of the musical's signature songs here, orchestration swelling.)

He planned and led the successful attack to seize New York's Fort Ticonderoga, only to return home from battle to learn his wife had died. Our hero, soon to turn villain, returned to lead an audacious attack through the wilderness on Quebec City, 200 of his men dying en route, one of Arnold's legs shattered in the attack. (Note to actor, limp after this scene). He rose to the rank of general.

But the seeds were planted, lack of respect, achievement shunned. Arnold would marry Peggy Shippen, daughter of a British loyalist. Contacts were made with the enemy. Arnold plotted to weaken the fortification under his command - West Point. Fleeing after his treachery was uncovered, he would fight openly as a British brigadier general, and among his missions was the attack and burning of New London (dance scene?).

The war over, he fled to England, only to be rejected by society there, in the end voicing (possibly) a death-bed regret.

"Let me die in this old (Continental) uniform in which I fought my battles. May God forgive me for ever having put on another," Arnold is purported to have said.

Unverifiable, perhaps, but what drama! Go for it.

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