Raleigh News and Observer
Actor's WWII project expands
November 29, 2007
BY ORLA SWIFT, Staff Writer
David zum Brunnen's intentions were simple and personal when he asked his father to talk on videotape about his experiences in World War II. But that impetus has led to ever bigger developments for the Apex actor. The interview sparked a touring performance by zum Brunnen and his wife, Serena Ebhardt, called "War Bonds: The Songs and Letters of World War II."
The tour hit big, bringing the pair to schools, theaters and other venues across the nation, with bookings into 2009.
Then UNC-TV caught the fever and filmed the show earlier this year. It will premiere at 9 p.m. Dec. 10. UNC-TV plans to distribute the program nationally and to air it over the next year. It fits in with UNC-TV's "North Carolina World War II Experience" project (www.unctv.org/WWII), which was spurred by Ken Burns' World War II documentary "The War" and includes local oral histories.
zum Brunnen and Ebhardt will also sell a DVD version through their theater company, EbzB Productions.
zum Brunnen, who grew up in Salisbury, says his dad always spoke openly about his World War II experiences. But before the video interview, he had been reluctant to discuss his recollections of liberating three small concentration camps in Germany. Chester zum Brunnen was a private first class in the 28th Infantry, 8th Army. He died in 2000. But in letters to his parents, Chester zum Brunnen freely expressed his anger at what he found. One of those letters became a seed for "War Bonds," which also includes popular wartime-era songs such as "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," "As Time Goes By" and the tear-jerker "When the Lights Go On Again."
Musical director Julie Florin accompanies the duo live on piano, sometimes leading a five-piece band. The instrumental music for the TV version was prerecorded. Veterans are always eager to talk to the pair after their shows, zum Brunnen says. And he also incorporates letters submitted at each tour stop, which heightens the impact for audience and actors alike.
One such letter, from a paratrooper, was particularly poignant, he says. "The reason why he was writing the letter was he wanted people to have a goodbye letter in case he didn't make it," he says. "And as I'm reading this letter, I'm realizing that the reason why I had this letter was because the man had not made it. Believe you me, it was a pretty tough moment for everyone on stage."
"War Bonds" has spurred audience members to record their own wartime oral histories, zum Brunnen says. And he and Ebhardt helped a group of history, drama and choral students at an Edenton high school to create a production based on students' interviews with Vietnam War veterans. "That's how this project has germinated little seeds elsewhere," he says.