There are so many lines and lyrics in Sherman Edwards & Peter Stone’s “1776" which have relevance today that it’s sometimes difficult to remember that the musical is not set in contemporary times.
Director Glenn Casale has given the Music Circus audiences a blockbuster finale in this production, making its Music Circus debut. The Broadway show opened in 1969 and ran for three years, being nominated for five Tony awards, and winning three
As the show opens, it is the last week of June 1776 in Philadelphia. It tells the story of what happened at the Continental Congress leading up to the signing of the United States Declaration of Independence, and it accurately portrays the serious personal and political issues at stake – frequently in the characters' own words, written by them at the time. It gives us an opportunity to see the delegates as ordinary men, struggling with the concept of independence, afraid of separating from King George.
Though classified as a “musical comedy,” there are very long stretches of dialog with no music, and more serious interactions than comic ones, though there are plenty of funny lines and enough music to hold it together.
The cast is exceptional. James Brennan is an impassioned, cantankerous John Adams, the man determined to see his dream of independence achieved, despite the fact that he is generally considered "obnoxious and disliked,” and so his words often fall on deaf ears.
Teri Bibb plays Adams’ wife, who is back home in Massachusetts, tending the family farm and raising the children, but who sends loving letters to her husband. Their duets, “Till Then,” and “Yours, Yours, Yours” show the softer side of Adams, the depth of their relationship, and the important role Abigail had in Adams’ political life.
Conrad John Schuck is a delightfully lecherous Benjamin Franklin, peppering his dialog with “wise sayings,” and arguing for making the turkey the national bird. But at the same time, he is a major force in convincing his fellow delegates to sign the document. It is also Franklin who convinces Adams to let Richard Henry Lee (John Scherer, last seen as the delightful Cornelius Hackl in “Hello Dolly”) be the one to bring the matter to the floor for a vote because Adams is, as is often repeated, “obnoxious and disliked.” Schuck capably fills Franklin’s shoes and appears to be the man we all imagine Ben Franklin to have been.
Matthew Ashford is the newlywed Thomas Jefferson, who wants no part of writing any document because he is anxious to get home to his wife, but once Franklin arranges for Martha Jefferson (Bets Malone) to make a conjugal visit, his thoughts are able to turn once again to political matters.
James Barbour, as Edward Rutledge, the representative from South Carolina, is a fascinating character, full of Southern charm, and cynicism opulent garb, and a smooth-as-butter drawl. His “Molasses to Rum,” about slavery and the hypocrisy concerning that issue, was one of the most memorable of the night. It was greatly enhanced by Kyle Lemoi’s lighting design.
William McCauley held the action together as John Hancock, and Mark Zimmerman holds firm to his loyalty to the crown as John Dickinson, of Pennsylvania.
There’s no suspense, of course, in this musical. We all know that eventually everyone is going to sign the document. But by the time all the colonies have finally come to an agreement, the moment is so emotional, it was difficult to keep the tears from flowing.
This is a timely production and should remind all of us what our founding fathers went through in creating this country and establishing those principles that all of us sometimes take for granted.