Granbury Theatre Company
Director – Luke Hunt
Music Director – Duncan McMahan
Set Designer – Phil Groeschel
Sound Designer – Kyle Hoffman
Lighting Designer – Kalani Morriessette
Costume and Property Designers - Emily and Ruth Ann Warwick
CAST (from the reviewed performance)
Kent Whites – John Adams
Curtis Farley – John Hancock
Michael Lain – Josiah Bartlett
Jamie Long – Stephen Hopkins
Justus Peters – Roger Sherman
Mickey Parsons – Robert Livingston
Ty Morr – John Witherspoon, the Painter
Doug Long – James Wilson
Tony Hedges – Benjamin Franklin
Luke Hunt – John Dickinson
Bob Yeaman – Ceasar Rodney
Jesse Overton – Thomas McKean
Dakota Brown – George Read
Kalani Morrisette – Samuel Chase
Justin Diyer – Richard Henry Lee
Nathaniel Milson – Thomas Jefferson
Mac Banks – Joseph Hewes
Xan Cramer – Edward Rutledge
Dakota Medlin – Lyman Hall
Mickey Shearon – Charles Thomson
Jeff Loy – Andrew McNair
Shannah Ray – Abigail Adams
Rachel Starkey – Martha Jefferson
Gabriel Whites – Courier
Reviewed Performance 6/28/2014
Reviewed by Angela Newby, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Come aboard for a wonderful journey through the events surrounding the Declaration of Independence. Partly fictionalized, the musical 1776 focuses on the efforts of John Adams to persuade his colleagues to vote for American independence and to sign the document. Through disagreements and an occasional fight, our founding fathers finally are able to overcome their differences and lead the colonies to independence.
Premiering on Broadway in 1969, 1776 earned warm reviews and ran for 1,217 performances. It was nominated for five Tony Awards and won three, including Best Musical. The musical was made into a film in 1972 and was revived on Broadway in 1997.
Granbury Theatre Company first produced 1776 in 2012 and it has become a staple each year. For 2012 and 2013, the production was held in the Hood County Courthouse while the Granbury Opera House was under renovation. This year’s production is the first year in their renovated home.
Scenic Sesigner Phil Groeschel did not disappoint in recreating Independence Hall’s Assembly Room. From green tablecloth-covered tables for uniformity to the mismatched chairs, it was easy to see the delegates in their natural habitat as the Second Continental Congress met that spring. The design of the hall was realistic and functional with real windows that were opened or closed as warranted through the script which only enhanced the flickering candles in wall sconces and chandeliers. The damask curtain assisted the scenes outside Independence Hall.
Sound design by Kyle Hoffman was well executed. The most effective effect was the beat of the snare drum which brought the audience back to 1776. There were times, though, that the music track interfered with the actors’ singing. The overall volume was too loud and was at times distracting from the vocals of the actors.
Kalani Morrissette’s lighting design was fantastic. The musical is set with the delegation onstage for the majority of the show, and this was handled beautifully within the musical numbers. With the delegates cast in a blue light as if frozen in time, the singers are then in full spotlight. In “Molasses to Rum”, the lighting was spectacular. As the anger of Cramer is sung out, the red lighting and back lightning through the window cast an ominous mood on the theatre space. The lighting also changed with the time of day and to help set the mood.
Costumes by Emily and Ruth Ann Warwick were time period specific and well designed. Each of the actors had a costume that specifically matched their character’s personality. Distinguished Benjamin Franklin was decked out in purple and gray that matched his glasses and cane. John Adams, on the other hand, was dressed in a mustard-yellow overcoat and was easy to pick out amongst the group of delegates. Reverend John Witherspoon had a simple outfit of black cassock whereas the doctor was dressed in a wealthy-looking suit. The Warwick mother-daughter duo did an amazing job outfitting the cast to help add to their characters.
Choreographer Rachel Hunt designed some great musical numbers, but there were some that the cast was not able to execute well. In “But Mr. Adams”, the dancers were inconsistent and the choreography didn’t make sense to the song. However, in “The Lees of Old Virginia”, Justin Diyer’s moves were highly energetic and entertaining.
Music Director Duncan McMahan outdid himself, and each musical number was heard well and vocally outstanding. The musical’s score has featured songs for multiple characters and each actor was highlighted to their strengths. The best number in the whole musical though was “Momma Look Sharp” performed by Gabriel Whites as the Courier. Through his heart wrenching vocals the audience felt the pain of a son lost to the war that was raging through the colonies.
Yet it was “Molasses to Rum”, sung by Xan Cramer as Edward Rutledge, the slave owning Carolinian, that was full of rage and showed off his dynamic vocals. With a glint in his eye, Cramer portrayed anger and frustration towards the other delegates. Singing of the slave trade, the reality of the controversial subject was on full display.
Kent Whites portrayed an excellent John Adams. It was Whites’ constant scowls and disdained looks that highlighted Adams’ anger and frustration with his fellow delegates. White owned this role through his haughty attitude and rolling eyes which added to the character of Adams. only added to being disliked by the others.
Whites’ vocals were strong and varying in emotion when he sang with the other delegates as in “For God’s Sake, John Sit Down” versus his wife Abigail, played by Shannah Ray, in “Yours, Yours, Yours.” Whites was able to awe the audience with his soulful voice and demeanor within each of his numbers. The most stand out though was “Is Anybody There” with Shearon. This number is the climax of the show and was done with such power that the audience was able to grasp the importance of the decision that was about to be made.
Ray’s strong vocals added to the self-confidence of a woman taking care of the home front while Adams is away. Ray complimented Whites well and the tender looks of affection brought out the humanity of this marriage. Ray was outstanding in both “Yours, Yours, Yours” and “Compliments.” She was vocally able to show the power of Abigail in holding down the home front while Adams is away.
Tony Hedges played Benjamin Franklin and did a spectacular job bringing this distinguished man to life. Franklin had a “gouty” foot and Hedges was careful to always address his limp to enhance his character’s limitations. Yet it was his soft-spoken manner and thoughtful gazes that show Franklin’s true wisdom. With quick one-liners, Franklin is the referee between Adams and the delegates, and Hedges made his relationship with Adams believable. He not only looked the part but held the warmth needed for this role. Hedges truly shined vocally in “He Plays the Violin” where his vocal range is highlighted as he sings with Whites and Starkey. His rich voice was dignified and refreshing.
Thomas Jefferson played Nathaniel Milson excellently. Milson’s aloof stance was perfect for Jefferson, who was only there because he had to be. With perfect posture and glaring eyes, Milson portrayed Jefferson as the man who wouldn’t back down on his belief system. This was constantly shown with the delegates in his upright stance and beady eyes. In “The Egg” Milson shows off his vocals with a strong baritone voice and a glint of humor in his eyes as Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams debate what the national bird should be.
While Martha Jefferson, played by Rachel Starkey, is a minor character, she does has one vital song, “He Plays the Violin.” Starkey belts out her characters love for Jefferson in a way that is moving and touching. Beautifully sung to show off her range, the choreography led to a few missed notes. Unfortunately, Starkey’s acting seems forced and her eye contact is above the audience at times.
John Dickinson, the antagonist played by Luke Hunt, was pompous and just evil enough to show Dickinson’s politician ways. Hunt spoke volumes with his eyes and used inflection to show off his character’s persuasive side to the other delegates. This was only added to by his hand gestures and finger pointing. Hunt’s pointed enunciation and varied tempo only added to Dickinson’s goal of convincing the delegation to remain a British colony.
Hunt took the vocal leads on “Cool, Cool Considerate Men” with Cramer, Coupe, Leake, Brown, Long, and Parsons. This was the best blended song in the whole musical. The harmony was spectacular and I had goose bumps as the delegates focused on what decision the country should turn to.
Throughout the musical, the ensemble spends most of their time sitting and watching the action, some having a few lines sprinkled throughout. This well-rounded cast of varying ages handled staying in the present moment extremely well. Each ensemble member owned their role and added substance to the production. While most characters were meant to fade into the background, there were a few that naturally stood out.
Justin Diyer, as Richard Henry Lee, was a great comic relief and “tota-lee” an asset to the musical. His humor shone through the light in his eyes and the grin on his face and was never faltering. Curtis Farley’s John Hancock was powerful and his formal tone and stance believable for his role as president of the delegation. Gabriel Whites’ portrayal of the courier delivering General Washington’s messages was poignant. Staggering and out of breath, his characterization brough a bit of the feelings of the world outside into the hall as Washington awaited an answer. Mickey Parsons’ Robert Livingston was another comic relief to the show. Livingston from New York will not vote either way and Parson’s body language reflected the character’s neutral stance nicely. Kalani Morrisette’s Samuel Chase oozed his character’s high societal airs with soft-spoken voice and precise diction.
Each and every member of the delegation was needed for the Second Continental Congress to finally set aside their differences and commit treason by signing the Declaration of Independence. Granbury Theatre Company’s 1776 was highly entertaining and brought to life one of the most significant points in America’s history with dignity with a production which would make our forefathers proud.
Granbury Theater Company
133 East Pearl Street
Granbury, TX 76048
***Limited run through July 6th
Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 7:30 pm, Friday at 7:00 pm, Saturday at 3:30 pm, and Friday and Sunday at 2:00 pm.
Tickets are $20.00, $17.00 for seniors 65+ and HS or College students, $15.00 for children 12 under.
For information and to purchase tickets, go to www.granburytheatrecompany.org or call the box office at 817-579-0952.