Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards, Book by Peter Stone
Art Centre Theatre
Directed by Becky McCants
Music Direction by Kathy French
Scenic Design by Jamey Jamison
Costumes by Nanette "Pete" Reid
Sound, props & light board by Catherine & Olivia Cable-Barber
& Michelle Grace
John Adams - Walter Cohn
Benjamin Franklin - Bobby Downs, Jr.
Thomas Jefferson - James Worley
John Dickinson - Chris Tucker
Richard Henry Lee - Doug Latham
Abigail Adams - Delynda Johnson Moravec
Martha Jefferson - Sabrina Ries
Andrew McNair - Mike Bacon
Dr. Lyman Hall - Jim Cable
Stephen Hopkins - Vandi Clark
Col. Thomas McKean - Mike Cravens
Robert Livingston - Michael Daniels
Lewis Morris - Brian French
John Hancock - Ronnie Giddens
Samuel Chase - Doug Grace
Charles Thomson - John Hogwood
Joseph Hewes - Nick Hopson
Roger Sherman - Bill Lutz
Caesar Rodney - Kipton Moravec
Edward Rutledge - Chris Naifeh
George Read - Justin Nelson
Josiah Bartlett - Nathan Jensen
Witherspoon - CJ Partin
Judge Wilson - Randy Sifford
Painter and Courier - Quinn Watson
Reviewed Performance 7/2/2011
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
"To be an American is not to be someone, but to believe in something."
-Gordon S. Wood
With all the talk today of going back to the Constitution and re-claiming the "ideals of our founding fathers," it is delightful to see a show like 1776 and once again be reminded that while these fathers certainly had high ideals, they were also men with foibles and doubts, indulging in dealing, back-biting, petty arguments, and the kind of in-fighting that today's congress would find only too familiar! How quickly we mythologize the past to suit our own ends!
Part of the fun in watching this musical is the feeling of learning important historical facts while being entertained. While much of the spoken and sung dialogue does come from letters and papers, Wikipedia points out the several historical inaccuracies in the book of the show. Not that it matters to the average theater-goer. We're too busy having a good time!
The show premiered on Broadway in 1969, was nominated for five Tony Awards and won three, including the Tony Award for Best Musical. It was made into a film in 1972 and was revived on Broadway in 1997. While some of the content seems a little dated and obviously aimed at the late-sixties audiences, much of it is absolutely relevant to the current world situation and the growing frustrations so much of the public feels for our sitting congresses.
This particular production, however, personifies one of the many wonderful things about community theatre: the pure pleasure the participants seem to exhibit just by being involved in "putting on a show" and how this joy is reflected by the audience, often made up of friends and relatives, who are there to give their whole-hearted support. This shared delight was fully evident in the performance I reviewed.
The actors seemed to be really enjoying themselves and giving their all to the production and that counted for much of the audience's happy reaction. From the well-sung opening number that found the cast focused and singing right on tempo (thanks to Music Director Kathy French) to the last parade of delegates signing the Declaration of Independence, the cast and audience were together on their journey.
Walter Cohn was a strong John Adams, singing capably and personifying the "commitment" mentioned in his lyrics, generally displaying the energy and focus the role demands. His character drives the action. His scenes and duets with his wife Abigail, luminously played and sung by Delynda Johnson Moravec, were totally believable and touching. Even though she was on a balcony and he down below, neither ever looking at the other, the connection was clear and worked its charms on the audience. They gave us human beings we could relate to and identify with.
James Worley as Thomas Jefferson certainly looked the role and seemed to be involved in his character at all times, even just sitting and reading while chaos erupted around him! The audience chuckled with recognition in the loving reunion scene with his wife Martha, played by Sabrina Ries. Ms. Ries was lovely to look at, moved gracefully and sang "He Plays the Violin" skillfully, waltzing with Adams and Franklin in turn. Perhaps a little more recognition of the double-entendre in the song would have helped the fun, but, all in all, a charming scene.
Benjamin Franklin, played by Bobby Downs, Jr, is the character who injects most of the comic relief in the show. Downs gets to quote all of those great Franklin aphorisms and the audience enjoyed every one. He looked the part, had the warmth the role needs, and his relationship with Adams was believable, but Mr. Downs did seem to occasionally have some problems remembering his dialogue. Since timing is crucial in comedy, not all of the jokes landed as solidly as they could have. He was much surer in his musical
"The Lees of Ol Virginia" was given a rousing rendition by Doug Latham who exuded confidence and brio as the Virginia aristocrat filled with grit and determination.
Chris Tucker, playing the leader of the opposition, John Dickinson, in a red coat that cleverly showed his sympathies for the British, was a strong presence on stage. He delivered his lines with energy and purpose. I only wished he had stood still more and not dissipated some of that energy by moving around so much.
"Molasses to Rum" is one of the highlights of the show, and Chris Naifeh as Rutledge gave it his all. He has a good voice that he used effectively in painting the picture of the slave trade.
"Momma Look Sharp," which closes the first act, is perhaps the most powerful number in the show and Quinn Watson sang it in a manner that clearly moved the audience. That first act, by the way, contains one of those rare moments in musical theatre: a thirty minute stretch of dialogue without one song or bit of music. In the original production, the orchestra was allowed to leave the pit for a break during that time! Unheard of!
The ensemble has a tough job throughout much of the show, sitting and watching what's going on without having any lines. "Acting is reacting." For the most part, the cast handled this very well and especially outstanding were Vandi Clark as Hopkins of Rhode Island, stealing the spotlight at every opportunity with a line attack and/or reaction, John Hogwood as the Congressional Secretary with a really nicely developed characterization and Mike Cravens working a fairly credible Scots accent. Virtually each member of the ensemble gets a "moment" in the show, and that meant family and friends in the audience had an opportunity to smile proudly and enjoy it with them!
Becky McCants directed the show and considering the size of the cast (!), the wide but shallow space she had to work in and the range of experience in the performers, she managed to put together a show that entertained and enlightened the patrons. In my opinion, the major fault with the show was the lack of cue pickup, the need to act "on the line" not before it, and to attack each new beat more clearly. More attention to movement in the musical numbers would also have helped. The energy level in the show was often inconsistent, and a swifter pace would have added an element of excitement that was, at moments, lacking.
The set by Jamey Jamison was serviceable and the costumes unobtrusive. The lighting, however, left much to be desired with cues often missed and at one point even leaving the singers in the dark. Perhaps this will improve as the run progresses.
Along with the fine singing, the most admirable thing about this production was the clearly evident commitment on the part of ArtCentre Theatre to be a true "Community" theatre. The cast and crew were made up of both the experienced and inexperienced, adults and teenagers working together. This is the kind of training program that builds not only craft and audiences but families and communities. ArtCentre Theatre is to be commended for their work. Go see this delightful production and support your friends and neighbors! (And learn a little history at the same time!)
On a side note, there are many articles and books relevant to the subject matter of this show. "The Founding Fathers, Unzipped" is an essay on www.salon.com that also offers a list of interesting looking books about the historical founders. If you've ever wondered what happened to the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence, go to www.ushistory.org/declaration/document/ where you'll find a fascinating group of facts about many of them. For example: "Twenty-four were lawyers and jurists. Eleven were merchants, nine were farmers and large plantation owners; men of means, well-educated, but they signed the Declaration of Independence knowing full well that the penalty would be death if they were captured." With so much discussion in today's politics about the true meaning of the early writings of our nation, we owe it to ourselves to be well informed. Now if someone would only set it all to music!
The ArtCentre Theatre
5220 Village Creek Dr.
Runs through July 10th
Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30pm Saturdays at 2:30 and 7:30pm and Sundays at 3:30 p.m.
Tixs are $12 in advance by going to www.artcentretheatre.com.
$15 at the door (Thurs. show $6 in advance, $7.50 at the door) Or call 214-810-3228