Theatre Mirror Reviews - "1776"

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note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone


"1776"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Ocean State Theatre Company's current musical is the 1969 smash hit musical "1776" with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone. This rousing piece of legendary musical theatre puts a human face on the pages of history. It's the summer of 1776, and the nation is ready to declare independence, if only our founding fathers could agree to do it. The show covers the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This musical ran on Broadway for 1217 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It was made into a film with the same name in 1972 and the revival starring Brett Spiner, won the Drama Desk Award for Best Revival in 1997. Hard working director Joel Kipper cast the best performers in these 32 roles while musical director Esther Zabinski taught the cast these intricate songs, plays lead keyboards and conducts a seven piece orchestra. Joel also creates some inventive dances for them to perform. Their combined expertise produces a stunning musical for Ocean State once more. The tableau of them signing the Declaration is breathtaking and stops the show with its majestic power and punch.

Joel blocks the show splendidly and obtains strong performances from his cast. He also supplies the dance numbers. Esther brings out the best vocals in her cast with impressive harmonies in the group numbers. The terrific set is by Shawn Irish and the multitude of gorgeous 18th century costumes are by Emily Taradash. The story is mainly about John Adams who is obnoxious and disliked by members of the congress. The heart and soul of this show is the relationship between Adams and his wife, Abigail which shows his softer humane side. These are some of the strongest moments in this show even though they only occur in his imagination. Lou Ursone is splendid as John Adams. He handles both the dramatic and comic moments marvelously. Lou captures the comedy and pathos needed for Adams while displaying his powerful baritone voice at the same time. He leads the chorus in "Sit Down, John" which stops the show with the soaring harmony. Lou displays his anger at congress for their do nothing attitude. The more things change the more they stay the same. This is seen in "Piddle Twiddle and Resolve" where they drag their feet in adopting the resolution, in "But, Mr. Adams" when he asks someone to write the Declaration, in "The Egg" when he describes the birth of the nation and in the dynamic, gut wrenching "Is Anybody There?", his final impassioned exasperation at congress. Bravo on a job well done!

Pretty brunette Alison Mahoney does a marvelous job as Abigail Adams, his muse for his conscience during the troubled times of the revolution. She has a phenomenal soprano voice. Their duets of "Till Then", "Yours, Yours, Yours" and "Compliments" are very poignant and leave you in tears at their heartfelt rendition. It also displays Lou and Alison's fantastic voices and their terrific chemistry together. "Till Then" is one of my sentimental favorites in this show. Another dramatic song is done at the end of the first act. Alison returns to Ocean State, having played Anna in "The King & I." It is the anti-war song "Mama Look Sharp" where the Courier describes the death of his two friends in graphic details and how their mothers go to look for their dead bodies. Grant Whitney stops the show with his amazing tenor voice, eliciting tears from the audience. Patrick Mark Saunders as McNair and Timothy Fine as Leather Apron sing harmony with Grant. The show was written during the Vietnam War so it resonates with the audiences now as it did back then.

The biggest scene stealer in this show is Mark S. Cartier as Ben Franklin. He is hilarious as the crotchety curmudgeon with his many comic one liners and sexual innuendos. Mark makes each of them count, winning sustained laughter all night long. He displays his strong voice in "The Lees of Old Virginia", "But, Mr. Adams", "He Plays the Violin" and "The Egg" where he proclaims the turkey should be the national bird. Aaron Dore as Roger Sherman and Jonathan Olivera as Robert Livingston  do a fantastic song and dance to "But, Mr. Adams" with Mark and Roger Reed as Jefferson. They stop the show with hilarity. I have fond memories of "1776", having played Robert Livingston back in 1979. The main spokesman against independence is John Dickinson played superbly by Chris Swan. Chris as John Dickinson delivers a multilayered performance, giving the character the depth and power it needs as Adams main adversary. Dickinson leads his followers in "Cool, Considerate Men", an anthem to the rich landowners who felt we should stay with England and not upset the status quo. The song is reminiscent of "The Star Spangled Banner" and the men perform a comic minuet during it. I first reviewed Chris as Hysterium in "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum" back in 2007 at Theatre by the Sea and this role shows that he can handle dramatic as well as comic roles with ease. John Adkison shines as John Hancock and John Shuman delivers a tear jerking performance as Caesar Rodney.

Tommy Labanaris delivers the goods in a dramatic moment near the end of the show as Judge Wilson who has been a flunkie of John Dickinson. However Wilson doesn't want to stand out or be noticed and he provides the solution to the problem. His decision in this scene is riveting and well done. Another dynamic performer is Joseph DePietro as Edward Rutledge. He stops the show with his impassioned solo number, "Molasses to Rum" with his phenomenal tenor voice. Rutledge is one of Dickinson's supporters who demands that the passage against slavery be deleted from the document because New England is as much to blame for the slave trade as the South. Joseph is splendid as this strong willed character. Another scene stealer in this show is Ethan Paulini as Richard Henry Lee. He brings down the house with his rousing "The Lees of Old Virginia" with Lou and Mark as Adams and Franklin. Roger Reed is marvelous as Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson according to this show was a man of few words but a tremendous author and lover. His powerful tenor voice soars in "But, Mr. Adams" and "The Egg." Roger's argument scene with Adams is dynamic, too. The character comes to life with the appearance of his gorgeous wife, Martha played excellently by lovely brunette, Sarah Pothier. She plays the role with the spunk and charm needed as Martha and her stunning voice soars in "He Plays the Violin" with Lou and Mark. Kudos to the whole cast and crew who make this an epic musical to be extremely proud of from start to finish. So be sure to catch "1776" before they march out of town because you will thoroughly enjoy this hysterical and historical musical treat. Tell them Tony sent you.

1776 (24 February to 13 March)
Ocean State Theatre Company, 1245 Jefferson Boulevard, Warwick, RI
(401)921-6800 or www.oceanstatetheatre.org

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