Theatre Mirror Reviews - "1776"

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Reviews of Current Productions

note: entire contents copyright 2006 by Carl A. Rossi


music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards
book by Peter Stone
directed by Spiro Veloudos
musical direction by Jonathan Goldberg
choreographed by Ilyse Robbins

President of Congress, John Hancock … Kevin Ashworth
New Hampshire Delegate, Dr. Josiah Bartlett … Kevin Groppe
Massachusetts Delegate, John Adams … Peter A. Carey
Rhode Island Delegate, Stephen Hopkins … Jack F. Agnew
Connecticut Delegate, Roger Sherman … Mark D. Morgan
New York Delegate, Lewis Morris …Brent Reno
New York Delegate, Robert Livingston … Thomas Keating
New Jersey Delegate, Rev. John Witherspoon … Dan Cozzens
Pennsylvania Delegate, Benjamin Franklin … J. T. Turner
Pennsylvania Delegate, John Dickinson … Frank Gayton
Pennsylvania Delegate, James Wilson … John Costa
Delaware Delegate, Caesar Rodney … John Davin
Delaware Delegate, Col. William McKean … Dafydd Rees
Delaware Delegate, George Read … Jeff Mahoney
Maryland Delegate, Samuel Chase … Gerard Slattery
Virginia Delegate, Richard Henry Lee … Timothy John Smith
Virginia Delegate, Thomas Jefferson … Terrence O’Malley
North Carolina Delegate, James Hewes … Blake Siskavich
South Carolina Delegate, Edward Rutledge … Christopher Chew*
George Delegate, Dr. Lyman Hall … Brendan McNab
Congressional Secretary, Charles Thompson … Robert De Vivo
Congressional Custodian, Andrew McNair … Gordon Baird
Abigail Adams … Eileen Nugent
Martha Jefferson … Jennifer Ellis
Courier … Andrew “Curly” Glynn
Leather Apron … Ken Arpino

* John King replaces Christopher Chew, 4-14 October


Conductor/Keyboards … Jonathan Goldberg
Violin … Stanley Silverman
Cello … Catherine Stephan
Reeds … Louis Toth
Trumpet … Paul Perfetti
Trombone/Tuba … Rick Copeland
Percussion … Kevin Burke

The Lyric Stage’s production of the musical 1776 brought tears to my eyes, several times --- the production itself is very much worth your while but my eyes stung mainly over Peter Stone’s masterly history lesson which pushes our Founding Fathers off their pedestals and back amidst the heat and flies of Philadelphia and, also, over how far our country has come for better or worse, especially when the current administration would gladly revise the original Declaration to fit its own definition of Freedom (how sobering should you compare our nation to the Roman Empire, 330 years after its own birth). 1776 is a stirring, patriotic show in the best sense and all the more amazing that it won awards and had a three-year run during the hawk-dove clashes over the Vietnam War; if CABARET is the first “concept” musical, then 1776 was one of the first Modern ones with its strong libretto, subordinate score, no choruses (the Congress is the chorus) and little dancing (it preceded Mr. Sondheim’s COMPANY by a year). The 1972 film version was a bore --- that same libretto reduced the camera to a groupie, trailing along behind it --- but the musical still works beautifully on a stage and if you’ve never seen 1776 before, then the Lyric production is a pleasurable introduction.

Spiro Veloudos’ eye has never been sharper when putting together the largest ensemble in the Lyric’s history, right down to the smallest roles; thus, Kevin Ashworth, a former Henry Higgins, supplies the necessary authority as John Hancock, the President of the Congress and the occasional tiebreaker; the role of Secretary Charles Thompson may consist of his tallying the votes and declaiming General Washington’s dispatches but in Bob De Vivo’s hands it becomes a touching cameo of a cut-and-dried little man who feels that the General is writing directly to him. And so it splendidly goes from Dafydd Rees’ bluff Col. McKean (Delaware) to Gerard Slattery’s rotund Samuel Chase (Maryland), alternately choleric and jovial, to Dan Cozzen’s Rev. Witherspoon (New Jersey), sitting awkwardly in black like an old maid at a stag party --- just to pick a few portraits from this teeming gallery (the gentling of male actors over the past few decades now enables them to slip into period costumes without a sense of being in drag; thus, the exquisites of Jeff Mahoney (Delaware, again) and Brent Reno (New York) are firmly kept from dissolving into mere foppery); on the distaff side, Eileen Nugent and Jennifer Ellis supply sweet and pretty frosting as the Mss. Adams and Jefferson, respectively.

Mr. Veloudos take chances on actors and his current gamble has paid off with Brendan McNab, who usually rattles a mental saber but is now a quietly effective Dr. Hall (Georgia) --- I almost didn’t recognize him --- and newcomer Andrew “Curly” Glynn who continued my tearing up with the anti-war ballad “Momma Look Sharp”; when it comes to the leads, Mr. Veloudos has fallen back on some familiar faces with less-happy results: physically and temperamentally, Peter A. Carey is an ideal John Adams, the hero of the evening --- in terms of vocalizing, Mr. Carey has a voice that “gets by” in a song and his rasping of “Piddle, Twiddle” hinted that he would not have the ammo needed for the eleven o’clock “Is Anybody There”, and he didn’t, going painfully flat, at times. One only has to place Christopher Chew’s posturing Edward Rutledge (South Carolina) against Terrence O’Malley’s gentle but firm Thomas Jefferson (Virginia) to see how far his portrayal falls short of the aristocratic --- Mr. Chew has enough of a ringing top to pull off “Molasses to Rum” but he would have made a better Richard Henry Lee, romping to his heart’s content, especially since the current Lee, Timothy John Smith, has the necessary heat and voice for Rutledge. Mr. Chew has also gotten into the habit of expressing satire or sarcasm by bending at the knee and shaking his open palms at you, Hallelujah-style; I wish he’d stop that --- and stretch his dramatic muscles, as well (I still await his Doc in COME BACK, LITTLE SHEBA). The role of Benjamin Franklin (Pennsylvania), as written, has a built-in cuteness that should be downplayed at all times; instead, J. T. Turner is pink and cozy in his wig and granny glasses to the point of androgyny --- he would make a much funnier exit on his “whoring and drinking” cue, for example, should he depart with pokerfaced dignity rather than bustling out for an easy laugh.

Janie E. Howland has designed a light, airy setting that speaks “musical” to help smooth the way from long stretches of drama to a sudden musical number (oddly, Mr. Carey’s table has been placed so far downstage right that he sits practically in the aisle); the famous tableau at the end is reduced to a drive-in image --- in my mind-theatre, a turntable would slowly revolve as the men line up to sign their Declaration, culminating with Hancock’s desk, downstage left, and everyone posed more accurately to mirror John Trumbull’s painting. Gail Astrid Buckley has “coordinated” the costumes which are nicely detailed, character shortcuts in themselves, though Mr. Glynn’s Courier is far too clean to symbolize the ragtag nature of General Washington’s army --- some dirt on him would underline the miraculous achievement that these thirteen colonies shall win a war, against all odds, over the greatest empire of its day; I wonder if a similar musical is being written, right now, in some country long in our own shadow: a musical where we own the shell but they claim the eaglet --- or whatever symbol they choose --- within…

"1776" (8 September - 14 October)
140 Clarendon Street, BOSTON, MA
1 (617) 585-5678

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England’s LIVE Theater Guide