Theatre Mirror Review>"1776"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


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entire contents copyright 2015 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

MMAS' current show is "1776" about the founding fathers of our country and the events leading up to the signing of the declaration of independence. It is a musical with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone. The show also covers the writing of events leading up to the signing in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1776. This musical ran on Broadway for 1217 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical and was made into a film with the same name in 1972. The 1997 revival starring Brent Spiner won the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical. Hard working director Judi Kotta casts the best performers for these roles while Anthony Torelli, the musical director taught the cast the intricate songs and choreographer Karen Anderson comes up with some inventive and creative dances for them to perform. Their combined expertise produce a stunning piece of theater with a patriotic theme for this festive time of year. The final tableau which resembles the actual signing of the Declaration is breathtaking. A thunderous and well deserved standing ovation is their reward on a job very well done.

  Judi's blocking and direction is marvelous with her keen insight into these historical characters. She obtains terrific emotion packed performances from her talented cast in these challenging roles. Anthony obtains vocal excellence from these performers in their solos, duets, trios and group numbers. The harmonies are brilliantly done. Karen's dances are seen in "Lee's of Old Virginia", "But, Mr. Adams", "He Plays the Violin", "Cool Considerate Men" and "The Egg." Stage manager Sharon Silberman keeps the show running smoothly all night long. The story is mainly about John Adams who is obnoxious and disliked by members of congress. The heart and soul of this show is the relationship between Adams and his wife, Abigail which shows his softer more humane side. These are some of the strongest moments in the show even though occur in his imagination. Ken Butler is marvelous as John Adams. He handles both comic and dramatic roles with ease having played McMurphy in "Cuckoo's Nest" eleven years ago. Ken captures the pathos and comedy needed for Adams and displays his terrific baritone voice at the same time. He leads the opening chorus number "Sit Down, John" which stops the show. Ken displays Adams anger at congress for their do nothing attitude. (The more things change the more they stay the same!) This is seen in his songs, "Piddle Twiddle" where they drag their feet in adopting the declaration, in "But, Mr. Adams" when he seeks someone to write it, in "The Egg" when he describes the birth of the country and in the gutwrenching dynamite "Is Anybody There?", his final impassioned exasperation at Congress.Bravo!

Pretty statuesque, brunette Diana Doyle does a splendid job as Abigail Adams, his muse for his conscience during troubled times of the Revolution. Their duets of "Till Then", "Yours, Yours, Yours" and "Compliments" are poignant, leaving you in tears as well as displaying Ken and Diana's fantastic voices at the same time. They have astounding chemistry together. I last reviewed Diana as Marian in "The Music Man" at Theatre III back in 2005. Another dramatic song occurs at the end of the first act. It is the anti-war song "Mama, Look Sharp" where the Courier tells about his two friends being killed and how their mothers go to find them. Mike Davis stops the show with his amazing tenor voice. I last reviewed him as Marius in "Les Miserables" for Norton Singers last year. Craig O'Connor as McNair and Luke Lawson as Leather Apron sing the harmony in the song. The show was written during the Vietnam War so it resonated with audiences now and back in the late 1960's, too.

The biggest scene stealer is Pete Molitor as Ben Franklin. He is hilarious as this crotchety, curmudgeon with his many comic one liners and sexual innuendoes. Pete makes everyone of them count, winning many laughs while doing so. His songs include "But, Mr. Adams", "The Egg", "The Lees of Old Virginia" and "He Plays the Violin."  He was born to play this role. Joe Casey as Roger Sherman and as Robert Livingston do a wonderful song and dance with Pete and Brian as Thomas Jefferson in "But, Mr. Adams" with the kickline stopping the show with hilarity. I have many pleasant memories of this show having played Robert Livingston back in 1979. The main spokesman against independence is John Dickenson. Ted Koban is topnotch as John Dickenson, giving the character depth it needs. Ted 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 sounds like "The Star Spangled Banner" and the men do a terrific minuet during it. It is one of my favorite songs in the show and it receives a thunderous ovation at their expert rendition.

Steve Slate delivers a dramatic moment as James Wilson near the end of the show. He is Dickenson's flunkie who doesn't want to stand out or be noticed. Another one of Dickenson's cohorts is Edward Ruteledge of South Carolina who opposes the passage stating all men are free. This impasse almost defeats the measure. Greg Smith is wonderful in this role as well as sells his song "Molasses to Rum" where he declares the north is making money on the slave trade, too. Another scene stealer is the high energy Ted Mitchell as Richard Henry Lee who brings down the house with his "Lees of Old Virginia" with Ken and Pete. They do a marvelous dance with him, carrying out of the theatre backwards. Thomas Jefferson is excellently played by Brian Gustafson. Jefferson was a man of few words but was a tremendous author and lover according to this show. His powerful tenor voice soars in "But, Mr. Adams" and "The Egg" and his argument scene with Ken as Adams is also another standout moment. The character comes alive with the appearance of his wife, Martha played excellently by Brian's real life wife, Laura, a beautiful brunette. She plays Martha with the spunk and charm the role calls for and her voice soars in "He Plays the Violin" with Ken and Pete. Her kissing scene with Brian is hilarious, too. The multitude of gorgeous costumes is by Daniel Kozar. Kudos to everyone who made this a show to be very proud of. So for a spectacular musical treat, be sure to catch "1776" to start off your Fourth of July holiday with a bang! Tell them Tony sent you.

1776 (26 June to 5 July)
MMAS, @ Bethany Church, 4 Rock Hill Road, Foxboro, MA
1(508)339-2822 or 

"1776" (26 June - 5 July)
@ 4 Rock Hill Road, FOXBORO MA

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide