Peter Stone & Sherman Edwards

1776

September 4 - 13
Buskirk-Chumley Theater

H-T & WFIU Reviews

H-T Review

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Production provides humorous look into the past

By Matthew Waterman H-T Reviewer
 

“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace, that two are called a law firm and that three or more become a congress!”

One might guess that the above quote is a response to the United States Congress of recent years, but it actually refers to the Second Continental Congress. That is the body, for those readers a few years out of history class, famous for drafting and signing the Declaration of Independence

001Cardinal Stage Company’s “1776” takes a much different approach to the telling of our nation’s birth than your average American history textbook. Never have the founding fathers been so snarky, sassy and sardonic as in this 1969 Tony award-winning musical (plus, there’s quite a bit more singing and dancing than the history textbooks seem to account for).

“1776” opens the 2014-15 Mainstage Season for Cardinal Stage. Sharply contrasting Cardinal’s last production, “Les Miserables,” “1776” is dialogue-heavy and packed with laughs. In fact, “1776” is one of those rare musicals that does not end with a song.

The show focuses on the deliberations that occurred among the delegates of the Second Continental Congress during the two months leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

John Adams (Mike Price) is the play’s chief protagonist, leading the fight for a political agreement on independence. In a splendid performance, Price reminds us that Adams was not only an important politician, but an obnoxious loudmouth to boot.

Other famed founding fathers appearing in “1776” include Thomas Jefferson (Robert Toms), Richard Henry Lee (Reuben Walker in Friday night’s performance), John Hancock (Jack O’Hara) and Benjamin Franklin (Mark Goetzinger).

Goetzinger presents a Ben Franklin whose wise words often come in the form of wisecracks. Franklin’s saucy attitude and slumberous habits provide bountiful laughs in “1776,” yet his political influence remains mostly intact.

When “1776” takes breaks from lengthy debate scenes, we peer into the relationship of John and Abigail Adams (Sarah Miller), as well as that of Thomas and Martha Jefferson (Kaitlyn Mayse). In these scenes, “1776” reminds us of a human side that is often left out of this story — the Second Continental Congress separated delegates like John Adams from their wives and families.

Sherman Edwards’ score for “1776” is what one might expect stylistically for American revolutionary music — stately and regimental. Friday night’s performance did contain some rough musical moments, but not enough to counterbalance the overall rich and hearty vocal performances.

Tyler Henderson, as the South Carolinian delegate Edward Rutledge, achieves remarkable success with an operatic approach to his solo song “Molasses to Rum.” Additionally, Andrew Minkin (the Courier) delivers a simple yet beautiful rendition of “Momma, Look Sharp.”

Director Randy White’s blocking combines with David Wade’s set design to overcome a monstrous difficulty in this show — the fact that two dozen men must all share one stage. Ellen MacKay’s costume design is colorful, elaborate and ideal for the period.

Audience members needn’t be history aficionados to appreciate the jokes or relish the tunes in “1776,” a humorous and stirring look into a fascinating scrap of the past.

 

 

WFIU Review

 

1776, A Very Funny, Tuneful Account Of Our Early History

By George Walker WFIU Reviewer

The Cardinal Stage Company opens their 2014-2015 season in fine style with Sherman Adams and Peter Stone’s musical comedy 1776 directed by Randy White. It’s a character rich drama of the deliberations that led up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. David Wade’s set on the stage at the Buskirk Chumley Theatre takes the audience to the chambers of the Second Continental Congress with its ever present backdrop of the tote board of the ay and nay votes of the thirteen colonies.  It is summer in steamy Philadelphia and the delegates costumed by Ellen MacKay with help from IU Opera Theater battle the heat, the flies and one another.

At the center of 1776 is Mike Price as the colorful fire brand John Adams. He’s described as “obnoxious and unlikeable.” The whole play begins with the entire fed-up Congress singing “For God’s Sake, John, Sit Down.” Adams efforts to spark the revolutions are opposed by Rob Johansen as the conservative John Dickinson of Pennsylvania.  It is only with the clever council and guidance of Mark Goetzinger as the wily Benjamin Franklin that Adams explosive energies lead to success.

Reuben Walker was a very satisfactory last minute stand in for Scott Hogsed as Richard Henry Lee of Virginia in the wonderfully comical and verbally intricate “Lees of Old Virginia.” Word has it that Hogsed will return to the role sometime in the production’s second week and that he’s even funnier than Walker.

On the slavery question, Tyler Henderson as Edward Rutledge of South Carolina sang the very dramatic “Molasses to Rum” pointing out to the audience and the delegates that the question of slavery in the south was very much intricately involved with economic interests in the north.

Andrew Minkin as the courier who brings the Congress the regularly dispiriting news from General Washington reminded the audience of the individual suffering in the moving ballad of a grieving mother “Momma Look Sharp.”

00000There are only two women in the large cast of 1776 and only one is actually in Philadelphia. Sarah Miller as the home bound Abigail Adams was warmly tender in her duets with Mike Price as John Adams lonely, loving and a bit critical wife. Kaitlyn Mayse was a pleasure as Martha Jefferson both vocally and in the charming dance sequence with Franklin and Adams.

Jack O’Hara presided with masterly reserve as John Hancock, the Congress’s president fueling the rising tension as the final votes were counted and the bell tolled as the delegates signed the declaration.

The Cardinal Stage Company’s engaging and energetic production of  1776  with music direction by Robert Cruz and choreography by Diane Buzzell and its cast of colorful characters and the drama  that leads up to the signing of the Declaration  continues in the Buskirk-Chumley theatre through September 17.

At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker.