Friday, October 14, 2022

Review of "1776" - Broadway

At the beginning of the Broadway revival of 1776, the multi-racial, female, transgender, and non-binary cast members literally step into the shoes of our forefathers.  The thrust of the production is to visually represent those individuals ignored during the crafting of the Declaration of Independence.  But presenting these performers on stage without significantly changing the message of the show creates a somewhat toothless production.

The musical chronicles the birthing of America by delegates from the 13 colonies.  The decision is whether to break free from the tyranny of England or not.  The representatives “piddle, twiddle and resolve” during the many hot months in Philadelphia to resolve this question.

The pro forces are led by John Adams, a boisterous, but not very nuanced performance by Crystal Lucas-Perry; the droll and witty Ben Franklin, played with comic aplomb by Patrena Murray; and the crafter of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson, a very muted portrayal by Elizabeth A. Davis.   Those members loyal to the king include the fiery John Dickinson, a superb performance by Carolee Carmello; and Edward Rutledge, a representative from South Carolina, played with smooth-talking sharpness by Sara Porkalob. 

What comes across more loudly than the casting choices is how Peter Stone’s brilliant book - who thought U.S. history could be so entertaining and funny - relates to current events.  Example #1 - Throughout 1776, a limping messenger delivers short dispatches from General George Washington.  The contents are always grim.  When, and I paraphrase here, one of these missives states that the ragtag Continental Army of 5,000 troops is about to face the well-trained, well-armed British contingent of 25,000 forces all I could think about was the undermanned Ukrainian army facing off against the huge, well-equipped Russians. Yet, like the American soldiers of years past, the Ukrainian army has been successful in repelling the foreign incursion.  

Example #2 - The members of the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia are a divided group as they debate a Declaration of Independence.  For all the shouting, rhetoric and deal-making, they eventually work out a bitterly contested compromise, and vote to unanimously move forward for independence.  John Dickinson declines to sign the document and begins to walk off stage.  Her chief antagonist, John Adams, stands and asks the attendees to recognize the Pennsylvania delegate for a well fought fight.  I’m sitting there thinking would that ever happen in the U.S. Congress?  After a hard fought battle on the Senate or House floor, would the winning party rise to graciously acknowledge their opponents?  In today’s world, the answer is a resounding no.

The score by Sherman Edwards is one of the best in musical theater history.  Every number is a gem.  There is the comedic “Sit Down, John” and the humorous wordplay of “The Lees of Old Virginia;” the tender interplay between John and Abigail Adams in “Yours, Yours, Yours;” the sexually tinged “He Plays the Violin;” and the politically charged “Molasses to Rum.”  The latter song is given a large-scale rendition, emphasizing the issue of slavery within the show.  Other songs have interesting, not always successful, orchestrations.  

Co-Directors Diane Paulus and Jeffrey L. Page are at their best during the full congressional debates on independence as they insert players into the raucous proceedings.  The scenes with just a few of the characters lack importance and drive.  Page, who also serves as choreographer, adds some appealing flourishes to several of the production numbers.

1776, at the Roundabout Theatre through January 8, 2923.  Click here for dates, times, and ticket information.

No comments: