THEATRICAL THROWBACK THURSDAY: 1776 - 60s, 70s & 90s Style
In honor of this week's major national holiday of Independence Day, today we celebrate the most patriotic musical of them all, 1776.
Cool, Cool, Considerate Men
A schoolteacher, Army veteran and jazz band moonlighter, Sherman Edwards was perhaps not the very first figure to leap to mind when imagining the ideal composer/lyricist of a musical about the events leading up the signing of the Declaration Of Independence in 1776, let alone one who had transitioned into the world of pop/rock songwriting, having written hits for Elvis Presley and Johnny Mathis (among others) - yet, it is his uniquely gripping and idiosyncratic take on the true tale that contributes largely to making 1776 a modern musical masterpiece. Although the importance of his collaboration with master book writer Peter Stone cannot be overemphasized, it is in the merging of story, song and actual events - or, at least, historical incidents writ large, dramatically fulfilling and overtly theatrical - that help to make 1776 as cherished a classic musical as it is. And, it is - and should be.
Originally premiering on Broadway in the politically volatile period of the late 1960s, 1776 was unusual even then - containing scenes lasting nearly 30 minutes with nary a song to be heard, the anomalous way in which the score was integrated into the story made the musical stand out from the pack from the very start. No doubt a full evening's entertainment with a running time close to 3 hours, the dense and complex history being told was accented by graceful and endearing musical moments as opposed to featuring huge production numbers the likes of which had become so commonplace at the tale end of the Golden Age when the musical originally opened. Surely, dramatic musical showpieces like Edward Rutledge's searing "Molasses To Rum", along with the plaintive "Mama Look Sharp" and the lilting "Yours, Yours, Yours" show strong evidence for the subtly insinuating yet undeniably indelible power of this unassuming score.
While the original Broadway production was a smash hit, winning 1969 Tony Awards for Best Musical, Best Featured Actor In A Musical (Ron Holgate) and Best Direction Of A Musical (Peter Hunt), theatre aficionados will note that it is also one of the only times in Tony Awards history that an actor has refused a nomination - in this case, Williams Daniels, who felt that his predominate role in the show should qualify him for the Leading Actor category despite the antiquated rule of the actor's name having to appear above the title on the show's billing materials in order to qualify. The rules won.
In 1972, the majority of the original cast reconvened to shoot a feature film adaptation, which would turn out to be one of the most faithful recreations of an original Broadway production onscreen to date. Nevertheless, a large portion of material was excised from the film - including the right-deriding "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men", which the studio chief himself removed at the urging of pal President Richard Nixon. Thankfully, the lost footage found its way onto the laserdisc edition of the film in 1992, and that particular song and scene as well as much of the roughly 25 minutes of other cut material thought to be lost has been ported over to the DVD edition, fortunately, which boasts bonus content aplenty.
John Adams. Thomas Jefferson. Benjamin Franklin. John Hancock. They're all here - and many more - bringing not only one of the most important American stories to the stage, but doing so with heart, wit, sincerity... and some seriously toe-tapping and delectable songs, too.
So, now, let's take a look at some highlights from 1776 over the years both onstage and onscreen.
First up, view the performance by the original cast of 1776 on the 1969 Tony Awards.
Next, see Williams Daniels revisit his celebrated performance in 1971.
Now, take in the trailer for the popular film adaptation.
Lastly, hear "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men", deleted from the film but available to hear on the soundtrack.
As a special bonus, check out the 1997 revival cast of 1776 on THE ROSIE O'DONNELL SHOW.
So, what is your absolute favorite element of 1776? Is it the engrossing and absorbing libretto? The rich treatment of history? The superlative songstack? Whatever makes 1776 a classic, this weekend is surely a time to revisit one of the best Broadway musicals of all time and a movie musical iteration sure to fulfill your particular pursuit of happiness, whatever that may be.
From This Author Pat Cerasaro