BWW Reviews: ACT's 1776 Drums Up Patriotic Fun
The creators of "1776" held political opinions that strongly disagreed with the ideals of many, like former president Richard Nixon, who ultimately came to enjoy and appreciate the musical. One can easily assume members of both major political parties made up the opening night audience of American Conservatory Theatre's co-production of the show, and surely a conservative or two chuckled at the universal hypocrisy and false pride presented in "Cool, Cool Considerate Men," which makes fun at those who lean ever to the right, never to the left. Values and people differ, but like the representatives who signed their names to the Declaration of Independence, we find a common bond in our history and, in the case of Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone's "1776," in music and drama mixed.
Here we have a drama much like the famed "12 Angry Men," albeit this time the action takes place at an Independence Hall filled with even more angry men complaining about the hot weather, the bothersome flies and the "obnoxious and disliked" John Adams. As the tension and debate over whether or not to declare independence rises, time moves ever toward July 4 and resolution seems ever impossible. Sprinkled throughout are fantastic moments of humor layered with bits of dancing and sharp wit. There's even a delightful debate over the choosing of the national bird.
John Hickok opens the production with clever remarks from John Adams, trademark humor that stays for the duration of the musical. Intellectual battles with members of congress culminate in Hickok's striking soliloquy as the firm, yet emotionally strained Adams asks "Is anybody there? Does anybody care? Does anybody see what I see?" In a fuller spectrum, a poignant second act "Momma, Look Sharp" sung by Zach Kenney as the Courier balances Adams' dreams of independence celebrations with the reality and consequences of war. Jarrod Zimmerman also delivers a standout performance as the villain audiences love to hate. Zimmerman's deceitfully polite and handsome southern gentleman, Edward Rutledge, defends the economy of slavery and state rights and makes an increasingly dark and shrewd attack on hypocrisy in "Molasses to Rum."
On the lighter side, Andrew Boyer's common-sense, but eccentric Benjamin Franklin provides several fun moments. The character carries a gout-ridden foot and acts on the melodramatic personality of his older age. In a short, but most memorable time on stage, Ryan Drummond gives Richard Henry Lee a deep voice, sensational self-esteem and heroic pluck during a jovial "The Lees of Old Virginia."
The two women of the production make for a welcome, occasional change in pace and atmosphere. Both come with stunning voices. Abby Mueller plays the counterpart to Adams' stubborn nature as his wife AbiGail Adams, and Andrea Prestinario appeals to every romantic in her audience when she tells of how her husband (Brandon Dahlquist as Thomas Jefferson) wooed her with his violin.
Often highlighted by Paul Miller's lighting, Mara Blumenfeld's lovely period costumes reflect characters' personalities and pop against the warm colors of Russell Metheny's tiered set. Conductor Michael Rice leads a live orchestra in Sherman's playful tunes, all with fitting pomp and parade, and Frank Galati's direction blends comedy and drama to full effect. Next to the Declaration of Independence, "1776" deserves its long-lasting place in the hearts of American theater-goers.