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Review Roundup: Encores! 1776- with Santino Fontana, John Larroquette & More!

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Up next in the Encores! season is 1776, the classic Tony Award-winning musical about how the founding fathers drafted the Declaration of Independence and gave birth to a new nation. A unique show that presents John Adams (Santino Fontana), Thomas Jefferson (John Behlmann), andBenjamin Franklin (John Larroquette) in all their fractious, fascinating complexity, 1776 features such beloved songs as "Sit Down, John," "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men," and "He Plays the Violin."

Written by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone, 1776 opened on Broadway on March 16, 1969, and ran for 1217 performances. The Encores! production will be directed by Garry Hynes, and choreography by Chris Bailey and guest music direction by Ben Whiteley. 1776 will run for seven performances at City Center through April 3.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Ben Brantley, New York Times: It is this show's contention that it is the sexual relief of conjugal reunion that allows Jefferson to overcome writer's block and pen the Declaration of Independence with the necessary virile eloquence. Now that's a classically hokey musical comedy premise. What was, and remains, revolutionary about "1776" is that, in following the long and winding deliberations of contentious men in a closed room, it dares to be as dull as real politics can often be.

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: The Encores! series is traditionally focused on the scores of its musicals, frequently trimming down the books. Musically, this 1776 succeeds greatly. However, this is the rare musical where the book is so strong that many of the evening's emotional high points are spoken, so in this case the numerous cuts decrease the drama's effectiveness. This is a musical for actors and the brief rehearsal period allotted for concert performances probably accounts for the static quality of some of the scene work on opening night, which is only the second time the cast performs in front of an audience.

Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: Is there room on Broadway for two musicals about the Founding Fathers? The answer is a resounding yes, if the revival of1776 being presented for an all-too-brief run by City Center's Encores! series is any indication. This beloved 1969 Tony Award-winning show was an obvious inspiration for a musical currently running on Broadway that you may have heard something about - Lin-Manuel Miranda's Hamilton. And that production's mega-success might well have had something to do with the decision of Encores! to mount this musical, which has hardly been neglected over the years. It was adapted into a very faithful film version in 1972, was revived on Broadway by Roundabout in 1997, and is often seen in regional theaters. While this current incarnation is not perfect, it nonetheless makes a compelling argument that the show would find receptive audiences for a commercial run.

Matt Windman, amNY: The crowd-pleasing 1969 musical is especially timely right now, given the background of the presidential election and news about members of Congress unwilling to work with each other. In the opening scene, when John Adams regrets that his colleagues refuse to even debate declaring independence from Great Britain, it brings to mind the refusal of many Republicans to consider the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

Jesse Green, Vulture: Like the thirteen colonies awkwardly hammered into a union, the musical1776, which is about that hammering, is a bizarre construction that should not work. The idea for the show was outré in itself, let alone in its provenance: It was the dreamchild of a New Jersey schoolteacher and passable pop songwriter named Sherman Edward. By the time he got his historical costume musical about the ratification of the Declaration of Independence on the boards, in 1969, the Vietnam War was in full rage and game-changers like Hair and Cabaret had blown away the Broadway template. Who would sit for a longish (and originally intermission-less) show featuring grumpy old men doing gavottes in breeches? A show with hardly any women, unusually few songs (at one point, 30 minutes go by with no music at all), and no inherent suspense?

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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