BWW Review: 1776 THE MUSICAL - A Winning Declaration
Currently playing at The Georgetown Palace Theatre, 1776 THE MUSICAL, has a new concept on the popular, patriotic show that succeeds on every level. Director Clifford Butler has assembled a top notch cast with an added bonus. He chose to blind cast the roles in the musical, making fully half of the traditionally male roles, female.
Premiering on Broadway in 1969, the musical retelling the story of the Second Continental Congress and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, began the national obsession with America's Bicentennial that was to be celebrated in 1976. In 1972 it was made into a film starring William Daniel and Ken Howard. Winner of the Tony for Best Musical, the music and lyrics were written by retired history teacher, Sherman Edwards and book by Peter Stone. The story begins in Philadelphia, in May of 1776 where Congress was debating the future of our nation during a heatwave. John Adams (Danielle Ruth) begins by haranguing the Congress for its inaction. The congressional members counter with "Sit Down, John", telling Adams that they are tired of his long winded push for revolution. Benjamin Franklin (Bobby DiPasquale) councils Adams to temper his attitude and work with Thomas Jefferson (Justin Dam). Using the correspondence between Adams and his wife Abigail (Lauren Wertz-James), the song "Yours, Yours, Yours" the couple bridge the miles between them and clearly show their mutual devotion. The representatives are divided over a break with their colonial master, England. The final argument over declaring war is split, North versus South over the issue of slavery being included in, what ultimately becomes, the Declaration of Independence. The rest is, of course, history and 1776 reminds us all that our beloved country was born from strife, debate and compromise.
Director Clifford Butler and his team have done an excellent job in keeping the overall tone of the music within a frame that is very pleasing to the ears, while changing the pitch to match higher vocal ranges. After the first moments of the first act, I felt entirely comfortable with women in the founding father roles. Kudos to an outstanding cast who seamlessly achieved what could have been awkward and out of place. The set was a thing of beauty, a huge slide out comprised the Congressional chamber smoothly changing scenes with two turntables down stage. Costumes by Romona Haass and her assistant Veronica Prior are stunning. The combination of color and the richness of the fabric lent authenticity to the production. The lighting was beautiful, using a scrim lit from the rear made the scenes played before it more intense. Cast standouts include Nikki Bora who plays the irascible elder, Caesar Rodney with endearing gusto. Emily Perzan is darkly dynamic with the sinister song, about the heinously lucrative Triangle Trade, "Molasses to Rum", as Adam's nemesis, Edward Rutledge. As John Adams, Danielle Ruth takes command and never wavers in her leadership of the cast. She keeps the pacing tight and gives a heartfelt performance. I would be remiss if I didn't take a moment to praise a young actor I have been watching for nearly a year. Buddy Novak, who plays the Courier stopped the show with his moving song, "Mama Look Sharp" at the end of the first act. I have seen this young performer in several shows at The Georgetown Palace; he is usually showing off his dazzling dance skills in the chorus. But this performance sent chills down my spine and brought tears to my eyes. The beauty of Mr. Novak's voice and the heartbreaking lyrics of the song combined for the perfect 'star is born' moment. Buddy Novak may only be a high school student but, mark my words, this young man has talent to spare and his limitations are only defined by how big he can dream. I have nothing but admiration for Butler, he has undertaken a monumental concept that could have been a disaster in a lesser director's hands but he made it work and I look forward to seeing the next production where he is at the helm.
I give my highest recommendation to 1776 THE MUSICAL for its wonderful cast and well executed concept. It may just help you remember that politics in America has always been fraught with discord, but we have always managed to move forward, together.
Photos by Maggie Thompson
October 7 - 30
Evenings, Friday & Saturday 7:30 PM,Matinees, Saturday & Sunday 2:00 PM
Tickets: $14 - $30
Running Time: 2 and one half hours with a 15 minute intermission