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Review: American Repertory Theater and Roundabout Theatre Company's 1776 is a Master Class in Musical Theatre Revivals

Review: American Repertory Theater and Roundabout Theatre Company's 1776 is a Master Class in Musical Theatre Revivals

This Broadway-bound captivating performance runs now through July 24th.

It is no surprise to anyone that we are living in an incredibly politically charged time. People in this country are losing their rights, gun violence is on the rise, and the democracy of which is the foundation of our country is at jeopardy. One can't help but wonder if this is the future our Founding Fathers had envisioned for our country. 1776, now playing at the American Repertory Theater (in partnership with Roundabout Theatre Company), gives us a look at what may have been going through their minds when leading America to its independence.

It's no secret that this isn't your grandfather's production of 1776. This production, directed by Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus, breathes new life into the 1969 Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone musical. The characters, which are usually portrayed by all white men, are now portrayed by an incredibly diverse cast of women and non-binary performers. The cast is led by Crystal Lucas-Perry who plays a commanding John Adams. Her voice is powerful and fills the room with every note sung. However, her Adams could stand to be more "obnoxious." The entire cast of this show works remarkably well together, truly making it an ensemble piece. No one faded to the back and everyone gave marvelous performances. The biggest stand out of the night was Shawna Hamic in the role of Richard Henry Lee. Her performance of "The Lees of Old Virginia" stopped the show before it even got moving. Her Lee was full of energy and humor.

1776 tells the story of the creation of and the moments leading to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the political discourse that came along with that. While Page's choreography and Page's/Paulus' staging kept the story moving and the audience engaged, the script still felt dry in some moments and the plot took quite a while to get moving. This show doesn't have the most catchy music but John Clancy's orchestrations and AnnMarie Milazzo's vocal design gave the score a more contemporary feel and improved its duller areas.

The performance I saw was less than a week after Roe V. Wade was overturned so the audience, and most likely the actors, were feeling more politically charged than ever which gave a strong energy in the room. However, there were some moments where it felt like the actors were giving us a large wink-wink-nudge-nudge to some of the lines that have parallels to today's political climate, even going to the point where they would turn to the audience and motion towards them while delivering a line. These moments took me out of the world of the play and I feel that the message could still get across without the directness.

The design of the show was simple but effective. The set, designed by Scott Pask, mostly consisted of tables and chairs for the congress. The curtain for this production was made of faded American Flags. The lighting, designed by Jen Schriever, aided Pask in setting the scenes, sometimes adding texture to give the feeling of majestic window curtains or color to set the mood.

Overall, this production is truly captivating and refreshing. I have no doubt that it will succeed when it moves to Broadway and I hope this cast moves with it. In the meantime, get over to the ART to see it.

1776 plays at the American Repertory Theater now until July 24th. The show is produced in partnership with the Roundabout Theatre Company. 1776 is written by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone and is based on a concept by Sherman Edwards. The production is directed by Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus with choreography by Page and musical direction by Ryan Cantwell. The show is designed by AnneMarie Milazzo (vocal design), Scott Pask (scenic design), Emilio Sosa (costume design), Jonathan Deans (sound design), David Bengali (projection design), and Mia Neal (hair and wig design). Alfredo Macias serves as Production Stage Manager.

Picture Credit: Evan Zimmerman for Murphy Made

Regional Awards

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From This Author - Erik Bailey

He is a graduate of Dean College where he earned a BA in Theatre with a concentration in musical theatre. In his thirteen years in the world of theatre he has seen both onstage and off in a multitu... (read more about this author)


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