Review: National Tour of 1776 Proves that a Woman's Place is in the House of Representatives

And the Senate

Joanna Gleason to Direct Phylicia Rashad in MASTER CLASS at Theatre Aspen

History has always appealed to me. In school, I wasn't much of a math genius but the storytelling of real history I think lends itself to the creative types. It's how we got Hamilton. But before Lin Manuel's New American Musical, there was 1776 which is the recent National Tour to come to DCPA but with a whole new story to tell. Under the direction of Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus and comprised of an entirely female, trans, and non-binary cast, this rendition of the classic musical is the paradigm of freedom and the American Dream.

The standout element, creatively, was the choreography by Co-Director Jeffrey L. Page. Who knew dancing could be so articulate? It was so moving and perfectly told the story Page aimed to tell accented further by the lighting design by Jen Schriever. Set Design by Scott Pask was the one creative element that seemed to take a back seat to everything else. The projections were great and a nice way to incorporate newer technology in an older show, but the base level scenic design was less impactful.

I'm inclined to believe that part of the reason I was so intrigued with the production was because of the casting. I definitely thought to myself, "Would I be enjoying this if it was a bunch of cisgender older white men?" It's certainly true that the source material is candidly apropos for today's uniquely American political climate, but there is something to be said for putting the words of the oppressor into the mouths of the oppressed that makes them so much more glaringly hypocritical to "American values."

Reviewing the cast of this show is objectively the hardest part. First of all, there are so many integral main characters, much like the real life circumstances. Second, they were all just so good. I relished in their company. The entire cast each took ownership of their roles equipping them with their own unique traits and quirks. Among the stellar cast are Tiffani Barbour as Andrew McNair and Brooke Simpson as the Courier. Both Barbour and Simpson are everpresent and perceptive throughout the show. As if by design, they do their jobs as custodian and messenger, all the while becoming Masters of Whispers. Simpson in the second act also has a moment to demonstrate her incredible vocal skills.

In the next batch, we have Julie Cardia as Stephen Hopkins, Shawna Hamic as Richard Henry Lee, Joanna Glushak as John Dickinson, and Oneika Phillips as John Hancock. Each of these performers brought a definitive point of view to their roles, especially as it relates to their character's side of the aisle on the issues presented in the show. Cardia and Hamic were both at home in these more charasmatic and comedic roles just as Glushak and Phillips each presented a sense of stoicness but from different angles. They were all incredible to watch.

Though they did play members of Congress, Tieisha Thomas as Abigail Adams and Connor Lyon as Martha Jefferson are inspiring as the only two female characters in what is otherwise a gentleman's club. Thomas is so tender but firm; unwavering. She is a pillar for her husband, John, even if only through the letters they write one another. Lyon's Martha Jefferson isn't the biggest role in the show, if you will, but her command of the stage in the role was very impactful. Her rendition of "He Plays the Violin" gave reason for it being the final song of the first act. Simply put, it was beautiful.

The main trio of actors consists of Nancy Anderson as Thomas Jefferson, Liz Mikel as Benjamin Franklin, and Gisela Adisa in the leading role of John Adams. I can't even begin to express how happy I was to see Anderson *actually* playing the violin - bowings, fingerings, and all! Anderson's role of playing the man who had the drafting of the Declaration forced upon him was played with such nuance. She perfectly displayed the idea of being stuck between a rock and a hard place: wanting to go home and be with his family but also feeling the weight of responsibility in building a new nation. Mikel's portrayal of Franklin was that of the constant friend and shoulder to lean on for John Adams. Mikel really captures a certain father figure essence - and is the only one with a recurring bit throughout the show that is funny every time.

Adisa's turn as the protagonist John Adams is outstanding. Much like his wife Abigail, Adams also stands firm in his convictions, unwilling to budge on key issues in the curation of the Declaration. Adisa perfectly embodies these values and it was so exhilirating to see them put to the test. Having a black female actor portray this role is a powerful statement all its own, but Adisa rises above and beyond whatever expectations are placed upon her and creates a role all her own.

The entire show was a true masterclass in theatrical performance. But there is a larger, more meaningful message that resonates from the stage. To take a show with a virtually all-male-roles ensemble and cast a team of female, trans, and non-binary actors is the very definition of drag. To do it with a show about the founding fathers of the United States of America is a statement. At a time in our country when drag performers are the target of conservative politics, with new laws banning the art form in many states, this show serves as a reminder to the responsiblity the theatre industry has to stand up for and protect the rights of the most vulnerable in our community. It is also no secret that such political attacks are simply a, "Look over there!" technique. Meanwhile, on the day 1776 opened in Denver, a school shooting took place only a handful of blocks away. News Flash: The biggest threat to a child's life is not drag.

Admittedly, I took this production in more like a multiversal experience. I saw them less as "women in drag" and more as an answer to the question, "What if...women were the founding fathers?" As it turns out, the answer is more of a solution.

The National Tour of 1776 runs through April 2, 2023 at DCPA.


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