BWW Review: 1776 Offers an Inside Look at the Imperfect Men Who First Strived For a More Perfect Union
Having seen the musical HAMILTON when it was in Los Angeles, like many others I learned more important details about the founding fathers while watching it than I felt I had ever learned in school. Lin-Manuel Miranda who created that uber-successful musical in 2015, has said that 1776 THE MUSICAL, written in 1969 during another time of political and social unrest in the United States, has "one of the best books-if not the best-ever written for musical theatre." And now I can say I certainly agree with him.
The perfect way to prove the arts can teach valuable history lessons to its audiences is by encouraging everyone to see 1776 THE MUSICAL, presented by La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment with musical direction by Jeff Rizzo and impeccably directed & staged by Glenn Casale through Sunday, February 3, 2019 at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts (The Soraya) at CSUN for four performances Friday, February 8 through Sunday, February 10.
We all know the Declaration of Independence is celebrated with a national holiday on July 4 with parades and fireworks taking place everywhere in the United States celebrating the birthdate of our country. But who were the founding fathers and what happened during the two-year process in the Congressional Congress in Philadelphia that led to the document's ratification? The Tony Award-winning smash begins with a deadlocked Congress with reps from the original 13 colonies attempting to adopt the Declaration of Independence during the hot early summer months of 1776. Tempers are boiling over in heated confrontations, men who have been absent from their wives are anxious to get home, and George Washington is sending missives about the impending British invasion while his troops are sorely lacking in skill and supplies.
And while the Northern statesmen are ready to sign the document written by Thomas Jefferson, how will they finally convince the Southern reps to approve it over their many objections? Engaging, tuneful, witty and passionate, this Broadway musical shows us the likes of the committee assigned to create the Declaration, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, as we've never seen them before with humor and humanity, as well as the good and the bad in everyone involved, making the musical a true celebration of what truly made America great in the first place - the ability to differ and compromise for the greater good of all people.
If these facts were even covered during your history classes in school, I can guarantee you will learn so much more about the men and the times in which they lived when you see the electrifying and attention-riveting 1776 THE MUSICAL directed and staged by Glenn Casale with some of the best triple-threat talent in the Los Angeles area, each one a standout in their roles. Standouts include James Barbour as "Edward Rutledge," the rep from South Carolina whose main objection about outlawing slavery is emotional expressed to perfection during his solo "Molasses to Rum" in which he blames the duplicity of the Northern States for his unwillingness to sign. Peter Van Norden perfectly embodies the many sides of "Benjamin Franklin," including not only his wit and sage advice but also his lewd and lascivious nature when it comes to women.
Caleb Shaw thoroughly shares the more reserved and observant "Thomas Jefferson" and his need to return to his lovely and lonely bride Martha (Ellie Wyman who shines while explaining her love for him to Benjamin Franklin and John Adams during "He Plays the Violin"), that inspires Jefferson to actually write the Declaration in order to get it approved so he can get back home. Of course when the other two men send for her, his progress on the document certainly speeds up!
But it is Andy Umberger who really carries the story as the outspoken and often disliked "John Adams" (just listen to the others complain about him during the opening number "For God Sake, John, Sit Down"), who is the most adamant about ratifying the document and creating the new country as a separate entity from Great Britain. But his tender side is certainly shared each time he and his wife Abigail (Teri Bibb), who is struggling to keep their home afloat in Massachusetts, communicate with each other in song ("Till Then" and "Yours, Yours, Yours') from opposite sides of the stage, representing their devotion to each other though the miles are separating them.
Other song highlights include Nick McKenna as George Washington's "Courier" who becomes more disheveled and dirtier as the action progresses, with his Act 1 ending solo "Momma Look Sharp" telling a very personal story of losses on the battlefield. And perhaps the most lively tune of the night was "The Lees of Old Virginia" performed with gusto by Michael Starr as Richard Henry Lee who left the Continental Congress to become the state's Governor.
Others in the cast include Nick Santa Maria as "John Hancock," Peter Allen Vogt as "Samuel Chase," Victor E. Chan as "Robert Livingston," Brad Rupp as "George Read," Gordon Goodman as "Stephen Hopkins," Jason Chacon as "Dr. Josiah Bartlett," ????Jordan Goodsell as "Charles Thomson," Jordan Schneider as "Dr. Lyman Hall," Jotapé Lockwood as "Lewis Morris," Matthew Kimbrough as "Colonel Thomas McKean," Michael Dotson as "Roger Sherman," Michael Rothhaar as "Andrew McNair," Michael Stone Forrest as "John Dickinson" leads the other Conservatives in "Cool, Cool Considerate Men," Mitchell McCollum as "Reverend John Witherspoon," Ted Barton as "James Wilson," Joey Ruggiero as "Joseph Hewes," and Rodrigo Varandas as "Leather Apron/Painter."
The technical team is to be commended for their outstanding artistic contributions to the production including Scenic Design by Stephen Gifford; Lighting Design by Jared A. Sayeg; Co-Sound Design by Leon Rothenberg & Phil Allen; Costume Design by Shon LeBlanc; Hair/Wig/Makeup Design by EB Bohks; and Properties Design by Kevin Williams. Kudos to Casting Director Julia Flores for her assistance in assembling one of the finest musical ensembles I have ever seen together onstage!
1776 THE MUSICAL, presented by La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment with musical direction by Jeff Rizzo and impeccably directed & staged by Glenn Casale runs through Sunday, February 3, 2019 at La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd in La Mirada, where free parking is available. Performances are Wednesdays & Thursdays at 7:30pm; Fridays at 8:00pm; Saturdays at 2:00pm & 8:00pm & Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets range from $20 - $84 (prices subject to change) and can be purchased at La Mirada Theatre's website, www.lamiradatheatre.com or by calling the La Mirada Theatre Box Office at (562) 944-9801 or (714) 994-6310. Student, Senior and group discounts are available.
1776 THE MUSICAL then performs Friday, February 8 through Sunday, February 10 for four performances on Friday, February 8 at 8:00pm, Saturday, February 9 at 3:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sunday, February 10 at 3:00pm at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts (The Soraya) at CSUN, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330. Tickets range from $44 - $86 and can be purchased at TheSoraya.org or by phone at (818) 677-3000.
Get your tickets soon as I guarantee every member of your family will walk away learning more about the true nature of our founding fathers by seeing this Tony Award Winner for Best Musical with Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards, Book by Peter Stone, based on a concept by Sherman Edwards, thanks to the brilliant Musical Direction by Jeff Rizzo, impeccably directed and staged by the iconic Glenn Casale.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Niedle