Review: 1776 MUSICAL SHINES A LIGHT ON THE PRESENT at Broadway San Jose

Now thru May 21st!

By: May. 17, 2023
Review: 1776 MUSICAL SHINES A LIGHT ON THE PRESENT at Broadway San Jose

Broadway San Jose hosts the revolutionary revival of 1776, the raucous musical that was conceived by music and lyric writer Sherman Edwards who had the bad luck of pitching this show about our founding fathers during the height of the Vietnam war. It was a time when anti-government sentiment was high, to say the least. Edwards' luck changed when producer Stuart Ostrow honed in on the spirit of protest, rebellion and the anti-government sentiment of the colonies, and 1776 was given the green light. With a book by Peter Stone, it captivated audiences, winning three Tonys, including Best Musical in 1969. Playing now through May 21, 2023, 1776 is an important work and a must-see performance by a stellar cast and creative team.

Co-directors Jeffry L. Page (also choreographer) and Diane Paulus take Ostrow's original vision and raise the ante, not only honing in on the Declaration of Independence as a form of protest, but also by putting a multiracial, trans, nonbinary and female cast into the room where it happens (excuse the obvious Hamilton nod). The 21st century addition to no taxation without representation is no shows in our nation without representation. (Just be advised that the show runs almost three hours.)

This time around, those who had no voice in the original deliberations in the hot and humid Philadelphia meetings of the Second Continental Congress, are the ones talking and singing about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is inspiring to see that the men who grapple with the pros and cons of declaring their independence are women, as well as those whose lives didn't change after the colonies declared themselves to be a free people. And for the first time, 1776 audiences watching this production can see themselves reflected in the leaders who emerged triumphant after the heated debates and heavy compromises led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Gisela Adisa shines in the take-charge lead role of John Adams, that obstinate and irascible patriot determined to bring about change. But Adam's softer side is highlighted in the loving relationship between he and his wife, Abigail Adams (Tieisha Thomas's lilting vocals are beautiful). The dialogue between them is based on the thousands of letters they wrote to each other throughout their marriage. Directors Page and Paulus received permission from the estates of Stone and Edwards to add in Abigail Adams' most famous historical words, "remember the ladies...all men would be tyrants if they could," but sadly it would another 144 years before the 19th amendment granted women the right to vote. (The Equal Rights Amendment failed to pass yet again this year.)

Adam never did include "the ladies." Instead he focuses on the cause of liberty for white men, joining forces with Benjamin Franklin (played wonderfully by Liz Mikel who delivers witty and humorous rejoinders with aplomb) and Thomas Jefferson (Nancy Anderson's pensive portrayal is perfection) to win the day.

The oft forgotten founding father, Richard Henry Lee, is brought to glorious life by Shawna Hamic whose vocal chops wowed. Lee, from the great state of Virginia, brings the 1776 "Lee Resolution," to the floor, calling for the colonies' independence from Great Britain.

Scott Pask's scenic design, together with David Bengali's projection designs lend much needed context,

though the use of a half-curtain throughout was perplexing. And while Page's choreography was spare to say the least, it worked well in the context of the Second Continental Congress's deliberations.

As the war wages on and General George Washington's sorrowful missives are read to the gathered delegates, John Adams lights on the idea of writing a declaration to bolster the cause of independency, as he puts it. Bickering ensues over who will take on the arduous task of writing it. The President of the Congress, John Hancock (Oneika Phillips' stern portrayal is spot on) creates a Declaration Committee that includes Jefferson.

The rest of 1776 centers on the declaration paragraph that Jefferson wrote condemning slavery. South Carolina's Edward Rutledge (played with sweet tea, Southern charm by Kassandra Haddock) objects to the inclusion and points out the hypocrisy of the North in the song "Molasses to Rum." The paragraph is stricken, and the declaration is finally signed by all delegates. The hardest, saddest thing the audience must grapple with is that African Americans still do not have the same access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness - as every viable statistic on racism and inequality attests to.

At base, 1776 asks us to consider what freedom and independence truly mean in the year 2023 when the rights that we've fought for and the gains we've made are being summarily stripped away, taking us back, if not to 1776 then surely to 1964, before the Voting Rights Act and to 1972 before Roe was the law of the land. LGBTQ rights and interracial marriage are also being targeted.

In a country where Republican states have begun to ban books, and refuse to pass common sense gun safety laws, 1776 invites us back into the original struggle against tyranny anew.

Now through May 21, 2023
Broadway San Jose Click Here
Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Book by Peter Stone

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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