Broadway/San Diego Hosts Exquisite Production of ‘1776’
1776, the musical with a book by Peter Stone and music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards won the Tony Award for best musical in 1969. It has been made into a film and revived multiple times. The current revival, under the auspices of The American Repertory Theater and the Roundabout Theatre Company is directed by Jeffery L. Page and Diane Paulus, and features a multiracial cast of female, transgender, and nonbinary actors. The tour of this production plays through Sunday under the auspices of Broadway/San Diego.
If you go expecting a documentary on the proceedings of the Second Continental Congress, you will be sorely disappointed. If you go expecting an interesting evening at the theatre with some songs and a lot of talk, you’re likely to be pleased with that you saw.
There’s no reason that the historical figures who act, sing, and dance as they tell a story about the decision to declare independence from Britain need to be played by white men. Hamilton has broken the ground here, and the 1776 cast wears its costumes (designed by Emilio Sosa) and their wigs (designed by Mia Neal) well. There’s also no reason that some of the characters are composites: John Adams (Gisela Adisa) is a composite of the man who would become the country’s second President and his cousin, the rabble-rousing Samuel Adams. And there’s no reason to worry that independence was actually declared on July 2, though the declaration authored by Thomas Jefferson (Nancy Anderson) was debated and revised until July 4. What caused some of the debate, though I found this point to be unclear in the script, was the philosophical underpinnings of Jefferson’s text, which his adversary, John Dickinson (Joanna Glushak) recognized as at odds with Puritan thought, a primary motivator for some colonists’ departure from Britain to Massachusetts.
What does disrupt the proceedings is the insertion of slavery as a key issue that threatens the unanimity required for passage of the declaration. While this issue is a serious one, the delegates were not as concerned as 1776 makes them out to be, knowing that the issue would need to be resolved after the new nation had been established.
The other issue that troubles is whether 1776 is actually a musical. There are only twelve songs in a two-and-a-half-hour show, and much of the plot is advanced through dialogue and debate. Here’s the Civic Theatre’s lack of friendliness to speech, as opposed to singing, becomes an issue. Performers were miked (Jonathan Deans designed the sound), but I noticed that several were using their “theatrical voice” to be heard.
Other technical elements are rich, especially for a touring production. Scott Pask’s scenic design begins with a show curtain and cleverly involves other curtains to change the scene. These are lit masterfully by Jennifer Schriever and augmented beautifully by David Bengali’s projections.
As John Adams, Ms. Adisa anchors the production well. Ms. Anderson provides intellectual heft as Thomas Jefferson, and Liz Mikel provides both physical heft and wise counsel as Benjamin Franklin. The two female roles, Connor Lyon as Martha Jefferson, and Tieisha Thomas as Abigail Adams are given opportunities to sing beautifully two of the best songs: “Yours, Yours, Yours” and “He Plays the Violin.”
It’s a shame that this exquisite production of 1776 only plays until Sunday.
Remaining performances are scheduled for Saturday, May 13, 2 and 8pm, and Sunday, May 14, at 1 and 6:30pm. Parking is available on local streets, in the Civic Theater parking structure, and in pay lots walking distance from the venue.
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