What we are going through these days is nothing new. In this country it has been happening for at least 240 years, as anyone who attends Lakewood Theatre’s production of 1776 will learn quite quickly.
1776 is a musical about the writing of the Declaration of Independence. It opens as the Continental Congress meets in Philadelphia during the stifling summer of 1776. A song called “For God’s Sake, John, Sit Down” sets the tone. John Adams (Darius Pierce) is “obnoxious and disliked”, and he is pushing hard against many different factions for a permanent separation from England. His more sympathetic colleagues observe that this idea would go over better if someone other than he suggested it.
And we are off to the races, with the likes of Adams, Thomas Jefferson (Adam Elliott Davis), Benjamin Franklin (Mark Pierce), and a host of familiar historic characters.
This is a fascinating play from the sheer volume of history it reveals as the various representatives state their cases. It is a large, mostly male group, well-cast, and under the excellent direction of Kurt Raimer. Much like the 2012 film Lincoln based on the Doris Kearns Goodwin book, 1776 deals with layers of regional differences and issues, strong loyalties, and a plethora of egos.
At times, one almost forgets this is a musical. In fact, to me at least, some of the songs seem dispensable. But there are some standouts. “Till Then” is a lovely duet between John and Abigail Adams (Dru Rutledge) dealing with the difficulties of long separations in dangerous times. “The Lees of Old Virginia” features lyric baritone Matthew Hayward (most recently of the Fellini-esque Nine) as Richard Henry Lee, and is a hilarious and energetic number about the Lee pedigree and how R.H. can bring his colony to the right side in the fight for “independency”! And the Courier (Michel Castillo), sings a haunting song about the tragedy of war (“Momma Look Sharp”). The song “Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve” provides a timely lament on Congress and its inability to get anything done!
There is no surprise ending. We all know the Declaration of Independence managed to get written and signed. But lordy, what a struggle. 1776 is much more than entertainment, it is a must-see history lesson. Would that history books could carry the message so well!
1776 opened on Broadway in 1969 and won a Tony for best musical. It enjoyed a three-year run, was made into a film in 1972, and enjoyed a Broadway revival in 1997. The book is by Peter Stone, with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards. The play runs at Lakewood through October 16.