I have written many times on this site of my fondness for the musical “1776,” which debuted on Broadway 50 years ago, ran for 1,217 performances, and won five Tonys, including Best Musical. It is the stirring story of the compromises and improvisation that led to the birth of the United States Of America. I’ve watched the movie version more than two dozen times — it was an annual tradition in our house until our daughter moved out on her own — and believe it should be shown on TV every year on July 4th and be included in every high school social studies curriculum in America.
Last night, Martha and I went to see The Muny’s production of the show (its first in 20 years) and had a great time. After a one-hour rain delay, the crew dried off the stage, the orchestra took its place in the pit, the audience of more than ten thousand took its seats, and the cast brought Peter Stone’s words and Sherman Edwards’ songs to life. Robert Petkoff handled the lead role of John Adams perfectly, quite a task considering he’s on stage for 95% of the show. Equally good were Adam Heller as Benjamin Franklin, Jenny Powers as Abigail Adams, Ben Davis as John Dickinson, and St. Louis acting legend Joneal Joplin as Stephen Hopkins.
Most musicals performed at the Muny have big song and dance numbers one right after the other, and while “1776” has lots of singing and even more talking, there isn’t usually a lot of movement. But with a clever rotating set designed by Luke Cantarella and direction from Rob Ruggiero, the action was big enough to fill The Muny’s humongous stage.
I was thrilled to again hear the songs and dialogue I know by heart, and to hear the reactions of the audience — the majority of whom I’d bet have never seen “1776” on stage or screen — in all the right places, particularly as John Adams described his fellow members of the Continental Congress: Dear God! For one solid year, they have been sitting here! A whole year! Doing nothing!
Then, launching into the song “Piddle, Twiddle, And Resolve,” he continued:
A curse that we here now rehearse in Philadelphia
A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere
Or a cataclysmic earthquake, I’d accept with some despair
But no, you sent us Congress
Good God, sir, was that fair?
Previously on Harris Online…
- My op-ed, “1776: That’s Not The Spirit,” about Virginia bureaucrats keeping the movie out of public schools (3/30/2004).
- William Daniels, on how he came to originate the role of John Adams in the Broadway show.