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2017 Philadelphia Fringe Festival Review: ‘United’ by The Revivalists at the Betsy Ross House

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Performed in the candlelit courtyard of the historic Betsy Ross House and opening in the 2017 Fringe on September 9 – the same date, in 1776, that the Second Continental Congress declared our Colonies the United States of America – The Revivalists’ United, conceived and directed by Ben Smallen, is a well-researched and deeply-felt union of history with current issues, patriotism with activism. Brimming over with youthful passion, revolutionary ardor, and socio-political commitment, the rousing presentation intersperses traditional folk songs popular in Colonial America (including “The World Turned Upside Down” and “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier”) with quotes and recitations from our Founding Fathers (and Mothers!), along with original commentary by the talented new collective (KC Von Camper, Caitlin Collins, Tom England, Samantha Ricchiuti, Skip Robinson, Meghan Skiles, Lauryn Morgan Thomas, and Michael Borton, who also serves as Musical Director and Arranger).

An impressively clear sound system amplifies the company’s tuneful voices, melodious harmonies, and fine musicianship on an array of instruments – from drums, keyboards, guitar, banjo, violin, mandolin, and tambourine, to kazoo, washboard, and spoons – as Smallen’s immersive blocking moves the performers all around us and throughout the open-air space. Garbed with such evocative accents as ruffled shirts, a military jacket, a long skirt, a red striped vest, and a white top decorated with stars, they are fully engaging as they speak directly to us and solicit our participation in standing up to pledge allegiance to the flag (a reproduction of the original sewn on site by Ross), clapping along to “Yankee Doodle,” raising our hands in support of the cause and shouting “Huzzah!” In so doing, they honor their mission of encouraging us all “to re-engage with the beliefs and principles on which our country was founded.”

In addition to invoking the words of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and John Paul Jones, reading extant letters of families posted during the American Revolution, and paying tribute to the women who fought and sacrificed along with the better-known men, the company members offer testimonials from their own perspectives on liberty, equality, and our “right, duty, and necessity” of continuing to fight for the lofty ideals that first defined our nation (with heartfelt personal observations on “living Black,” recognizing the advantages of “White privilege,” and on the statistically-supported challenges of being a contemporary woman). The convictions and emotions of our 18th-century founders still reverberate today, in The Revivalists’ stirring presentation and call to remain United.

Running Time: Approximately 50 minutes, without intermission.

United plays through Sunday, September 23, 2017, at The Revivalists, performing at the Betsy Ross House – 231 Arch Street, Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the Fringe box office at (215) 413-9006, or purchase them online.

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