This year marks the 240th anniversary of the formation of our country, and what better way to experience a taste of this magnificent history than with the musical 1776 now playing at The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport. With a book by Peter Stone, and music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, this Tony Award winner for Best Musical is directed by Igor Goldin, with assistance from Trey Compton.
1776 takes place in Philadelphia over a three month period. It follows the struggles of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson in their efforts to convince the rest of the Continental Congress members to vote for independence.
John Adams is frustrated. His colleagues don’t seem to grasp the severity of the situation. For over a year they have avoided any decisive action, and many of the delegates vehemently oppose the entire topic. How can he spur them past their doubt and fear into action? With the help of Thomas Jefferson’s eloquence and Benjamin Franklin’s deviousness and ingenuity, Adams forefronts the movement to secede from Great Britain’s tyranny. What else is a revolutionary to do?
This production of 1776 is exceedingly well done. The entire cast is fantastic, melding together into a believably cohesive unit. They convincingly depict the frustrations and vexations of their characters, while vividly portraying the sweltering conditions of the Pennsylvanian summer. Wonderful singing abounds, and blend together in excellent harmony, notably in “Sit Down, John.”
Jamie LaVerdiere is superb as John Adams. With his crisp and clear vocals in “Sit Down, John” and “Piddle, Twiddle,” combined with his unflagging enthusiasm and energy, LaVerdiere brings Adams strikingly to life. From incredulous and exasperated, to tender and romantic, his believable emotional range was a a great asset to the production.
The wonderful chemistry between LaVerdiere and Jennifer Hope Wills, as Abigail Adams, created a touching and intimate portrayal of the Adams’ strong relationship. Wills’ beautiful singing was a pleasure to listen to, especially in “Yours, Yours, Yours”.
David Studwell was brilliant as Benjamin Franklin.His impeccable comedic timing adds a lightheartedness to what is, predominantly, a serious plotline.
Jon Reinhold is also amusing in his role as Richard Henry Lee, the gregarious and confident Virginian. His delivery of “The Lees of Old Virginia” was quite moving.
Michael Glavan gives a marvelous performance as the taciturn Thomas Jefferson. His quiet strength and communicative facial expressions give silent insight into his character’s complexities. Adriana Milbrath is charming as Jefferson’s wife, Martha. Her strong, lovely vocals ring out in “He Plays the Violin.”
Peter Saide’s outstanding portrayal of South Carolina Delegate, Edward Rutledge, was very impressive. He exudes aristocratic elegance with manner and expression, while delivering an exemplary Southern drawl. His sensational performance of the tenebrous “Molasses to Rum” was chill-inducing.
Benjamin Howes was splendid as Adams’ main nemesis, John Dickinson. His eloquent rebuttals of, and heartfelt objections to declaring independence, clearly outline the momentous gravity of Congress’ decision.
Convincing performances were also delivered by both Tom Lucca as the exhausted Congress President John Hancock, and James D. Schultz as the conflicted Georgian Dr. Lyman Hall. Leer Leary impressed with a fantastic brogue as Col. Thomas McKean, while Matthew Rafanelli stole the entire scene with his haunting and emotional rendition of the showstopper “Momma Look Sharp.”
Not only is the acting fabulous, but the designers also shine. Scenic Designer Stephen Dobay has created a stately and impressive Congressional Hall, complete with crown molding and wainscoting. This was ably aided by Cory Pattak’s lighting design, with tantalizing effects of shadow and relief. Sound design by Laura Shubert bolstered the entire show, especially in “Molasses to Rum.”
Magnificent historical costumes from Costume and Wig Designer Kurt Alger range from humble cottons and simple colors, for the practical New Englanders, to silk and brocade, for the aristocratic Southerners. The band, under the musical direction of Eric Alsford, does credit to this beloved score, with the addition of fife and drums, which add just the right touch of historic authenticity.
1776 is a brief glimpse into the tumultuous and historic past of our nation’s birth. With wonderful music, and diverse characters, this theatrical page of history is educational and entertaining. Very well-executed, the John W. Engeman Theater’s production of 1776 is “certain-Lee” not to be missed.
Running Time: Three hours, with a 15-minute intermission.