Saturday, June 29, 2013

1776 • Insight Theatre Company

Just in time for the 4th of July Holiday, 1776 looks back at the efforts to establish a new nation of independent states, breaking away from the rule of the British Empire.  Although there were some liberties taken with the historical accuracy of events, the culmination that happens with the tenaciously fought for signing of the Declaration of Independence gives a new appreciation for how the wheels of progress have always turned.  Slowly.  It premiered on Broadway in 1969 and received three Tony Awards including Best Musical.

As the lights come up on a striking tableau of the Second Continental Congress, we join them on a hot summer day in Philadelphia and a very annoyed John Adams (a dynamic and strong voiced Martin Fox).  In the midst of a growing war and increasing taxes from England, his arguments for American independence are falling on deaf ears.  Congress seems determined to postpone the very discussion of the topic indefinitely -- John Dickinson in particular, characterized wonderfully by Christopher Hickey.

Martin Fox  (John Adams - Massachusetts).
Photo credit: John Lamb
Dickinson is a fat cat from Pennsylvania who doesn't want to ruffle the King's feathers and considers all this talk about separating from the British no less than treason, so he proposes that the vote for independence be unanimous.  After Adams gets that vote postponed in favor of putting the intentions down on paper, he talks Thomas Jefferson (Peter Meredith) into writing the Declaration, after the task is dodged by other members of the Congress in the amusing "But, Mr. Adams".  Along with Jefferson, Tom Murray as the charmingly witty Benjamin Franklin also figures heavily in the story, with Franklin gently prodding Adams along with good-humored encouragement.  Fox, Meredith and Murray come together in the second act opener, the "The Egg", where they try to determine what America's national bird will be.

Peter Meredith (Thomas Jefferson - Virginia),
Tom Murray (Benjamin Franklin - Pennsylvania)
and Martin Fox  (John Adams - Massachusetts).
Photo credit: John Lamb
With the musical numbers so spread out between the scenes, this is more play than musical, and the wordy first act, running over an hour and a half, felt sluggish.  The pacing improved in the second act with the whole production, directed by Maggie Ryan, buoyed by strong performances and handsome production elements.  Matt Pentecost as Edward Rutledge from South Carolina shines in "Molasses to Rum", a song about the North's hypocritical condemnation of slavery, even though their own pockets were filled by providing ships for the "triangle trade".  Janine Burmeister makes a few appearances as Abigail Adams, corresponding with her husband while she is at home in Massachusetts, teaming up with Fox for the lovely duet, "Yours, Yours, Yours".  Joneal Joplin as the plainspoken Stephen Hopkins from Rhode Island, always asking for a nip of rum, perks up all of the scenes he contributes to, and Charlie Ingram as the Courier who delivers bleak messages from General George Washington, sings a memorable "Mama Look Sharp" about the losses suffered on the battlefield.  The rest of the huge cast of 1776 were pretty uniformly strong and sounded great together in the show's first number , "Sit Down, John".  Bill Schmeil's scenic design was simple and elegant, bathed in changing colors of background light by Maureen Berry.  Laura Hanson's costumes were gorgeous and Zoe Vonderhaar's choreography added charm.  Charlie Mueller provided the musical direction.

It's an entertaining history lesson that I'm glad I finally got to see.  1776 will be playing until July 7th.

Cast of Insight Theatre Company's 1776
Photo credit: John Lamb

Music/lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Book by Peter Stone 
Directed by Maggie Ryan 
Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall, 530 East Lockwood Ave.
through July 7 | tickets: $25 - $30
Performances Tuesdays to Saturday at 8pm Sundays at 2pm, dark Thursday, July 4th

GP Hunsaker (John Hancock - President), Tyler Linke (Dr. Josiah Bartlett- New Hampshire), Martin Fox  (John Adams - Massachusetts), Joneal Joplin* (Stephen Hopkins - Rhode Island), Troy Turnipseed (Roger Sherman - Connecticut), Matt Huber (Lewis Morris - New York), Joey Otradovec (Robert Livingston - New York), Ken Haller (Rev. John Witherspoon - New Jersey), Tom Murray* (Benjamin Franklin - Pennsylvania), Christopher Hickey* (John Dickinson - Pennsylvania), Michael Brightman (James Wilson - Pennsylvania), Charles Heuvelman (Caesar Rodney - Delaware), Jim Leibrecht (Col. Thomas McKean - Delaware), Greg Cuellar (George Read - Delaware), Adam Stefo (Samuel Chase - Maryland), Michael Amoroso (Richard Henry Lee - Virginia), Peter Meredith (Thomas Jefferson - Virginia), Paul Balfe (Joseph Hewes - North Carolina), Matt Pentecost (Edward Rutledge - South Carolina), Zack Stefiank (Dr. Lyman Hall - Georgia), Kent Coffel (Charles Thomson - Congressional Secretary), Tom Wethington (Andrew McNair - Congressional Custodian), Joe Kercher (A Leather Apron), Charlie Ingram (Courier), Janine Burmeister (Abigail Adams) and Taylor Pietz (Martha Jefferson).
* Member Actors' Equity Association

Scenic design by Bill Schmeil; sound design by Mark Griggs; lighting design by Maureen Berry; costume design by Laura Hanson; musical direction by Charlie Mueller; choreography by Zoe Vonderhaar; dramaturge, Paul Balfe; stage manager, Sarah Luedolff.

Viola, Justin Arndt; flute, Paula Bernhardt; cello, Anna Bird; keyboard, Timothy Clark; trombone, Michael Dunsmoor; trumpet, Aaron Mahnken; violin, Tony Morales; percussion, Josh Politte; clarinet, Katie Rahmoeller.

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