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1776
The Revolutionary Musical
Landmark Musicals

Also see Dean's review of Angel Street

1776
Jacob Paul Sisneros and Michael Finnegan
Just in time for the Independence Day holiday, Landmark Musicals has delivered a rousing production of 1776. Originally staged on Broadway in 1969, 1776 follows the events surrounding the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence during a blistering summer in Philadelphia. The original production was nominated for five Tony Awards and won three, including Best Musical.

The action begins in May of 1776 and runs through July 4. The well-known historical characters are the main roles: John Adams (Shawn Wayne King in fine voice), Thomas Jefferson (David Aubrey) and Ben Franklin (Michael Finnegan). The wives of Adams and Jefferson, Abigail Adams (Kate Sarff) and Martha Jefferson (Amy Leigh Bingen), also factor in the story in support their husbands.

The Continental Congress struggled for months over the question of whether the 13 Colonies should revolt from British rule. The English king had proclaimed that calling for revolution was a hanging offence. The stakes were high. George Washington's greatly outnumbered revolutionary army was starving in the field. And the congressional representatives in Philadelphia were in a contentious argument over whether to join together in revolt. They even reached the point of insulting each other.

While 1776 takes a few dramatic liberties with history—Jefferson's wife didn't show up in Philadelphia to support him while he drafted the Declaration of Independence; she was sick at the time—but it gets much of the story right. Adams is at his fist-pounding best. Franklin is diplomatic almost to a fault, and the shy Jefferson has to be dragged to the task of drafting the revolutionary document.

It's quite a feat to make a musical drama out of a bunch of men yelling at each other in a hot room. Yet Edwards and Stone managed the challenge well. Producer Myra Cochnar and director Shepard Sobel do a fine job of bringing 1776 to the Rodey Theatre. The singing is the star of this Landmark production. While the musical didn't produce any memorable numbers—it's hard to make pop songs out of lyrics about a document—the songs work very well with the story.

1776 has the distinction of presenting the longest stretch without music in a popular musical—more than 30 minutes during the first act. In the original Broadway production, musicians would take a smoke break during the non-musical stretch. The drama is strong, so the gap moves swiftly.

While the performances of King, Aubrey and Finnegan are strong, this is an ensemble performance, and all the actors deliver well. Kudos to musical director William W. Williams and music director and conductor H.B. Williams. It's always wonderful to have live music. The staging is also excellent, not an easy task with a static setting. Vic Browder has done a nice job with the set design. In a musical set during the Colonial period, costumes are critical. Wigs off to Joe Moncada for costumes and wig design.

1776, music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, book by Peter Stone, is produced by Myra Cochnar and directed by Shepard Sobel. The production is presented by Landmark Musicals and runs at Rodey Theatre at UNM through July 15. Performances run Friday and Saturday at 7:30, and Sunday at 2 pm. Reserved seats are $18, $20, $22. $2.00 discounts for students and seniors.

For reservations, call 925-5858 or 877-644-8661. You purchase tickets at the UNM Bookstore Ticket Office, Lobo Ticket office with no fees. Tickets are also available at Albertson's for a fee. For more information, visit landmarkmusicals.org.


Photo: Max Woltman

--Rob Spiegel



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