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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Liberty Smith

Also see Susan's reviews of And the Curtain Rises, The Trip to Bountiful and The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs

Liberty Smith
Geoff Packard and
Kelly Karbacz

How's this for the plot of an original musical comedy: the zany adventures of a young patriot at the time of the American Revolution? The surprise is that Liberty Smith, now at historic Ford's Theatre in Washington, not only works; it's delightful as directed by Matt August.

The musical by Michael Weiner (music), Adam Abraham (lyrics), and Marc Madnick, Eric R. Cohen, and Abraham (book) is not a seamless piece of work. The gags range from easy laughs (Samuel Adams runs a small brewery; the town crier, Mr. Fox, provides "fair and balanced" information) to rather obscure references, and the songs are tuneful but not especially memorable. That said, the performance is a lot of fun as a cast of good singing actors rampages through history.

The story begins with a few performers retelling the legend of young George Washington chopping down the cherry tree. An elderly man (Drew Eshelman) interrupts them to share the real story, which he knows because as a young man (Geoff Packard) he was a close friend of George himself (Gregory Maheu). This is Liberty Smith, and if this framing device is a little peculiar—the year is 1859, which is never mentioned again, and the old man is 127 years old—it soon becomes irrelevant.

In this fractured fairy tale of early America, Liberty is a poor, orphaned farm boy who adores wealthy Martha Dandridge (Lauren Williams). Martha, who prefers George because he's a member of her social class, puts off Liberty by saying she will marry him only if he can achieve the impossible task of freeing the 13 colonies from British rule. He sets off to work in Philadelphia ("If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere," he says in only one of the script's anachronisms) and soon wanders into the orbit of Benjamin Franklin (Christopher Bloch).

As Liberty strives to be worthy of Martha, he becomes friendly with proto-feminist Emily Andrews (Kelly Karbacz), who wants more out of life than either marriage to creepy but wealthy Benedict Arnold (James Konicek) or joining her aunt Betsy Ross (Donna Migliaccio) as a seamstress.

Remember how Franklin captured electricity by flying a kite in a lightning storm? Remember the heroic ride of Paul Revere (Richard Pelzman)? Remember how Thomas Jefferson (Bobby Smith) struggled to write the Declaration of Independence? Liberty played a pivotal role in all these events, at least when he tells the story. And why do you suppose the early patriots called themselves "Sons of Liberty"? That's in here, too.

Packard's last role in Washington was as Candide for the Shakespeare Theatre Company, and the role of Liberty is another that allows him to show off both his guilelessness and his soaring voice. Karbacz is a good match for him, strong and sensitive, and the rest of the cast is like a roster of Washington all-stars.

Ford's Theatre
Liberty Smith
March 23rd May 21st
Music by Michael Weiner
Lyrics by Adam Abraham
Book by Marc Madnick, Eric R. Cohen, and Adam Abraham
Based on an original story by Marc Madnick and Eric R. Cohen
Child Actor: Noah Chiet/Brendan DeBonis
Lead Player/King Louis XVI: Thomas Adrian Simpson
Actress: Tracy Lynn Olivera
Old Liberty Smith: Drew Eshelman
Liberty Smith: Geoff Packard
George Washington: Gregory Maheu
Martha Dandridge: Lauren Williams
Augustine Washington/Governor Hutchinson: Harry A. Winter
Emily Andrews: Kelly Karbacz
Betsy Ross: Donna Migliaccio
Benjamin Franklin: Christopher Bloch
Town Criers: Michael Bunce
Benedict Arnold: James Konicek
Paul Revere: Richard Pelzman
Samuel Adams: Matthew A. Anderson
James Otis/Thomas Jefferson: Bobby Smith
Rachel Revere/Marie Antoinette: Gia Mora
Directed by Matt August
Choreographed by Denis Jones
Music director: Jay Crowder
511 Tenth St., N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-347-4833 or www.fordstheatre.org


Photo: T. Charles Erickson


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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