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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

1776

Also see Susan's review of Ah, Wilderness!

1776
Brooks Ashmanskas and Robert Cuccioli
With its historic pedigree, Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, may be the perfect venue for 1776—and, fortunately, the current production of Sherman Edwards' musical history lesson lives up to its setting. Director Peter Flynn has brought together a cast that includes some of the region's best actors to tell the story behind the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The miracle of 1776 is the way Peter Stone's book takes a story that every American schoolchild knows and makes it funny, surprising, and suspenseful. Instead of a pageant of idealized figures, it brings to life a range of characters who are, as Benjamin Franklin (Christopher Bloch) says, "men—no more, no less."

Brooks Ashmanskas, solid of figure and sonorous of voice, ably holds the stage as John Adams, the "obnoxious and disliked" driving force behind the effort to free the American colonies from British domination. Bloch gives Franklin the requisite delight in words and women. As Thomas Jefferson, William Diggle conveys dignity as well as anguish and frustration.

While 1776 is an ensemble piece, it includes several showpiece roles as well as many opportunities for actors to shine in what could be inconsequential cameos. Stephen F. Schmidt conveys the ludicrous self-regard of Richard Henry Lee while also enunciating the lyrics as crisply as anyone ever has. Robert Cuccioli is stentorian, not starchy, as loyalist delegate John Dickinson. Sam Ludwig, as a military courier, gives an ethereal performance of the ballad "Mama Look Sharp." And Kate Fisher and Erin Kruse give graceful performances as Abigail Adams and Martha Jefferson. Only Gregory Maheu, as South Carolina aristocrat Edward Rutledge, falls a little short: while his youth is historically accurate (Rutledge was only 26), the character has the intensely dramatic solo "Molasses to Rum," which requires a singer with more gravity and emotional weight.

In smaller roles, Floyd King, recipient of many Helen Hayes Awards, steals his every scene as hard-drinking Stephen Hopkins; Bobby Smith brings out all three dimensions in James Wilson, Dickinson's shy protégé; and Tom Story evokes pathos as Charles Thomson, the congressional secretary who reads the increasingly grim field dispatches from General George Washington.

Tony Cisek's clever scenic design brings together disparate pieces to create the Congressional chamber and other locations, while Wade Laboissonniere conveys character through his costume designs.

Ford's Theatre
1776
March 9th - May 19th
Music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Book by Peter Stone
Based on a concept by Sherman Edwards
President of the Continental Congress, John Hancock: James Konicek
New Hampshire, Dr. Josiah Bartlett: Peter Boyer
Massachusetts, John Adams: Brooks Ashmanskas
Rhode Island, Stephen Hopkins: Floyd King
Connecticut, Roger Sherman: Rick Hammerly
New York, Robert Livingston: Dan Manning
Lewis Morris: Matthew A. Anderson
New Jersey, Rev. John Witherspoon: Thomas Adrian Simpson
Pennsylvania, John Dickinson: Robert Cuccioli
Benjamin Franklin: Christopher Bloch
James Wilson: Bobby Smith
Delaware, Col. Thomas McKean: Richard Pelzman
George Read: Chris Sizemore
Caesar Rodney: Buzz Mauro
Maryland, Samuel Chase: Michael Bunce
Virginia, Thomas Jefferson: William Diggle
Richard Henry Lee: Stephen F. Schmidt
North Carolina, Joseph Hewes: Patrick A'Hearn
South Carolina, Edward Rutledge: Gregory Maheu
Georgia, Dr. Lyman Hall: Steven Carpenter
Congressional Secretary, Charles Thomson: Tom Story
Congressional Custodian, Andrew McNair: Drew Eshelman
A Leather Apron/Painter: Matthew John Kacergis
Courier: Sam Ludwig
Abigail Adams: Kate Fisher
Martha Jefferson: Erin Kruse
Directed by Peter Flynn
Choreographed by Michael Bobbitt
Musical direction by Jay Crowder
511 Tenth St., N.W.
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-347-4833 or www.fordstheatre.org


Photo: Carol Rosegg


-- Susan Berlin


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



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