Also see Susan's review of Ah, Wilderness!
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, "menno 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.