Also see Tracy's review of 42nd Street
In the past, art has come to the forefront during times of war. Now that our country is once again involved in a war, certain works resonate more. This is especially true in the case of 1776. With music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone, 1776 focuses on the birth of our nation. The patriotic musical is currently playing at the infamous Ford’s Theatre.
This show about our founding fathers couldn’t have appeared in a more appropriate venue. One only needs to glance a few feet above the stage to spot the box where another leader of our country had his life cut short. Aside from the historical significance, the structure is wonderful. The excellent set, designed by James Leonard Joy, looks right at home in the lovely space.
The show itself, still feels fresh. The question to fight or not to fight is as relevant today as it was before the revolution. Freedom, loyalty and the horrors of war are all brought to light through a moving book and a well crafted score.
There is very little to find fault with in this production. The direction by David H. Bell keeps the show moving and accentuates many characters that could have been easily lost in the background. Mr. Bell is also quite adept at building drama that leads to key moments in the show.
On the whole, the cast is superb. David Huddleston’s Ben Franklin truly steals the show. Perhaps he is not the most accomplished singer, but his acting skills more than make up for it. His cast mate, Lewis Cleale is an earnest yet soft-hearted John Adams. At those more vulnerable instances, Cleale is delightful. Additionally, James Ludwig’s Thomas Jefferson is boyish and appealing. All three actors have great chemistry with each other. In fact, the cast in its entirety connects quite well.
Some particular standouts in this cast are John Leslie Wolfe as John Hancock, Buzz Mauro as Charles Thomson, Thomas Adrian Simpson as Dr. Lyman Hall and Graham Rowat as Richard Henry Lee. Mr. Rowat’s performance during “The Lees of Old Virginia” is one not to be missed.
Kate Baldwin as Martha Jefferson and Anne Kanengeiser as Abigail Adams portrayals are luminous. Both show off their exceptional performing skills during their brief times on stage. Trent Blanton also makes his mark as the troublesome southerner, Edward Rutledge. Mr. Blanton possesses a soaring voice and uses it to deliver a rendition of “Molasses To Rum” that is simply stunning.
No matter how divided opinions on the war may run, there is no denying the distinct taste of patriotism in the air. 1776 lends itself to these times and its flavor is incredibly satisfying. 1776 runs through June 1st.
David Huddleston: Benjamin Franklin