Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
The directors set up their intentions at once: John Adams (Gisela Adisa) confronts an image of the signers projected onto a curtain and tears it down, revealing a cast in contemporary clothes dressing themselves in Emilio Sosa's period costumes. ("Stepping into the character's shoes" is taken literally here.) From there, it's a matter of accepting the performers in these roles; many are fine and convincing, while others slip into exaggeration.
Joanna Glushak gives the most commanding, and straightforward, performance as Pennsylvania delegate John Dickinson, an opponent of independence and Adams' primary antagonist. Glushak inhabits the character so thoroughly–his supercilious nature, his pride, his inability to look beyond the interests of his own class–that the performer's gender becomes irrelevant. Liz Mikel offers a hilarious counterpoint as Benjamin Franklin, who uses wit to educate rather than simply to show how clever he is.
Some of the other actors are less resolute, giving a meta-commentary of the characters rather than just playing them. Richard Henry Lee was always a showoff role, but Shawna Hamic plays the goofy comedy without grounding it in reality. As Thomas Jefferson, Nancy Anderson often comes across so reticent that the character fades alongside the fire brought by Mikel and Adisa.
Candice Marie Woods, in for Brooke Simpson, is a heartbreaking Courier who never becomes maudlin. Other standouts include Shelby Acosta as the beleaguered congressional secretary, Dawn Cantwell as the hot-headed Delaware delegate Colonel Thomas McKean, and Tiffani Barbour as the Congress' seen-it-all custodian. Connor Lyon charms as both new Georgia delegate Dr. Lyman Hall and Jefferson's effusive wife.
Page's choreography expands the solo focus of many of the songs, sometimes to moving effect: cast members shrouded in black search for fallen soldiers during "Momma Look Sharp," and "Molasses to Rum" comes close to depicting a riot. This does not always work, however: literalizing a passing reference to Richard Henry Lee's relatives needlessly pounds home the point about Southern heritage and hate. On the other hand, this production allows Abigail Adams (Simpson, in for Tieisha Thomas) to tell John to "remember the ladies" when the delegates are creating a new system of government.
1776 runs through July 16, 2023, at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Eisenhower Theater, 2700 F St. NW, Washington DC. For tickets and information, please call 800-444-1324 or 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org. For more information on the tour, visit www.1776musical.com.
Music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards