Theatre Review by Howard Miller - October 6, 2022
1776 Music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards. Book by Peter Stone. Based on a concept by Sherman Edwards. Directed by Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus. Choreography by Jeffrey L. Page. Set design by Scott Pask. Costume design by Emilio Sosa. Lighting design by Jen Schriever. Sound design by Jonathan Deans. Projection design by David Bengali. Hair and wig design by Mia Neal. Fight choreographer Thomas Schall. Dialect coach Dawn-Elin Fraser. Orchestrations by John Clancy. Music direction by Ryan Cantwell. Vocal design by AnnMarie Milazzo. Music coordinator Dean Sharenow. Associate director Brisa Areli Muñoz. Music supervision by David Chase.
You probably have heard that the show has been recast so that every male character is being played by a woman. Well, just to set the record straight, the racially, ethnically, and, if I may borrow one of the show's song lyrics, "everywhere a Lee a Lee" diverse slate of actors variously and proudly identify as female, transgender, or binary (lots of "they/them" pronoun listings in the "Who's Who in the Cast" biographies in the Playbill.) In this way, the casting sort of out-Hamiltons Hamilton in its depiction of our nation's "founding fathers."
As you might expect, there certainly is a satirical mocking of those famous white men, as well as a bright spotlight shining down on the show's two actual women characters, Abigail Adams (Allyson Kay Daniel, giving a loving portrayal of this remarkable person around whom a full musical ought to be written) and Martha Jefferson (Eryn LeCroy). LeCroy's rendition of "He Plays the Violin" becomes a bawdy, boastful number sung for the benefit of Ben Franklin (Patrena Murray) and John Adams (Crystal Lucas-Perry, who is leaving the show on October 23 to join the cast of the Broadway production of Ain't No Mo').
But beyond a feminist take, there is at least as much of an anti-war slant reminiscent of the 1960s when 1776 was originally written and, to a much greater extent, a bitter, stinging stab at the "peculiar institution" of Black enslavement.
To give credit where it is due, the show's composer and lyricist Sherman Edwards did include two powerful songs addressing these issues (the sad, sad, sad "Momma Look Sharp" and the acerbic "Molasses to Rum"). Here, however, each of these songs has been reshaped into a blow-down-the-house, fully staged, roaringly sung, richly choreographed (by Jeffrey L. Page) production number. And even against the general uproar that marks pretty much the entire evening, Sara Porkalob as Edward Rutledge is a firebrand who knocks the stuffing out of "Molasses to Rum."
But while even a straightforward production of the show would not, or at least ought not, be seen as representing historical accuracy, 1776 can boast one of musical theater's best written scripts, with Peter Stone's book generally viewed as being considerably stronger than Sherman Edwards' songs. There is a lot of dramatic tension as we watch the delegates who have gathered in Philadelphia during that miserably hot summer in order to consider and argue the tone, content, and potential consequences of the document penned by Thomas Jefferson (genially depicted here by Elizabeth A. Davis) that would become the Declaration of Independence. Only bits and pieces of that element remain against the backdrop of big production numbers and projected images of modern-day protest marches.
There is without a doubt a ton of talent on display, and I would single out for additional praise Joanna Glushak as Stephen ("Fetch me a mug of rum!") Hopkins and Carolee Carmello as the conservative John Dickinson, who would lead his band of "cool, considerate men" in rejecting the call for independence. But overall, this remodeling job is all too raucous and too much in competition with itself to leave any sort of cohesive impression.