October 19, 2022
When the lights rose on the all female cast of 1776, I confess tears welled in my eyes. The sight of an all-female Congressional Congress felt absolutely common while simultaneously looking wildly uncommon.
Transformed in an instant, women bend over, pull up white socks to form knickers and step into black shoes with buckles. They coalesce into the obstreperous (posse) First Congressional Congress responsible for creating and ultimately passing the flawed but exquisite Declaration of Independence in 1776.
Directed by the ever-inventive Dian Paulus along with director/choreographer Jeffrey L. Page, many of the musical fireworks are poured into the first half.
An immensely talented cast led by the disdainful and obnoxious John Adams (Crystall Lucas Perry), a superbe Benjamin Franklin ( Patrena Murray) and the fine Thomas Jefferson (Elizabeth Davis), as well as Abigail Adams (Allyson Kaye Daniel) and Jefferson's wife (the outstanding understudy Ariella Serur). All prove valiant actors and roof-shaking vocalists.
Determined to cut loose from the tyranny of Great Britain, this revolutionary act is all the more astonishing given no other colonized countries had broken the shackles of their oppressors.
John Dickinson of Philadelphia (Carolee Carmello) serves as a thorn in the side of the Congress and who in the end, abstains from signing the Declaration of Independence. Examples of today's intransigent lawmakers echo throughout the musical.
Minimal sets by Scott Pask promote a sense of sparse comforts for the congressmen, incessantly fanning themselves to survive the sweltering heat.
The issue of slavery falls under the bloody bartering that strips the Declaration of some basic human rights--rights that take nearly another 200 years to address. Strains between the North and the South nearly topple the signing of the declaration. Today, echoes of those strains remain.
Swift scenic changes and David Benhall's projections exude time overlapping in seismic developments. In combination with the book by Peter Stone, the songs and music by Sherman Edwards unfurl a complicated history lesson.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis