Synopsis: The Tony Award-winning Best Musical 1776 has catapulted to blazing new life in a thrillingly new production. Suddenly, the songs, humor, and passion of this musical masterpiece soar as never before.
A glorious multiracial cast of female, transgender, and nonbinary actors portrays the fiery founders of this country, putting history in the hands of the humans who were left out the first time around—and the result is an epic show of passion, debate, and roof-raising musical fireworks.
3 colonies at war with their mother country, England, and congress has been gathered in Philadelphia to discuss the merits of declaring independence and breaking away from England. There is just one issue, John Adams the delegate from Massachusetts keeps pushing for a vote only to be struck down as he’s obnoxious and disliked. This musical comedy has now been revived for the 2022 stage through Roundabout Theatre Company to bring a modern twist to the classic show, all of the roles will be portrayed by women, trans folks, and non-binary individuals. The show makes sure to cast diversely to continue the message of the story of America then told by America today.
This revival of 1776 is directed and choreographed by Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus. What comes of their collaboration is a show with brilliant pacing. Throughout 1776 there are many moments of politicking happening as John Adams attempts to get the rest of congress on board with the independence idea. These moments, which can feel slow if directed poorly, were the most engaged I was throughout the show. The effort at which the cast was able to volley the dialogue back and forth allowed for the show to not get bogged down in Peter Stone’s book. The decision to also include the full cast in moments like “Molasses to Rum” and “Mama Look Sharp” made for slower songs to become captivating and breath taking.
The cast had a couple of brilliant stand out performances as well. Look for a Toby nomination for Kristolyn Lloyd’s portrayal of the obnoxious and disliked John Adams. Carrying the entire show as the central figure can be difficult, and there was not a dull moment when she was onstage. Alongside her was Patrena Murray as Benjamin Franklin, providing excellent comedic timing and making for the perfect foil to Kristolyn Lloy’ds Adams. For the production I saw, the understudy for Thomas Jefferson was played by Nancy Anderson, who provided a spectacular performance and soaring notes. I also had the understudy for Edward Rutledge portrayed by Mehry Eslaminia, delivering a haunting interpretation of “Molasses to Run.” Lastly, Carolee Carmelo as John Dickinson, the constant force against John Adams, made for a brilliant villain to Route against, providing the necessary nuance to the role, without being bogged down by the dialogue.
1776 was a show that originally ran on Broadway in 1969 and in looking through it with a modern lens, even with such a diverse and gender swapped cast, still can’t cover up the fact the show is a bit dated. Many moments of the show felt slower due to perhaps needing modern editing to cut them out. As much as the roles of Martha Jefferson and Abigail Adams bring about character development, it is at the expense of their significant other and not so much themselves. Many of the songs also at times needed to be portrayed at a quicker tempo. “But, Mr. Adams” dragged and a song that should be comedic and fun, had me checking my watch. With this new adaptation, I do hope it can be performed more easily by community and regional theatres as the daunting task of finding 26 men that can sing and dance can be easily mitigated by casting 26 individuals that show up.
Overall, 1776 was fun and exciting to see performed on the Broadway stage, adapted to feature a diverse cast of women, trans, and non-binary individuals. But, unfortunately the show’s glaring flaws and dates writing did become more prevalent as a result. This show, while good, did not feel as cutting edge as the intent had hoped. It surely will see Tony nominations however for technical elements and Kristolyn, but it’s yet to be seen with the competition if they are able to pick them up.
I would however rate this revival a 3.5 out of 5 stars.
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