Thursday, July 05, 2007

1776 (The SOB Review)

1776 (The SOB Review) - Wurtele Thrust Stage, Guthrie, Minneapolis, MN

***1/2 (out of ****)

We call them the Founding Fathers, in tribute, but tend to see them as distant and a bit unreal, like figures in a costume pageant. Yet very real they were, real as all that stirred their "hearts and minds,' and it has meaning in our time as never before.
- David McCullough, author of "John Adams"

Last evening, before the fireworks began outdoors, the fireworks were alighting within Minneapolis' Guthrie from a marvelous display thanks to the theatre's brilliant revival of Sherman Edwards' 1776. Under director John Miller-Stephany's abundantly loving care, the cerebral, yet witty book by Peter Stone was brought to life every bit as wondrously as were the legendary men who risked everything to become our Founding Fathers.

All too often, we get the sense that our political system is beyond repair and that the rancor among those elected to "represent" us couldn't get much worse. In other words, it's easy to simply give up hope. But the underlying effulgence of 1776 -- which originally debuted in the midst of the Vietnam War -- is the intrinsic hope that America can coalesce in a bond stronger than its individual parts for a cause simply known as freedom.

To its credit, little is sugarcoated, including the deep schism already developing between the North and South on the issue of slavery, as well as the expedient decision to forego a dialogue on the divisive issue in favor of forging a union that could stand up to the tyranny of the English crown.

Against all odds, they not only chose unanimity in their decision to declare independence, but also unmistakably had the courage of their convictions with the full realization that if their gambit lost, they most certainly would have the hanging convictions for that courage.

With allegories not inconsequential to present times, 1776 also showcases the outsized egos battling for the heart and soul of the divided country. Not only does 1776 pit the brash and seemingly obnoxious agitator and future president John Adams (Michael Thomas Holmes) of Massachusetts against, well, just about everyone -- including the South's leading voice Edward Rutledge (Bradley Greenwald), -- but the battle of wills extends to those of similar sentiment, including Thomas Jefferson (Tyson Forbes) and the ever-wise Benjamin Franklin (Peter Michael Goetz).

It's the latter's admonition of fellow Pennsylvanian and Tory John Dickinson (Lee Mark Nelson) that reverberated the most with the audience: "Those who give up some of their liberty in order to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." Just as those words surely must have seemed prescient for audiences nearly 40 years ago, they underscore many a concern about America today.

It's really hard to find much fault with this production.

The cast of 27 was largely in sync, with outstanding heartfelt performances by Holmes (who avoids turning his Adams into an over-the-top caricature kept in check in part due to his verbalized letters to wife Abigail, beautifully played by the luminescent Norah Long), Forbes (who dazzles as the charming, immensely talented writer of the Declaration of Independence) and Goetz (whose understated way with whimsical wisdom underscores Franklin's diplomatic skills). Greenwald, whom I've previously criticized merits special mention for his mesmerizing, if not difficult, turn as the excoriating, but ultimately patriotic Rutledge. Philip Callen offers a measured, low-key portrayal as the pivotal Dr. Lyman Hall of Georgia.

James Youmans' sliding set design perfectly captures the look and feel of Independence Hall's Assembly Room, where the Second Continental Congress seemed destined to the mundane until its destiny was fully realized in July of 1776. Matthew LeFebvre's costume design completely evokes the not-quite-ready-for-prime-time-revolutionaries. And James Sewell, better known to Minneapolis audiences for his revolutionary balletic choreography, gets high marks for enabling modest movements even among the eldest patriots.

In an era when some may find it increasingly difficult to take pride in being American, this is one production that positively enthralls its audiences with an appreciation for why our ancestors had reason to be proud. Now, if only we could harken back to those principles yet again. At least this 1776 gives us hope that the divisions among us can be overcome for the better, if only our leaders have the will.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

Click here for tickets.
Related Stories:
"Those Who Give Up Some Of Their Liberty In Order To Obtain A Little Temporary Safety Deserve Neither Liberty Nor Safety" (July 4, 2007)

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2 Comments:

At 06 July, 2007, Anonymous Esther said...

I saw the movie version of "1776" on a class trip in high school and I think it was one of the first musicals that totally captured my imagination. It was funny and haunting and tremendously entertaining. I remember really falling in love with the music and the performances and being impressed with the way it didn't shy away from issues like slavery. (Of course, that was one division the founding fathers didn't overcome, but simply put off until another day).

I think your comments on how this work remains relevant today are really interesting. What I didn't realize until I read your review was that the play debuted in the midst of the Vietnam War. That certainly puts a spin on it I hadn't realized existed.

On a side note, at the ibdb.com entry I saw that "1776" only had five previews on Broadway before opening night. I was really surprised and I wonder if that was always the case, that shows had such few previews. It seems that now, previews go on for a month or longer!

 
At 08 July, 2007, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, Elongated previews are a relatively new phenomenon. While I'll save this thought for another day, I'm wondering whether with all the advance reviews now available via bloggers if previews will again revert to a shortened cycle.

 

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