“1776” Makes Politics Entertaining
By Hays Blinckmann
As the saying goes, history really does repeat itself. How timely and appropriate for the Waterfront Playhouse to stage a full-scale production of “1776” in today’s political circus. The 1969 musical by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone brings back the tumult and fortitude of our forefathers who sought independence and, naturally, those against it. Underscoring divisions and crude political games that play out every day on C-SPAN, “1776” does no less than mirror today’s arguments for America’s future, and perhaps provide the antidote, in the form of art.
Director Danny Weathers used all the aces up his sleeve and brought the house down with his superb execution of the Tony Award-winning favorite. With Key West’s finest theatrical talent, a full ensemble of 25 actors and nine musicians, Weathers unapologetically does not use traditional dress costumes but allows the acting, script and music to take center stage – and it works.
The musical falls heavily on John Adams, played by the voracious David Black, who tackles the role with the same spirit as Adams argued before the Continental Congress. Adams loudly declares, “I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called a disgrace — two are called a law firm — and that three or more become a Congress,” proving Edwards and Stone’s one liners are relevant today.
The joy of “1776” is the mixing of humor and folly in the messiness of politics. A source of comic relief and intellect, J.B. McLendon delivers a Benjamin Franklin who reminds the audience that the modern world could use more Franklins. The Congress cast is full of noteworthy characters such as Jeffrey Harwell’s maligned John Dickinson from Pennsylvania, a political doorstop; and Matt Hulsey as Edward Rutledge from South Carolina, whose haunting rendition of “Molasses and Rum” was chillingly defensive of America’s slave trade. The only two women characters, Laurie Breakwell as Abigail Adams and Stephanie Sander as Martha Jefferson, tell the softer side of the story. And Rock Solomon plays unforgettable Thomas Jefferson, whose divine source of inspiration for the Constitution was a night with his wife.
John Hancock, a steadfast Tom Murtha, left the play on the timeliest note by saying, “We must brave the storm in a skiff made of paper.” The Constitution will always be our country’s bedrock.
Vincent Zito, the musical director, should be applauded for the nameless musical character that pervaded the play with the band’s exceptional quality. And yet again, set director Michael Boyer delivered a stage design that seemed as pertinent today as it would be then.
1776, The Musical
Jan.24- Feb 4
waterfrontplayhouse.org or 305.294.5015