Monday, July 14, 2003
1776 (Beck Center)
‘1776’ examines our country's birth at Beck
Are you aware that the New York delegation was the last of the 13 original colonies to vote in favor of the Declaration of Independence? Did you know that John Dickinson, a delegate from Pennsylvania, refused to sign the Declaration? Does the name James Wilson mean anything to you? If not, your American history teacher didn’t share that his not wanting to be noted as a historical figure resulted in the deciding vote regarding the passage of the document that declared the colonies in revolt. Did your history book explain that without John Adams’ nagging and tirades there might never have been a United State of America? If you didn’t know these facts you need to attend the Beck Center’s production of ‘1776’ and get a refresher course in the founding of this country.
‘1776’ is a musical based on the events surrounding the creation and adoption of the Declaration of Independence, and therefore, the birth of the United States. It is set in Philadelphia in the months of May, June, and July of 1776. The composer, Sherman Edwards, spent nine and one-half years researching and creating the show. The original Broadway production was nominated for 5 Tony Awards in 1969, winning four of them, including the best musical. A movie version was produced in 1972. A short time ago ‘1776’ was revived on Broadway.
‘1776’ is a difficult show for any theatre to produce. It requires 24 males who can act, sing and dance, as well as two talented females. The musical score is difficult to sing. The show does not contain the usual show-stopping song and dance numbers that often make musicals so entertaining. With this in mind, Beck Center deserves applause for even attempting the show.
The production, under the direction of Scott Spence, is entertaining and will fulfill the patriotic needs of many. It is, by no means, however, a polished presentation. The acting and singing are uneven and the choreography is wanting in parts.
The production is blessed with the very talented Greg Violand as the irasible John Adams. Violand has a strong singing voice, is an excellent actor who knows how to milk reactions from an audience, and obviously has a keen understanding of Adams. Unfortunately, Molly McGinnis, as Abigail Adams, did not match Violand’s singing or acting. She often had trouble maintaining her musical sounds and her line interpretations were often flat.
G. A. Taggett has a fine singing voice which was well displayed in “Molasses To Rum.” Jim Reilly was delightful as Stephen Hopkins, the elderly alcoholic representative from Rhode Island. Bill Kelly looks like Benjamin Franklin. His portrayal missed some of Franklin’s curmudgeon qualities, but had some fine moments. Rob Gibb was excellent as John Dickinson, the Pennsylvanian who did not believe in breaking from England. Gibb developed a clear character and has excellent vocal abilities. Ian Atwood had the right boyish charm for the studious Thomas Jefferson. He has a fine singing voice. Too bad he didn’t have any solo opportunities. Kevin Joseph Kelly appeared to have a wonderful time performing “The Lees of Old Virginia” the only song in the show with a built-in reprise. The male chorus had difficulties in blending musical sounds in many of their renditions.
Larry Goodpaster’s orchestra did a fine job of balancing off the performers and controlling the habit of many theatre orchestras of drowning out the singers. Don McBride’s scenic design worked well. The rented costumes were period perfect.
If you attend a performance be aware that the air conditioning is cranked way up as the actors are costumed in heavy clothing and wigs. Dress accordingly as many patrons were complaining about the frigid conditions.
Capsule judgment: The production, under the direction of Scott Spence, is entertaining and will fulfill the patriotic needs of many. It is, by no means, however, a polished presentation. The acting and singing are uneven and the choreography is wanting in parts.