Reviewed by Judy Richter
The major point of contention is whether the 13 American colonies should oppose British rule and declare their independence in this 1969 musical play that opens the American Conservatory Theater season. The main spokesman for independence is the prickly John Adams (John Hickock) of Massachusetts. His principal opponents are Edward Rutledge (Jarrod Zimmerman) of South Carolina and John Dickinson (Jeff Parker) of Pennsylvania.
After Dickinson insists that any vote on independence be unanimous, Adams proposes that Congress have a declaration to make its intentions clear. Adams, Benjamin Franklin (Andrew Boyer) of Pennsylvania, Thomas Jefferson (Brandon Dahlquist) of Virginia and two others are appointed to write it. The actual writing is left to Jefferson.
After some delays, Jefferson comes up with a document for debate. He agrees to many changes, but the big sticking point comes when Rutledge says that unless a passage opposing slavery is removed, he won't vote for the declaration, thus scuttling it. Adams and Jefferson reluctantly agree, and the Declaration of Independence is eventually approved and signed by delegates from each colony.
Even though anyone who has studied American history knows how the story turns out, composer-lyricist Sherman Edwards and book writer Peter Stone imbue the show with high drama fueled by personality conflicts and story-compelling songs.
The names are straight out of American history, even legend, but director Frank Galati and his cast of 24 men and two women create flesh-and-blood characters with all the complexities that go into real people. Hence, "1776" isn't just some routine history lesson. It's an insightful look at how our system of government began to evolve.
While some characters take on larger roles and do well, everyone in the topnotch ensemble cast has at least a moment in the musical or dramatic spotlight. Led by musical director Michael Rice from the keyboard, the individual and ensemble singing is excellent, as is the 10-member orchestra.
Costumes by Mara Blumenfeld, set by Russell Metheny, lighting by Paul Miller and sound by Kevin Kennedy lend an air of authenticity. Peter Amster's choreography enlivens several songs.
The two-act show runs about two hours and 45 minutes, but most of it speeds by because it's so well created and executed.
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