Tony Mastroianni Review Collection
"1776" captures colonial capers
Cleveland Press February 2, 1971
"1776" is a wonderful show; a pleasant, satisfying and superb production that leaves you sorry it is over.
The musical play opened at the Hanna last night where it will remain for three weeks. I wonder if the cast realized how unusual it is to take a curtain call with most of the Hanna audience still seated. Maybe others also shared the feel-successful as the show has ended because they stayed on and applauded rather than rushing for the exits.
The whole idea of "1776", successful as the show had been, remains a surprise.
Who, in his right mind, could conceive of a show a musical show -- no less -based on the signing of the Declaration of Independence?
But a musical show and a great one it is. It is not a pageant, it is not dry as dust, it is not brassy.
It is tuneful, witty. dramatic, entertaining. informative and fun. It is inspiring without being flag waving. It has moments that make you tingle.
It probes those dissension-filled weeks before independence was declared. It makes it clear that these men were human beings, not gods; that they could be mean, petty and sometimes blind. Even the best of them could be abrasive.
The tone for the evening is set as John Adams, brilliantly played by Patrick Bedford, steps out on the stage to inform us that one useless man is a disgrace, two a law firm and three or more a congress.
And there they are, the members of the Second Continental Congress. They call for rum, swat at flies, yell to have the windows opened or closed, argue with each other, concern themselves with trifles and listen with boredom to the depressing letters from the fighting front that are signed G. Washington.
Most of these men are not interested in independence, except that rabble rouser Adams. Ben Franklin reminds him 'that he's "obnoxious and disliked" and everyone agrees. Besides, the they've been away from their homes and their wives and the weather is getting warmer and quite a few still consider themselves Englishmen, so why all the fuss?
Ben Franklin, played with much zest by Rex Everhart. is a gouty, funny old gent with a roving eye. Naturally he speaks words of wisedom, but Adams puts him down - "I have more to do than stand here listening to you quote yourself."
Even though you know how it comes out, "1776" manages to generate tension and suspense. There is the whittling away at the document, the hangup over slavery, the arguing with wavering delegates.
Music, lyrics and ideas are by Sherman Edwards and the book by Peter Stone and both are new to musical comedy. It is just as well. They not only do the impossible, they do it their way.
"The Lees of 0ld Virginia" has Richard Henry Lee, Adams and Franklin doing what amounts to a vaudeville routine. "He Plays the Violin" is a romantic and funny interlude. "Momma Look Sharp" has a folk quality about it and Molasses to Rum'' has a Southern exponent of slavery bitterly putting northerners in their place.
There are only two women in the cast and there is no chorus. The nearest thing to a production number is a group of conservative anti-independence delegates singing and dancing "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men" -- a minuet in which they repeat the lines "Ever to the right, never to the left."
Aside from the previously mentioned Bedford and Everhart there are wonderful performances from George Hearn as the conservative from Pennsylvania, George Backman as Jefferson, Virgil Curry as Lee, Jack Mudock as Hancock and Barbara Lang and Kristen Banfield as Mrs. Adams and Mrs. Jefferson. The entire cast is excellent.
These may be cynical times and a show such as "1776" would seem hardly the product of such times. But it is and it works and it is great.