“Our do-nothing Congress isn’t worth a darn. All they do is sit on their rich, elitist butts. They squabble over petty issues, insult each other rudely, complain about the weather and refuse to deal with real issues making life tough for the average citizen.” Sound like a polite Facebook post about the 2012 Congress? An observer could very well have made those remarks, after spending an afternoon peering through an open window at the shenanigans of a decidedly “do-nothing” Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1776. At the very least, the shocked observer would start with that premise if they sat through a performance of the Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards musical “1776”, playing at Lyric Stage in its Irving TX Carpenter Hall venue through November 4, 2012. Some things never change, politicians topping that list.
The dramatic arc of this two act work reveals an insider view of the acrimonious path the Declaration of Independence signors followed leading up to their final shining moment of committed statesmanship. Told primarily from the perspective of pushy, obnoxious, generally disliked Bostonian John Adams, the work illuminates the precarious reality of the circumstance by putting a very human face on the proceedings and interactions, drawn largely from letters and journals of those involved. At times raucous, at others sober, the musical offers its audience an entertaining glimpse into the minds, hearts and souls of King George III’s most rebellious subjects who finally achieve enough consensus to gather the communal courage to change the course of history.
Not a show particularly memorable for its music, there are long stretches of nothing but sparring, bickering and cajoling. Due to the strength of its cast, led by supremely confident, clarion-voiced Brian Gonzales as John Adams and the masterful comic presence of David Coffee as avuncular, wise-cracking Dr. Franklin, the show hits as true and compelling a note as everything else Lyric Stage has mounted this year. Director Cheryl Denson uses Kevin Rupnik’s imposing, historically evocative “thrust within a proscenium” angled set to best advantage. The audience senses the heat in the Congress’ claustrophobically crowded meeting room as the men preen and parry, or slump in resigned, enforced contemplation. Apron areas down right or left of the central massive wooden set piece allow the solos or private interactions to resonate effectively.
Stand-out numbers on opening night included: “The Lees of Virginia”, featuring Gonzales, Coffee (Adams and Franklin) and Michael Isaac as Richard Henry Lee as a rollicking, amusingly-choreographed trio; a teasingly bawdy “He Plays the Violin”, with lithe soprano Maranda Harrison as Martha Jefferson swept spryly around the full downstage area by Adams and Franklin (fine choreography by Vicki Squires);
and a pensive, exquisitely voiced performance of “Mama, Look Sharp” by Max Swarner as the exhausted Courier on an almost bare stage while Congress is in recess. Act Two’s standout song, “Molasses to Rum”, in which South Carolina’s Edward Rutledge excoriates the northern colony representatives for their hypocritical profiteering from slavery with near operatic rage failed to achieve anticipated impact. Sung by the supremely talented Kyle Cotton (breathtaking as Jud in Lyric’s recent “Oklahoma!”), his voice seemed overpowered by the orchestra’s volume and oddly distorted on mic. The sense of his words got lost. Technical adjustments should sort out the problem so Cotton’s talents can carry the vocally demanding, socially relevant number home. Suspense builds with palpable tension as Denson intensifies her able cast’s onstage depiction of the considerable strife leading to the show’s culminating peak. A scrim softly drops before the final scene as each man signs the “treasonous” document when the secretary calls his name. They freeze behind the scrim, carefully assembled in the famous tableau painted by John Trumbull. The audience surges to its feet, cheering and clapping, in celebration of the delightful performance and honor of the historic opportunity these rebellious men created. If only today’s Congress would live up to that promise. E pluribus unum. Ad astra per aspera.
“1776” has four more performances. Attending it is your patriotic duty! November 1, 2 & 3 at 8:00 PM and November 4 at 2:30 PM. Tickets: 972-252-2787 www.lyricstage.org
Musical dircction by Jay Dias, with full 35 piece orchestra. The cast of distinction also includes: Amber Nicole Guest, Bryant Martin, Jeff Bailey, Lon Barrera, Russell Batchelor, Jonathan Bragg, David Cook, Christopher Curtis, Parker Fitzgerald, Gordon Fox, Kevin Friemel, Joseph Holt, M. Shane Hurst, Art Kedzierski, Mark Oristano, Randy Pearlman, Ben Phillips, Michael Pricer, Neil Rogers, James Williams, Chip Wood
From Wikipedia: The painting, commissioned in 1817, is sometimes incorrectly described as the “Signing of the Declaration of Independence”. In fact, the painting actually shows the five-man drafting committee presenting their draft of the Declaration to the Congress, an event that took place on June 28, 1776, and not the signing of the document, which took place later. ( By John Hazelton, The Historical Value of Trumbull’s – Declaration of Independence, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography – Volume 31, (Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1907)),