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‘1776 The Musical’ Brings Country’s Founding To Stirring Life

James Barbour

Posted Tuesday, January 22, 2019 - 3:48 pm

Events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence may not seem like typical musical theater fodder.

But long before Hamilton made the Revolutionary War-era a phenomenon, there was 1776, even with some overlapping characters like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington (unseen, but heard from in desperate dispatches from the front lines).

The rarely revived musical (1969) is enjoying a taut production running through Sunday, Feb 3 at the La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts, 14900 La Mirada Blvd., La Mirada.

Wordier than most musicals, the book by Peter Stone has a lot of material to cover as it needs to get in arguments from both sides in the debate as to whether colonists were going to be Americans or traitors to the crown.

While we all know how it’s going to end, the drama is in the details. From forming the committee to write the document, to Jefferson defending petty edits, to the bitter wrangling and ultimate compromise with the removal of the mention of slavery from the document, the story is a reminder that the country was founded by flawed humans fighting for a cause bigger than their own.

The fact that audiences react with applause at the climax is a sign that a people are tired of the cliche of a deadlocked Congress. But this entertaining take on history, brings the ultimate stalemate to life—and with singing.

The production’s drawing card is James Barbour, Broadway star and long-time Phantom in that long-running musical, as South Carolina’s delegate Edward Rutledge.

In the searing Molasses to Rum (to Slaves) a song that’s become a calling card for Barbour and his rich baritone in his concerts), Rutledge condemns the North hypocrisy in denouncing slavery while it turns it eye to the triangular trade.

Barbour stops the show as he slinks across the stage, in a song that boarders on the grotesque, especially when he recreates a slave auction in his defense of the slave economy.

The tally board of where the states stand on the resolution is front and center in Stephen Gifford‘s chamber room set, keeping the urgency of the situation in the forefront of the action. And it’s often lit by Jared A. Sayeg to create the look of John Trumbull’s famous painting depicting the presentation of the draft to Congress.

The mostly male cast presents well-sung harmonies under musical director Jeff Rizzo especially in Cool Cool Considerate Men, and But, Mr. Adams.

Since the musical is largely long expositionary scenes broken up by Sherman Edwards’ songs, ranging from waltzes to the anti-war faux folk song Mamma Look Sharp, good singing is essential.

This production is blessed with fine singers, including Teri Bibb and Andy Umberger and as Abigail Adams and John Adams, touching in their letter-reading scenes together, although one wishes he brought more passion to the role as the strongest advocate for independence; Michael Starr as the enthusiastic Richard Henry Lee and Ellie Wyman as the passionate Martha Jefferson.

Performances are 7:30 p.m., Wednesday and Thursday, 8 p.m., Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m., Sunday.

Tickets range from $20-$84, and are available by calling 562-944-9801, or 714-994-6310 or online at www.lamiradatheater.com.

Following the La Mirada Theatre engagement, 1776 The Musical transfers to the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts (The Soraya) at CSUN, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge.

Performances will be Friday, Feb. 8 at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Feb. 9 at 3 and 8 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 10 at 3 p.m.

Tickets, ranging from $44-86 are available online at TheSoraya.org or by phone at 818-677-3000.

—Steve Simmons

 

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