“1776” OPENS CCMT 55th SEASON IN PERFECT TIMING WITH OUR HISTORIC ELECTION, IT IS A RIVETING THEATRE FILLED WITH HISTORY, HUMOR, HEART AND ROMANCE.
It is just a few days before the Presidential Election and a historic vote that could change American history. To honor this CCMT opens the curtain on their 2016 - 17 season with the timely 1776 Musical now on stage through Nov 5th at the Dean Lesher Stage in Walnut Creek. The Stars and Stripes and history of the Declaration of Independence is celebrated, grand, historic, storytelling, with music. CCMT Artistic Advisor, Daniel Boyle, says “Just over a year ago, when we were planning our upcoming season, we were watching our nightly news being taken over by the coverage of this unbelievable Presidential election cycle—and the buzz for a new musical called “Hamilton- As we had been looking to produce an unabashedly American musical, it seemed we were getting the hint from all sides. It’s not only one of the great American musicals, it couldn’t be any timelier than it is right now.”
This musical ran on Broadway for 1,217 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It was made into a film by the same name in 1972 and the revival starring Brent Spiner won the Drama Desk Award for Best Revival in 1997. The musical is based on the events leading up to the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence. John Adams, not liked by many in Congress, joins Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to bring forward a resolution for independence that will eventually set America free from England's tyranny. Director Scott Fryer has assembled a stunning cast of 26, mostly male actors, and makes this 1776 Musical as relevant today as it was when first written.
1776 is a powerful revisit to a memorable historical play with music by songwriter Sherman Edwards and book writer Peter Stone. It provides a perfect celebration of the patriotic holiday. The 1969 original production is as much a play as a musical in its meticulously researched dramatization of the final days leading to the U.S. Congress' drafting, approval, and signing of the Declaration of Independence. Director Fryer creates a magnificent rendition that is packed with some of the Bay Area's finest male actors and playing against Kelly James Tighe’s handsome Pennsylvania Statehouse set; this production soars from its opening, “For God’s Sake, John, Sit Down,” through its closing, “Is Anybody There?.” The show is filled with charm, wit and history.
It is a hot humid summer in Philadelphia, as the story opens, between the heat, the flies the members of the Second Continental Congress can’t seem to agree on anything, much less the Declaration of Independence. Half of the delegates want to stay under British rule, half desire independence, and New York can’t make up its mind about anything. “What’s a Founding Father to do” John Adams is played by the elegant Benjamin Pither who teams up with the politically creative Benjamin Franklin played by the excellent John Hetzier. The brilliant thinker, Thomas Jefferson, is played by the keen, handsome Sam Leeper who is persuading Congress to seek independence. The men dressed in perfect, authentic, period appropriate costumes, play well off of each other. Mark Martinez is hilarious as the dimwitted, Richard Henry Lee, and Douglas Giorgis is sophisticated and smug as the Southern aristocrat Edward Rutledge, in his barnstorming rendition of “Molasses to Rum”, his voice is well executed and entertaining.
As many classic musicals are starting to show their age, it’s nice to see that 1776’s mix of respect for America’s founders is stunning, and with just two roles for women the history is engaging. The women cast in this production are brilliant, especially local favorite Rachel Powers as Abigail Adams. She sings like a lark and gives Adams something to fight for. Powers does a marvelous job as Abigail, the muse for Adams’ conscience during the troubled times of the revolution. Their duets of "Till Then", "Yours, Yours, Yours" and Compliments" are poignant, displaying Pither and Powers fabulous voices. They have a lot of chemistry together. Another dramatic number is the anti-war song, "Mama, Look Sharp" where the Courier, played by Trevor Gomez, describes the deaths of his two friends and how their mothers go to find them. “Mama” also features the colorful Sean McGrory, and Warren Hanson who are first rate as they sing the ominous anthem that reminders us this was a musical created in the era of Vietnam war. The sparkling Kate Metroka is outstanding in her brief appearance as Martha Jefferson, she sings “He Plays the Violin”; it is moving. Another number is “Cool, Cool Considerate Men”, a song so politically charged, that the Nixon administration tried to have the song cut before “1776” was performed at the White House.
Heidi Dahm’s music direction and fine orchestra pit of marching drums and lively musical experience keeps the three hour musical moving right along. The vibrant score, with classic orchestral marches, romantic ballads and vaudevillian style "The Lees of Old Virginia", and galvanizing company numbers. The handsome textured production is highlighted by the eye catching set design by Kelly James Tighe that includes high windows and an athletic clipboard to follow the vote of the floor. Liz Martin’s costumes are period perfect, Michael Berg’s important and splendid period wigs give that needed character to vintage look of the men. Mike Oesch’s superb lighting wonderfully brings the story's time and place. Fryer’s picturesque staging, including some memories of vintage history book photographs, are awesome, and the sold out weekend audience were impressed. Highlights by Debbie Shelley’s props included those classic feather ink pens, walking canes and plenty of versions of the Declaration.
Other performances to note include Steve Mullins who delivers a dramatic moment near the end of the show as Judge James Wilson. Throughout the show, Wilson has been Dickinson's flunkie who doesn't want to be noticed or stand out. Local favorite Michael Sally plays John Hancock as he holds the men to stay to the rules as he calls for the many vote’s. Another scene stealer is Mark Martinez as Richard Henry Lee. He brings the house down with his high energy "The Lees of Old Virginia". Suzanne Brandt’s choreography is clever in this number and throughout the story. Sam Leeper is a standout as Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson was a man of a few words but a tremendous author and lover according to this depiction of the history. His powerful tenor voice soars in "But, Mr. Adams" and "The Egg." His argument scene with Pither is dynamic, and his bright red hair is real. Leeper is a real talent in this outstanding company and his final number with Adams “Is Anybody There” is impressive. The ensemble of male actors is masterful and all the cast under Fryer’s direction deliver. This cast is all A listers including; Massimo Cardarelli, Carter Chastain, Mark Flores, Phil Curran, Gary Foley, Scott Jackson, Tim Jones, Michael McCarty, William McNeil, Austin Peirce, Joe Saam, Rob Schoemehl, Len Shaffer, and J. Scott Stewart.
1776 is a riveting evening of theatre filled with history, humor, heart and romance. We already know the outcome, but somehow you forget, due to the overwhelming odds against such a thing occurring. CCMT combined expertise, produces another stunning epic musical masterpiece. The tableau of the signing of the Declaration is breathtaking stopping the show with its majestic power and punch. This a historical musical treat, and as we head for the voting polls this November we are reminded how important this election is and how it will be staged in history books that our children will study. If we don’t get tickets to HAMILTON this coming spring to see a new look at our forefathers, then it is a must we are back at the CCMT March 2017 for their production of GREASE.
In the meantime Vote November 8th
Contra Costa Musical Theatre Presents
By Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone,
Directed by Scott Fryer, Musical Director Heidi Dahms
Through: Nov. 5
Lesher Center for the Arts
1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek
Running time: 3 hours, one intermission
Tickets: $45-$54; 925-943-7469, www.ccmt.org