THE 1969 TONY MUSICAL ABOUT THE FOUNDING FATHERS ‘1776’ IS LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA’S INSPIRATION FOR ‘HAM
“1776” IS RIVETING THEATRE FILLED WITH HISTORY,
HUMOR, HEART AND ROMANCE
Tri Valley Repertory continues its 34th season keeping politics important as we begin this second year with wild theatrical daily events in our 2018 White House. The timely 1776 The Musical is now on stage through January 28th at the Bankhead Theatre in Livermore Ca. The Stars and Stripes and history of the Declaration of Independence is celebrated, grand, historic, storytelling, with music. TVRT Artistic Director, Kathleen Breedveld, brings this huge production to open their winter season in Livermore.
1776 ran on Broadway for 1,217 performances and won the Tony Award for Best Musical. Premiering on Broadway in 1969, the retelling of the Second Continental Congress and the signing of the Declaration of Independence, began the national obsession with America's Bicentennial that was celebrated in 1976. 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. 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 Daren AC Carollo has assembled a stunning cast of 26 male actors, and two stunning female leads that makes this 1776 musical as relevant today as it was when first written. Carollo says casting men is always difficult in community theatre “1776 is about intelligent, passionate men. Their voices influence our lives everyday. But the men that served our country during our founding are mentioned in every textbook about American History and they have two musicals written about them. 1776 was no exception in casting a mostly all male company. I called in many a favor to pull this cast off.”
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 telling of the final days leading to the U.S. Congress' drafting and fighting over its approval. Director Carollo creates a stunning rendition that is packed with some of the Bay Area's finest male actors and playing against Carollo’s handsome Pennsylvania Statehouse set. He brings his cast down stage to perform many of their scenes over the covered Orchestra pit. 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 keen Eric Neiman who teams up with the politically creative Benjamin Franklin played by local favorite and TBA honored, DC Scarpelli. The brilliant thinker, Thomas Jefferson, is played by the excellent, handsome Matthew Skinner who is persuading Congress to seek independence.
The men dressed in perfect, authentic, period appropriate costumes by the award winning, Liz Martin, play well off of each other. Russell Mangan is marvelous as the dandy, Richard Henry Lee, and Steve Alhoff is a sophisticated villain as the Southern aristocrat, Edward Rutledge, in his barnstorming rendition of “Molasses to Rum”, his voice is accomplished.
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 polished, and with just two roles for women, the history is engaging. The women cast in this production are brilliant, especially the charismatic Rebecca Davis as Abigail Adams. Davis 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 in act II “Compliments" are poignant, displaying Neiman and Davis fabulous voices. They have a lot of chemistry together.
The sparkling Rachel Powers encores her role as Martha Jefferson; she played the role across town at Contra Costa Musical Theatre back in 2016. In her brief appearance as Martha, 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.
Scarpelli as Franklyn is riveting his every moment on stage, he brings a delightful edge to the icon inventor of electricity and hero to this first congress. His songs “The Lees of Old Virgina” and “But Mr Adams” along with Powers, Neiman and Mangan are the highlight of the first act. Another dramatic song at the end of the first act is the anti-war song, "Mama, Look Sharp" where the young courier, played by the talented Jordan Smith, describes the deaths of his two friends and how their mothers go to find them. Smith’s ballad is a clear reminder that this musical was written in the Vietnam war era.
The terrific Sierra Dee’s music direction and fine orchestra pit of marching drums and lively musical experience keeps the two and half hour musical moving. The pit is covered in Carollo’s design to keep the cast down stage, but the sound from the vibrant score with classic orchestral marches, romantic ballads and vaudevillian style "The Lees of Old Virginia", and highlights the power of the male chorus numbers. The handsome textured production is highlighted by the eye catching props by Joan Brown and Kathleen Breedveld that includes those classic feather ink pens, walking canes for all the men and plenty of versions of the Declaration.
Scenic artist Brian Watson created high windows and an athletic paper billboard to follow the days till July 4th. Martin’s costumes are period perfect and are grand and full of hundreds of buttons all kept dapper by her team including Rachel Anderson, and Liesl M. Seitz Buchbinder. Martin was honored at the 2018 Shellies for these same costumes for CCMT production. They are excellent and full of character including the womens dresses with petticoats. Stage managers Brian Olkowski and Jess Huthins kept the 28 member cast on cue, including having the men of Congress bring their own chairs out for each session. Sound designers Simon Liu, and Sasha Michkovsky brought a bravo mix of the live nine member orchestra highlighted by Taylor Joshua Rankin percussion and Christina Owens vibrant Violin.
Michael Berg’s important and splendid period wigs give that needed character vintage look for the men. Berg was also part of the 2016 production in Walnut Creek. Michael Palumbo’s superb lighting wonderfully brings the story's time and place. Carollo picturesque staging, including some memories of vintage history book photographs, are awesome, and the captivated weekend audience were impressed. Rachel Powers does double duty and also created the choreography for all of the musical numbers and the waltz in “Cool Cool Considerate Men” featuring Peter Budinger and the congress conservatives. Domonic Tracy as Livingston is a highlight on stage and brings Powers’ simple dance waltz some sizzle.
Other performances to note include Amit Wason 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 and in the shadowss. The stand out Matthew Kelly plays John Hancock as he holds the men to stay to the rules as he calls for the many votes alongside his Secretary Thompson played by the authentic Mark Wiesner who is responsible in reading all of General George Washington's messages to Congress. The feisty Warren Hanson as McNair adds humour to the more spirited arguments by serving the men their mugs of Rum.
Another scene stealer is Russell Mangan as Richard Henry Lee. He brings the house down with his high energy "The Lees of Old Virginia". Skinner is a standout as Thomas Jefferson. The young Jefferson was a man of a few words but a tremendous author and lover according to this depiction of history. His powerful tenor voice soars in "But, Mr. Adams" and "The Egg." His argument scenes with Nieman are dynamic. Skinner is outstanding and his final number with Adams “Is Anybody There” is impressive.
The ensemble of male actors is masterful and all the cast under Carollo’s and Dee’s direction deliver. This cast are all A listers including; Mark Flores, Pete Budinger, Roger Caetano, John Hart, Mark Hinds, Kurt Hornbacker, Jess Hutchins, Steve Kirch, Dominic Lessa, Tim Nolan, Tim Reynolds, Jim Rupp, Jeff Seaberg, Bob Stratton, and the youngest member of this wonderful cast is Brandon Beck as “leather apron” who keeps the voting board updated.
The marvel of this show is how it manages to keep us in suspense even though its outcome is known to all. The engrossing script features generous doses of humor and rousing arguments. Upon the return of Delaware's mortally ill Caesar Rodney, played by the dynamic Jim Rupp to cast a pivotal vote, it's a powerful moment of the quiet closing to this moment in history. The tableau of the signing of the Declaration is breathtaking stopping the show with its majestic charm and punch. Yet no fireworks that day in 1776.
This is a riveting evening of theatre filled with humor, heart and romance. TRI Valley produces another stunning epic musical. This a historical musical treat, if you didn’t get tickets to HAMILTON, then it is a must see. Next up at TVRT is THE LITTLE MERMAID that opens this summer July 21. But in the meantime take a break from Trump’s second year of tricks in office and venture back 1776 were it all began.
Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre Presents:
By Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone,
Directed by Daren AC Carollo,
Musical Director Sierra Dee
Must Close January 28
AT THE BANKHEAD THEATER
2400 FIRST STREET, LIVERMORE, CA 94550
Running time: 2.5 hours, one intermission
Photo’s by by Josh Milbourne
Daren AC Carollo
Assistant Director: Brian Olkowski
Vocal Director & Musical Director: Sierra Dee
MEMBERS OF THE CONTINENTAL CONGRESS
President, John Hancock: Matthew Kelly
Dr. Josiah Bartlett of New Hampshire: John Hart
John Adams of Massachusetts: Eric Neiman
Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island: Jeff Seaberg
Roger Sherman of Connecticut: Mark Hinds
Lewis Morris of New York: Mark Flores
Robert Livingston of New York: Domonic Tracy
Reverend Jonathan Witherspoon of New Jersey: Tim Nolan
Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania: DC Scarpelli
John Dickinson of Pennsylvania: Peter Budinger
James Wilson of Pennsylvania: Michael A. Jackson
Caesar Rodney of Delaware: Amit Wason
Col.Thomas McKean of Delaware: Kurt Hornbacker
George Read of Delaware: Bob Stratton
Samuel Chase of New Jersey: Dominic Lessa
Richard Henry Lee of Virginia: Russell Mangan
Thomas Jefferson of Virginia: Matthew Skinner
Joseph Hewes of North Carolina: Roger Caetano
Edward Rutledge of South Carolina: Steve Alhoff
Dr. Lymon Hall of Georgia: Steve Kirch
Secretary Charles Thomson: Mark Wiesner
Custodian Andrew McNair: Warren Hanson
A Courier: Jordan Smith
Abigail Adams: Rebecca Davis
Martha Jefferson: Rachel Powers
Leather Apron: Brandon Beck
A Painter: Jess Hutchins