Long before the hit musical “Hamilton” reinvigorated America’s interest in our founding fathers, “1776″ was released unto the world. With music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone, the musical went on to win three Tonys after its Broadway premiere in 1969. Now you can see it right here in the Queen City at Central Piedmont Community College.
The show centers on the story of John Adams (Eric Johnston) and his fight for the Declaration of Independence in Congress. He is portrayed as a loud mouthed agitator that is “obnoxious and disliked.” In fact, the delegates in Congress refuse to even listen to his resolution until someone else, Richard Henry Lee, proposes it.
The following events showcase the hard fight our founders went through to produce the Declaration of Independence with unanimous approval. Considering I already knew the ending, I shouldn’t have been so tense wondering if it would get approved or not. The musical, sometimes referred to as a musical play due to its large amount of dialogue, is extremely successful at casting the founding fathers as people. Just people, not demagogues. “1776″ also contains a fair amount of humor. Witty zingers are hurled across Congress, most given from Pennsylvania delegates John Dickinson and Dr. Benjamin Franklin, whose sense of humor has clearly been left out of our history textbooks.
Eric Johnston as John Adams does an excellent job of leading the show. Adams’ frustrations with Congress, with slavery and almost everything are plainly seen and felt. They explode in the final song in which he asks, “Is Anybody There?” However, he has his soft side too, seen through his duets with his long distance wife Abigail (Megan Postle). His partner in crime Benjamin Franklin (James K Flynn) is an excellent foil. Cool, collected and sometimes asleep, he keeps Adams under control while still exceptionally passionate towards the idea of Independence. Also featured is George DeMott as Thomas Jefferson, who originally is very against writing the Declaration as he wishes to return home to his wife. He plays the character as a younger man who would rather be a lover than a patriot, at least until Martha Jefferson (Emily Witte) is brought up to Philadelphia for a visit. Though friendly with each other, a number of witty remarks are thrown between Adams and Jefferson that may hint at their future final destinations in rival political parties.
However, I’d be doing the world a disservice if I didn’t acknowledge some side characters that steal the show. The first, Alan Morgan as Richard Henry Lee. His character presents some much needed comedic relief in a show that could easily become stale and lost in politics. He shines brilliantly in “The Lees of Old Virginia” which features some seriously amazing wordplay on his name and will probably be stuck in your head for hours after the show ends. I was sad to see his role disappear soon after.
The second is Josh Logsdon as Mr. Edward Rutledge of South Carolina. While off to the sidelines for most of the show, he delivers one of the most memorable songs in the whole production in “Molasses to Rum.” Demanding that a passage promoting the abolishment of slavery be taken out of the Declaration of Independence, Rutledge argues that the North is just as guilty as the South in participating in the Triangle Trade. The theater becomes silent, chilled and uncomfortable. It reminds us that as much as we glorify them, our founding fathers were still flawed people.
While the production may come across as a little long (the musical holds the record for the most time between two songs), it still provides a highly entertaining and enjoyable evening. The production continues next weekend with performances Oct 1 at 7:30 and Oct 2 at 2:30. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for children and $5 for students. Come out and learn some history.