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Reviews
1776 O'Connell & Company/Park School
By
May 7, 2019, 12:19

Through May 19
1776 O’Connell & Company/Park School

Everyone who follows theater knows the Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone musical “1776.”
It’s a fluffy history of the writing of the Declaration of Independence in the Philadelphia of (What else?) 1776, with a bunch of guys in 18th Century clothing dancing around and singing about what a great idea independence is.
There are two problems with this, in the O’Connell & Company production.
One is that all the boys are played by girls, although the women in the show stay women.
There’s also the problem that “1776” may be fluffy and simplified, it isn’t simplified about one issue.
Thomas Jefferson’s attempt to attack slavery in the Declaration comes close to torpedoing independence.
At the key moment, South Carolina’s flaming slavery supporter Edward Rutledge (Emily Yancey) attacks Jefferson (Anne DeFazio), as a slaveowner, and John Adams (Pamela Rose Mangus) for representing a state heavily dependent on the slave trade, with the pointed song “Molasses to Rum.”
It’s true, as many old-line colleges and universities are grappling with about their roots in those times of the slave trade.
Mangus’ Adams is the heart of the show, the Bay State zealot who wants the 13 colonies to split away from the British Empire, 13 colonies more famous for their wilderness than for their attempt to fight the muskets, bayonets and frigates of the British military.
Periodically during the show, Continental Congress President John Hancock (Melissa Leventhal) reads messages from George Washington showing how bad the situation was for the Continental army.
Adams is both the bane of the congress and its heart.
He’s a nearly impossible human being who is obsessed with independence, with only the letters he writes and receives from wife Abigail back in Braintree, Massachusetts making him seem like a more normal guy.
As a zealot, he antagonizes the other delegates, as in “For God’s Sake John, Sit Down” from the cast.
Using a modern analogy, he’s building a Lego of independence, persuading 13 colonies which are very different, different societies heading in different directions.
Eventually, those differences, like the Old Dominion’s slave-holding class-ridden society shown in “The Lees of Old Virginia,” collide in civil war.
When Jefferson can’t write the Declaration, Adams arranges for Martha Jefferson (Heather Casseri) to come visit and calm Tom down and put him in a position to write, with her proclaiming “He Plays the Violin.”
Adams’ situation is a little different, since he’s writing back and forth with wife Abigail (Michelle Holden) about what’s going on at the Congress, “Yours, Yours, Yours.”
She appears on a balcony to talk back and for with John in a way not handled by letters back and forth with Massachusetts.
Clearly, there is a lot of dancing in the show, courtesy of Terri Filips Vaughan, to meet Steve Vaughan’s direction on Matt Myers’ scenery, especially the minuet.
This is the sugar of the stage rather than the 700 badly-written pages of a textbook, boring you.
This doesn’t bore and may teach audience members the good and the bad of what happened that summer of 1776 in a steamy, bug-ridden Philadelphia.
People like Adams, Jefferson, Franklin (Mary Kate O’Connell) and the Congress understand what they are doing in “The Egg” of a new nation.
Completely historically accurate? Not really.
Entertaining? Both in the basic story and with this production.
That’s why “1776” is worth seeing, that sugary look at our history.

A.W.


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