(PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Niedle)
Written by Patrick Chavis
There are many stories of brave men fighting on the battlefield for freedom against seemingly impossible odds. As is often the case when telling stories about the American Revolution, the battles where farmers, common people, and soldiers fought side by side to free themselves from the tyranny of England take the spotlight. In 1776 we see no battlefields nor musket fire, only the men of Congress. These men fought feverishly over the idea of freedom and what that meant. McCoy Rigby Entertainment’s production of 1776 handles the material with an enormous amount of professionalism and fun. 1776 succeeds because of how well it humanizes the founding fathers’ warts and all.
1776 is a musical about Congress and the debates that determined whether or not America would declare independence. We are dropped right into the story with the introduction of our main protagonist John Adams. Adams works to get Congress to approve a revolution against England. This was a challenge because not only did the idea of defeating England seem impossible at the time but also (and hysterically) because people didn’t like John Adamas very much. With the help of Benjamin Franklin played by Peter Van Norden and Thomas Jefferson played by Caleb Shaw, the three of them hatch a plan to bring all the American colonies together.
While 1776 is a musical, I wouldn’t say the music in this musical is the star. The story really thrives on the banter between the characters when they are not singing. The singing and music in this play act as a really good, well-placed break in between Congressional debates. The songs are memorable and, in my estimation, and fit in well with the story’s narrative.
There is a good balance between serious songs and fun, playful songs. One that really stands out among the pack of songs with a very serious message is “Molasses to Rum.” “Molasses to Rum” is a song about the Triangle Slave Trade. Edward Rutledge, the representative from South Carolina played by James Barbour, sings about the hypocrisy of the north. What hypocrisy you may ask? Even though they didn’t have slaves (at least not to the extent of southerners), northern colonies did profit from the slave trade and participated in some of the most dehumanizing practices.
On the lighter side, one of my favorites in the show was the song, “The Lees of Old Virginia,” made so much more fun because of the performance from Michael Starr, who plays Richard Henry Lee the representative from Virginia. Starr’s spirited performance with his prop riding crop while he sings and dances the praises of Virginia will bring a smile to your face.
“He Plays the Violin” is a song about why Martha Jefferson falls in love with Thomas Jefferson. It’s a simple song about Jefferson not being much of a speaker, but it’s cute, and the cast really made the song enjoyable with the whole set up. Plus, every moment with Benjamin Franklin in this show is adorable.
Peter Van Norden (Benjamin Franklin) not only looks the part of Franklin. Norden’s attitude and personality leap right off the stage in this show.
History buffs and musical fans will get a kick out of 1776, currently running at the LA Mirada Performing Arts Center. It’s a great historical drama that stood and still stands on its own as a quality work of musical theatre.
Jan 11 – Feb 3, 2019
Story8.5Acting10Set & Design9Costumes8.5Entertainment8
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Side note: The orchestra in this show is so tight. Hats off to Conductor Jeff Rizzo.