"1776" - History With Humor (Don Ward)

By: Don Ward
By: Don Ward

Go see "1776" at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. Here's why I liked it.

FOUNDING FATHERS AT THE FINE ARTS CENTER

The scene is set and the tone is set very quickly.  Members of the 2nd Continental Congress are arguing about whether or not the Colonies should declare independence from England.  As they bicker and debate John Adams is the driving force behind the drive to break away from Britain.  Some of the others are so tired of his tired old argument that in the opening number they plead, "For God's Sake, John, Sit Down!" 

It's done with the kind of respect usually shown by members of congress who may or may not actually respect one another.  Maybe that hasn't really changed. 

We all know how it ends..they write and then approve and then sign the Declaration of Independence.  The story of how they get there is quite a ride.

Director Tim Muldrew points out in his program notes that the musical "1776" has some historical inaccuracies that were created for dramatic effect.  They took some liberties in the pursuit of liberty.  With that in mind it's still an intriguing look back at what the Founding Fathers went through to make that most important of decisions. 

Cory Moosman commands the stage as John Adams.  His singing voice is great and it's also his speaking voice that grabs your attention and won't let go.  There is a lot of dialog between the songs in this show and Moosman won't let it falter. 

As serious as the subject matter is, this show is surprisingly funny.  There's some back-and-forth banter between committee members over which one of them should actually draft the document.  It's a musical highlight of the show.  There is humor inherent in Sherman Edwards' music.  Throw in his clever lyrics and a moment like "But, Mr. Adams"  is memorable.  It also helps that in this production the men in the roles of Adams, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston are all talented performers. 

Below: Franklin, Jefferson and Adams.  Photo: CS Fine Arts Center

There are only two women among the men.  Halee Towne is terrific as Martha Jefferson.  When Thomas Jefferson (the always impressive Marco Robinson) is picked to write the declaration he has writer's block.  His wife Martha is summoned to Philadelphia to ummm....un-block him.  Full disclosure here Halee is a good friend...but even if I'd never met her I'd tell you that her song about Thomas Jefferson's musical skills is wonderful.  In "He Plays The Violin" she waltzes her way through an explanation to Adams and Franklin about why why she fell for the quiet Jefferson.  Adams and Franklin need no explanation of why he fell for her. 

That brings us to Ben Franklin himself. In real life actor Colin Alexander is British.  In the show he is playing an American who wants no part of Britain.  In the script Franklin is as clever and witty as we'd expect.  He's also self-deprecating at times...and deadly serious when he needs to be.  Alexander gets all of that just right.  He's also got just the power in his voice we'd expect from a man of Franklin's stature. 

Colin Alexander and Cory Moosman were both guests last week on 11 News at 4 and it was a pleasure talking to them about their work in this show. It was an even greater pleasure watching them do it.

Now to the other woman in the show.  From time to time the letters between John Adams and his wife Abigail become part of the plot.  She appears on stage, in John's mind if not really in Philadelphia, to argue with him, support him and eventually even advise him.  Full disclosure again, Jen Lennon, who plays Abigail is my sister.  Again though, even if I'd never met her I'd tell you she does a great job!  I'm proud of her. 

Here's a blog entry I wrote about Jen and her role last week.

http://www.kktv.com/blogs/blogwithdon/MEANT_FOR_THE_ROLE_121611414.html

The moments between the two of them are touching.  They both sing well and they sing well together. Here they are in another photo from The Fine Arts Center.

The relationship between John and Abigail is one of the elements that help show the humanity of the people who played such a crucial role in the birth of our nation. 

 There are powerful moments throughout the Fine Arts Center Theatre Company's production of "1776".  Near the end of Act 1 a courier who's been in battle has a song about losing his two best friends.  Corbin George is a sophomore at Coronado High School, but he takes center stage for "Momma Look Sharp"  like he belongs there.

In Act 2 South Carolina's Edward Rutledge reprimands the Northerners for what he calls their hypocritical involvement in the slave trade.  Max Ferguson does a remarkable job as Rutledge in "Molasses to Rum".  I talked to him briefly after the show. "It's really a great song," he told me.  It's also really a great singer.

Kevin Rorke as John Dickinson, Ken Robinson as Richard Henry Lee and Sammy Gleason as Andrew McNair also provide some memorable moments.  There are many other performances and performers who shine in "1776".

At a time when the word patriotic is sometimes tossed around flippantly, this is a nice reminder of what it's really all about. 

It's also a nice reminder that we don't have to go all the way to Denver for great theatre...it's right here in Colorado Springs.  It's through June 5th it's at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.  Here's a link for tickets.

https://tickets.csfineartscenter.org/public/

We'll talk again soon.

Don Ward

 

 

 

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