Sunday, October 16, 2022

Broadway Theater Review: 1776

 

Elizabeth A. Davis, Patrena Murray, Crystal Lucas-Perry in Roundabout Theatre Company's 1776. Photo: Joan Marcus

1776

Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Book By Peter Stone, based on a concept by Sherman Edwards
Directed by Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus
Choreography by Jeffrey L. Page
American Airlines Theatre
Through Jan. 8, 2023 

By Lauren Yarger
What if? What if all of the roles played by men in the musical 1776 could be played by women instead. No, make that women, transgender and non-binary (identifying as neither man nor woman) actors? What would happen?

Pretty much nothing new....  at least not in Roundabout Theatre's revival of 1776 which tells the tale of the Founding Fathers as they struggle with the heat, and the conflicting issues of freedom and slavery in the summer of 1776 in Philadelphia as the Declaration of Independence is drafted.

It takes (or at least it took me) some time to get used to the idea of anybody but a man playing characters who are men. For me, gender bending casting is fine if you don't notice it and if it doesn't detract from the storytelling. The script isn't changed and the characters are still men. There are no editorial moments where someone points out the obvious -- that no women were involved in forming the new nation --  save one moment that has a contemporary feel when Abigail Adams (Allyson Kaye Daniel) writes to her husband, John Adams (Crystal Lucas-Perry) that men won't be the only citizens of the new nation:

"By the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation."

But that line is part of the original script, so having a non-male John Adams receive it didn't really change the thought. And Thomas Jefferson being played by an actress (a very talented, violin-playing Elizabeth A. Davis) who happens to be pregnant, kind of added to my inability to engage in that story for a while, especially when Jefferson, unable to write because he is missing the attentions of his young, new bride, gets a connubial visit from another actress playing Martha Jefferson (Eryn LeCroy).  Again, where gender or race manipulations take out  minds away from the story they are better not made.

After a while, I was able to just see actors playing roles, and actually, some seem well suited and step right into character, like Benjamin Franklin (Patrena Murray -- this interpretation is exactly how I imagine Franklin) and Rhode Island's delegate Stephen Hopkins (Joanna Glushak). I am an advocate for more women represented on and behind our theater stages, but I didn't feel a compelling enough reason to justify switching all of the genders in this production.

In Hamilton, for example, where the Founding Fathers and everyone except King George III is played by a person of color, the story of the nation's founding was the same. It just has a more inclusive feel to it -- that our nation's story is everyone's story. That we all are in this together. Changing genders -- and adding transgender and nonbinary actors -- in 1776 makes the statement that Broadway, not necessarily the country --  wants change. A better option would have been to commission an authorized rewrite of Peter Stone's book or to create a brand new musical focusing on the women who weren't in that room: Abigail Adams, Martha Jefferson, Martha Washington, Mrs. Benjamin Franklin, Sally Hemmings, etc. What they endured would make great drama and would make a strong statement about the importance of women in our nation.

There is a subtle message made about racism as some actors who are African American are on the receiving end of dialogue about slavery. But again, more of an impact could be made by putting the words of enslaved Americans to paper in a different story.

One place where the gender bending and staging do not work at all is in the typically compelling "Molasses to Rum" number, where Edward Rutledge (Sara Porkalob) tries point out to his northern anti-slavery constitutional colleagues that while the south uses slaves as part of its economy, the north benefits from it, so they are involved in the institution as well. Something about a person of color singing a song by a character who is supposed to be a white slave owner just didn't work for me. The staging and choreography by Directors Diane Paulus and Jeffrey L. Page suggested big production number instead of highlighting the hate and racism that reveal Rutledge and slavery to be repulsive by the end of the song (if you never have seen John Cullum perform this number, watch the film. It's amazing as he starts as a southern gentleman and builds to a lusty, frenzied, despicable man).

Other songs by Sherman Edwards still hold their own, like "Sit Down, John," He Plays the Violin," Momma, Look Sharp." The show plans a national tour beginning in February in Philadelphia.

1776 makes history at the American Airlines Theatre,  227 West 42nd St., NYC,  through Jan. 8, 2023. roundabouttheatre.org.

Cast:
Crystal Lucas-Perry as John Adams, Gisela Adisa as Robert Livingston, Nancy Anderson as George Read, Becca Ayers as Col. Thomas McKean, Tiffani Barbour as Andrew McNair, Carolee Carmello as John Dickinson, Allyson Kaye Daniel as Abigail Adams/Rev. Jonathan Witherspoon, Elizabeth A. Davis as Thomas Jefferson, Mehry Eslaminia as Charles Thomson, Joanna Glushak as Stephen Hopkins, Shawna Hamic as Richard Henry Lee, Eryn LeCroy as Martha Jefferson/Dr. Lyman Hall, Liz Mikel as John Hancock, Patrena Murray as Benjamin Franklin, Oneika Phillips as Joseph Hewes, Lulu Picart as Samuel Chase, Sara Porkalob as Edward Rutledge, Sushma Saha as Judge James Wilson, Brooke Simpson as Roger Sherman, Salome B. Smith as Courier, Sav Souza as Dr. Josiah Bartlett, Jill Vallery as Caesar Rodney, and Shelby Acosta, Ariella Serur, Grace Stockdale, Dawn L. Troupe and Imani Pearl Williams as Standbys.

Other credits:
Music Supervision by David Chase, Orchestrations by John Clancy, Vocal Design by AnnMarie Milazzo, Music Direction by Ryan Cantwell, Scott Pask (Sets), Emilio Sosa (Costumes), Jen Schriever (Lights), Jonathan Deans (Sound), David Bengali (Projections), Mia Neal (Hair & Wigs), Brisa Areli Muñoz (Associate Director)

FAMILY-FRIENDLY FACTORS:
-- God's name taken in vain
-- minimal language

Covid Protocol:
Vaccine not required.
For all performances of 1776, all audience members seated in the first row of the orchestra will be required to wear approved masks provided by Roundabout. If you purchase tickets in these designated locations you will be required to wear an approved mask. Audience members not seated in this row are encouraged to wear their own masks.

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York. Shifting from reviewing to producing, Yarger owns Gracewell Productions, which produced the Table Reading Series at the Palace Theater in Waterbury, CT. She trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run. She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She wrote reviews of Broadway and Off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She was a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice president and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (producer of the annual awards ceremony) and a member of The League of Professional Theatre Women, serving as Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter. Yarger was a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2022 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women or people of a certain race are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide, or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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