NEW YORK (AP) — The somewhat antiquated musical “1776” has long been ripe for a drastic makeover, and it has found one on Broadway. “Someone should open a window!” an actor cries in the first scene and that applies both to the sweltering heat of the setting as well as to this revival, which brings fresh air to a five-decade-old show.
A company of multi-racial and multi-ethnic performers who identify as female, trans and non-binary have taken over all the roles in the Roundabout Theater Company show which debuted Thursday without altering Peter Stone’s script, creating small pockets of new meaning that the writer could never have seen. (“We are men – no more, no less – trying to get a nation started,” says one actor.)
If the heroic founding father of a great musical not far away is Alexander Hamilton, here at the American Airlines Theater it is John Adams who, in the sweltering summer of 1776, hoped to persuade Congress of Philadelphia to vote for the freedom of the country. .
Unlike “Hamilton,” “1776” tackles head-on the most controversial subject of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence – slavery. Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin wanted it abolished but the delegates from the South vigorously opposed it. It’s a powerful thing to listen to a black woman speak out against slavery.
Crystal Lucas-Perry plays Adams as a bull in a china shop, a nagging and impatient Adams who admits he is “obnoxious and hated”. But everywhere there are scene stealers – Eryn LeCroy with a mesmerizing “He Plays the Violin”, Shawna Hamic and Gisela Adisa for their comedic timing and vocals, and Carolee Carmello, here as close to the villain of a play ( other than George III, of course) which is delightfully menacing. Then there’s Elizabeth A. Davis, playing a taciturn Jefferson perfectly, not to mention a mean violinist — all while pregnant.
Highlights of the show include “Cool and Considerate Men” led by Carmello, the regimented right-wing dance about never compromising – where have we heard that lately? — and Sara Porkalob’s diabolical “Molases to Rum,” a chilling indictment of northern hypocrisy.
Directors Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus have their actors jumping on tables and rushing onto the big stage, trying to add energy to what is essentially a musical about a room full of pontificating aristocrats. They shine the music and lyrics of Sherman Edwards — he rhymes mania with Pennsylvania and predicate with Connecticut — as best they can.
There’s an oblique message with the cast that if women had been in charge at the time, they probably would have done the job with less fuss and less drama. Jefferson also has an awkward wordless exchange when a servant seems unimpressed with his line “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
The most uncomfortable part is when black actors are tasked with recreating slaves at auction, a shocking step that could have been done with more artistry.
Scott Pask’s set is sadly underwhelming, using mostly barrels and four wooden tables. But most glaring of all is the use of two curtains – one behind and one in front – which are pulled across the stage on a somewhat jerky rod by the actors, giving the production an amateurish, as if unfolding look. in a massive shower. paralyze.
The curtains are used for projections – images of protesters, war and a 2 dollar bill – and to hide scene changes, but it’s awkward and there are slits that occasionally open despite the magnetic closing mechanisms that click loudly. Those flimsy pieces of cloth give way to a big powerful set revealed at the end, but one wonders if it was worth it.
Otherwise, it’s a very interesting sight, one foot in the past and another in the future. A second show exploring the origins of American democracy with a non-traditional cast is a welcome addition, especially now.
Marc Kennedy is at http://twitter.com/KennedyTwits
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