By Sarah Downs
Words fly through the air as arguments on the floor of the 2nd Continental Congress drag on through the heat of June 1776. John Adams (Crystal Lucas-Perry), is doing his best to push the debate for Independence forward, but he faces an unruly bunch of Representatives. Between Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island (Joanna Glushak in a comedic star turn) guzzling rum and ruffling feathers, and John Dickinson of Pennsylvania (Carolee Carmello, effortlessly charismatic and authoritative) standing stalwartly against Independence, amidst loud squabbles and bouts of witty name calling, it’s a lot of talk and little action. The only thing the Congress appears to agree on is that they’d like Adams to sit down and be quiet. Good luck with that.
The cast plow through the mountain of verbiage with gusto, but it does become exhausting. Lucas-Perry does her earnest best as Adams, fighting to be heard over the din. She is believable as both fiery patriot and loving husband to Abigail (Allyson Kaye Daniel, warm in voice and spirit). Adams often joins forces with Ben Franklin (Patrena Murray) as they hustle for votes. Murray comfortably blends philosophy and levity as Franklin, with his admiration for the turkey – and for the sound of his own voice.
Musical comic relief, in songs like “But, Mr. Adams” frame some of the lengthy scenes of debate. John Clancy’s irresistible orchestrations, in the hands of an excellent pit orchestra, embrace the showmanship. Yet, when the moment calls for quiet, Clancy paints with haunting flute, fiddle and acoustic guitar, as in the romantic duet “Yours, Yours, Yours” and the heart wrenching song “Momma, Look Sharp” (a stunning Broadway debut for standby Imani Pearl Williams as the Courier). It is too bad that the latter song morphs from beautiful simplicity to overstatement. Its delicacy is far more affecting.
The heroic task of drafting the Declaration falls to Thomas Jefferson (Elizabeth A. Davis). Davis is captivating, carving a unique figure onstage in both gesture and affect. Her Jefferson is enigmatic to the point of mystery. When Jefferson’s wife Martha (Eryn LeCroy) visits, for, you know, moral support, she sings of her love for him. LeCroy is head-to-toe elegant in a gorgeous white dress. Her cut crystal soprano is perfect for “He Plays the Violin.” Alas, the song is played more for laughs and inexplicable high drama than romance, which undermines the tune’s charm, pushing aside the remarkable fact that Davis does, in fact, play the violin.
It’s finally time to sign the Declaration, and Congress faces its most difficult compromise. Edward Rutledge, representative from South Carolina (an excellent Sara Porkalob) holds the Southern vote in his hands, and he won’t budge unless the abolition of slavery is taken out of the Declaration. It is a moment difficult for us to comprehend, especially witnessing the long tentacles of racism reaching from the era of slavery to today.
In the song “Molasses to Rum” Rutledge rightly points out the hypocrisy of some of the New England representatives, who proclaim their abhorrence of slavery yet happily benefit from it financially. From powerful commentary, the song moves to full production number mode, eventually becoming so loud and so long, devolving into such caricature, it flips from powerful to counterproductive. Painting Edward Rutledge as an arrogant, blood thirsty beast, misses a particularly chilling aspect of slavery – that it was an everyday thing. It’s all in the economics, and money is more important than human beings.
This inevitably casts a shadow over the actual signing of the Declaration of Independence, rendering it an anti-climax. I don’t think that was the goal of this production. It’s more a case of so much to say, so little time. If you say it all at the same volume, however, the point risks becoming lost.
1776, music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, book by Peter Stone. Directed by Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus. With Crystal Lucas-Perry, Gisela Adisa, Nancy Anderson, Becca Ayers, Tiffani Barbour, Carolee Carmello, Allyson Kaye Daniel, Elizabeth A. Davis, Mehry Eslaminia, Joanna Glushak, Shawna Hamic, Eryn LeCroy, Liz Mikel, Patrena Murray, Oneika Phillips,” Lulu Picart, Sara Porkalob, Sushma Saha, Brooke Simpson, Salome B. Smith, Sav Souza, Jill Vallery. Standbys: Shelby Acosta, AriellaSerur, Grace Stockdale, Dawn L. Troupe and Imani Pearl Williams. Set design: Scott Pask; costume design: Emilio Sosa; lighting design: Jen Schriever; sound design: Jonathan Deans; production design: David Bengali; musical direction: Ryan Cantwell; Vocal Design: AnnMarie Milazza.
Presented by The Roundabout Theatre and the American Repertory Theater, at the American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd St.; October 6, 2022 – January 8, 2023. Run Time: approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes with one intermission. For tickets, click HERE.
COVID POLICY: All audience members seated in the first row of the orchestra will be required to wear approved masks provided by Roundabout. Audience members not seated in this row are encouraged to wear their own masks.