The American Repertory Theater, Roundabout Theatre Company, National Artists Management Company and NETworks Presentations present the Chicago Premiere of the Broadway Revival of “1776 THE MUSICAL.”
I’ve seen various productions of “1776” and even the 1972 movie version. I’m a fan of this musical USA origin story. And I was a little more than giddy to see this revival utilizing a racial and ethnically diverse cast who identify as female, trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming. This provocative history lesson is engaging for its inclusion along with its mega-talented cast. In this production, the traditional ‘white guy’ storytelling of the past has been transformed to reflect the America of our present.
I loved this show!
Co-directors Jeffrey L. Page (also choreographer) and Diane Paulus begin the show symbolically. The ensemble simultaneously remove their contemporary shoe-wear and gingerly squeeze into matching buckled shoes. The ensemble then hesitate before tugging up their pants and pulling up their white knee socks. This simple and significant task suggests walking in the founding fathers’ shoes is going to be uncomfortable. The ensemble’s reaction to the outdated 1700s fashion choices allude to the past being out of step with the dynamic nature of a 2023 USA. It emphasizes the mortals establishing this country weren’t infallible and their beliefs, along with their shoes, aren’t timeless.
The creative team of Sherman Edwards (concept, music, lyrics) and Peter Stone (book) debuted their musical in 1969. They imagined the congressional bureaucracy involved in severing ties with England. They cleverly teased out John Adams as an obnoxious blowhard, Benjamin Franklin as an eccentric celebrity and Thomas Jefferson as a quiet romantic. Their birth of independence is a combo of lengthy debates contrasted with upbeat cheeky songs.
Page and Paulus masterfully give “1776” a modern-day makeover. They elevate the personalities of the men, the poignancy of the time period and the power of understanding the mistakes of the past. The ensemble is superb! A commanding Gisela Adisa (Adams) and a witty Liz Mikel (Franklin) steer the revolution preparation. Adisa continually and passionately pontificates to the Congress while Mikel delivers hilarious sidebars. Adisa also has regular correspondence with Abigail (played by a versatile Tieisha Thomas also appearing as Rev Witherspoon). Letters chronicling their long-distance relationship pop-up throughout the show. The exchanges are heartfelt as Thomas describes struggles on the farm and Adisa complains about his colleagues. In this 1776 Revival, Abigail’s historic quote, ‘remember the ladies… all men would be tyrants if they could’ has been profoundly weaved into their conversations. Adisa and Thomas display a partnership steeped in respect and longing… it’s beautiful.
The younger couple, Nancy Anderson (Jefferson) and his wife (played by Connor Lyon also appearing as Dr. Hall) have a more steamy reunion in “He Plays the Violin.” An exquisite Lyon sings about Jefferson’s unknown attributes to the leering Adisa and Mikel. Later, Page and Paulus stage a palpable moment when Anderson is overhearing Jefferson’s own words ‘all men created equal’ as his slave valet attends to him.
The show has both lively and compelling substance. A hilarious Julie Cardia (Hopkins) brings the drunken buffoonery. A plucky Shawna Hamic (Lee) introduces the importance of the Lee family in history and language. An earnest Brooke Simpson (courier) sings a searing tribute to a dead soldier in “Momma, Look Sharp.” And later, a suave Kassandra Haddock (Rutledge) calls out hypocrisy in a powerhouse rendition of “Molasses to Rum.” And nod out to costume designer Emilio Sosa for illustrating prominence and individuality with a colorful array of overcoats. I’d love to secure many of these jackets, including the majestic looking Hancock (Oneika Phillips), floral softness of South Carolina (Haddock) and the stylish bold New York stripes (Zuri Washington).
“1776” is a perfect political reflection for 2023! In this divided country, it’s important to remember, understand, learn from and do better than our origin story. “1776” puts our past under the spotlight and provokes us to change our present to support the future. After seeing this show, there should be no question that our Congress would work more effectively with diverse membership, bad ass leadership, and singing through disagreements to find compromise.
Running Time: Two hours and forty minutes includes an intermission
At CBIC Theatre, 18 W. Monroe
Based on a concept by Sherman Edwards
Music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Book by Peter Stone
Directed by Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus
Choreography by Jeffrey L. Page
Music supervised/directed by Ryan Cantwell
Original music supervised by David Chase
Orchestration by John Clancy
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursdays, Fridays, Sunday at 7:30pm
Wednesday, Saturdays, Sundays at 2pm
Saturdays at 8pm
Thru March 12th
For more information or tickets
Photos by Joan Marcus
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