Review of “1776” on Broadway: a woke musical revival that isn’t revolutionary
It is written by Peter Stone, is clever, suspenseful, subtle, and it tackles the difficult themes associated with the creation of the United States in the same way that an engrossing TV drama would. As written, “1776” is not the Disney’s Hall of Presidents that the uninitiated assume it to be, but rather a theatrical production that is electrifyingly personal. Well, it ought to be anyhow.
Stone’s text is also completely bulletproof, as demonstrated by the disappointing new Broadway revival of the play that debuted Thursday night, and is able to withstand meaningless, auteurist, cumbersome, woke conceptions like the one on exhibit at the American Airlines Theatre.
Jokes and tense scenes from the author still work, albeit barely.
The Founding Fathers in “1776,” the musical that defeated “Hair” to win the Tony Award for Best Musical, are played by actors who identify as female, transgender, or nonbinary. That’s a great concept for a brand-new programme from a different perspective. Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, and other historical figures were ingeniously recast in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton” as people of colour, using rap as their common language, in part to highlight the fact that Hamilton and his fellow travellers were immigrants.
However, “1776” is a dated production — a boldly uncomplicated musical that should frolic about the stage until difficult topics like slavery emerge in Act 2 — and clumsy revisionism is inappropriate for it. Instead, cartoonish, dishonest impressions of guys and clumsy attempts to inject extra meaning by casting patronising glances at the audience drag down the narrative.
Not every direction choice needs to make sense, but Paulus and Page’s casting stunt lacks any real emotional resonance aside from a “take that, you classic musical!” attitude. However, it constantly undermines the fundamental elements of the programme.
In “1776,” the Second Continental Congress is pictured as taking place in Philadelphia as obnoxious Bostonian John Adams (Crystal Lucas-Perry, who lacks leadership skills) tries to persuade his fellow members to discuss and pursue independence from evil Great Britain. Adams, Franklin (Patrena Murray), and Jefferson (Elizabeth A. Davis) get men to join their cause in the early going of the production, which then picks up steam as they debate whether or not to mention slavery in the Declaration of Independence.
The lively score by Sherman Edwards, which has been completely altered here, lifts the story. He composed exquisite music for basses, baritones, and tenors. You should be blown out of your seat by the song “Cool, Cool Considerate Men,” performed by ardent conservatives. The song “Sit Down, John,” which has agitated, furious delegates pleading with Adams to stop, should also be considered. One of the most inspiring songs in all of musical theatre is “The Egg,” which is sung by our leading three while their Declaration draught is being read aloud for the first time. Battle me.
Here, none of them soar. John Clancy’s terrible orchestrations transform the vivacious, 18th-century soundscape into formless, loud, contemporary pop, which is sung primarily by sopranos and altos and is a strange fit for them. Although “1776” has no sections where singers are specifically encouraged to belt, this revision aims to be Katy Perry’s worst album.
The score of Edwards is ridiculed the entire evening.
During “The Egg,” videos of significant occasions in recent American history are presented because, evidently, the music isn’t exciting enough on its own.
Momma Look Sharp, a melancholy song protesting the war, explodes into “One Day More” with a complete cast.
The sole enjoyable song is “He Plays the Violin,” which Eryn LeCroy as Martha Jefferson does admirably.
The revival emphasises the problem of slavery more than the original because it was already covered there.
The South Carolina delegate, Edward Rutledge (Sara Porkalob), has stated that he will not support independence until slavery is retained. Rutledge sings “Molasses to Rum” about how New England is just as guilty as any Southerner when it comes to the sin of slavery, but Adams and others fiercely disagree. The song has been given an extra boost, much like everything else, and the lyrics are now secondary to the relentless action. When it was finished, a friend turned to me and remarked, “That was pretty cool. What subject was the song about?
Reviewing the original in ‘69, Post critic Richard Watts wrote, “In this cynical age, it required courage as well as enterprise to do a musical play that simply deals with the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence … No attempt is made to be humorous or go off into contemporary byways in “1776.”
I hear you!