American history isn’t supposed to be entertaining. Or at least that’s what our fact-happy public school system teaches. Believe it or not, the 1969 Tony Award-winning musical 1776 makes the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence authentically entertaining. See for yourself this weekend or next at the Pennsylvania Theatre of the Performing Arts’s production of the rarely staged work in Hazleton.
Recalling the way fathers and sons used to watch the annual Fourth of July broadcast of the 1972 film adaptation together, director Paul Winarski described the show as a “guy’s musical,” and a feasible choice for people who think they don’t like musicals. The main reason why the show is not done more often, he said, is its cast of 23 men. (Abigail Adams and Martha Washington are the only females.) Making a conscious effort to cast only age-appropriate actors, Winarski had 75 percent of his cast after three auditions. It took another three weeks to secure the remaining 25 percent. Fortunately, he said, actors are willing to travel for the uncommon opportunity to do the show.
Boasting a book by “script doctor” Peter Stone with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, 1776 offers little dancing and a script that could survive without the music, said Winarski. In the course of the often comedic show, John Adams (Lackawanna College history professor Adam Randis) gradually convinces the entire Continental Congress to vote in favor of Independence.
“It’s a warts and all portrayal. They are not portrayed as these alabaster statues of great heroes. They are men with flaws as well as accomplishments. John Adams by his own admission was obnoxious and disliked. He’s portrayed as a little bulldog and even his friends at times cannot stand his unending tenacity toward this cause,” the director said.
Other key cast members include Drew Coffman as “urbane wit and sly devil” Benjamin Franklin, Scott Colin as Thomas Jefferson, Alex DeVirgilis as South Carolina delegate Edward Rutledge, and David Parmelee as John Hancock. In addition to directing, Winarski, also plays the role of Pennsylvania Representative John Dickinson. Stone’s script gives even the smallest characters an opportunity to evolve, he offered. Don’t worry about keeping track of who’s who — costume choices and accents add to the writer’s distinct delineations.
“The Congress scenes are far from static. At one point Adams and Dickinson get into a walking stick fight after a rather heated battle of words. There is no where else to go except to start wacking at each other.”
A “home-cooked buffet” is served in the theater 90 minutes prior to curtain. Tickets are available for dinner and show or show only.
IF YOU GO:
WHAT: Pennsylvania Theatre of Performing Arts presents 1776
WHERE: J.J. Ferrara Center at 212 West Broad St., Hazleton
WHEN: June 29-30 and July 6-7, at 7 p.m., and July 1 and 8 at 3 p.m.
TICKETS/INFO: $20-32 dinner and show, or $10-16 show only. Visit www.ptpashows.org or call 454-5451.