Having seen the musical HAMILTON when it was in Los Angeles, like many others I learned more important details about the founding fathers while watching it than I felt I had ever learned in school. Lin-Manuel Miranda who created that uber-successful musical in 2015, has said that 1776 THE MUSICAL, written in 1969, during another time of political and social unrest in the United States, has “one of the best books—if not the best—ever written for musical theatre.” And now I can say I certainly agree with him. In fact, the perfect way to prove the arts can teach valuable history lessons is by seeing it at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts (The Soraya) at CSUN for four performances on Friday, February 8 through Sunday, February 10.
We all know the Declaration of Independence is celebrated with a national holiday on July 4 with parades and fireworks taking place everywhere in the United States celebrating the birthdate of our country. But who were the founding fathers and what happened during the two-year process in the Congressional Congress in Philadelphia that led to the document’s ratification? The Tony Award-winning smash begins with a deadlocked Congress with reps from the original 13 colonies attempting to create a more perfect union on paper during the hot early summer months of 1776. Tempers are boiling over in heated confrontations, men who have been absent from their wives are anxious to get home, and George Washington is sending missives about the impending British invasion while his troops are sorely lacking in skill and supplies.
And while the Northern statesmen are ready to sign the document written by Thomas Jefferson, how will they finally convince the Southern reps to approve it over their many objections? Engaging, tuneful, witty and passionate, this Broadway musical shows us the likes of the committee assigned to create the Declaration, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, as we’ve never seen them before with humor and humanity, as well as the good and the bad in everyone involved, making the musical a real celebration of what truly made America great in the first place – the ability to differ and compromise for the greater good of all people.
If these facts were even covered during your history classes in school, I can guarantee you will learn so much more about the men and the times in which they lived when you see the electrifying and attention-riveting 1776 THE MUSICAL directed and staged by Glenn Casale with some of the best triple-threat talent in the Los Angeles area, each one a standout in their roles. Standouts include James Barbour as Edward Rutledge, the rep from South Carolina whose main objection about outlawing slavery is emotional expressed to perfection during his solo “Molasses to Rum” in which he blames the duplicity of the Northern States for his unwillingness to sign. Peter Van Norden perfectly embodies the many sides of Benjamin Franklin, including not only his wit and sage advice but also his lewd and lascivious nature when it comes to women.
Caleb Shaw thoroughly shares the more reserved and observant Thomas Jefferson and his need to return to his lovely and lonely bride Martha (Ellie Wyman who shines while explaining her love for him during “He Plays the Violin”), that inspires him to actually write the Declaration in order to get it approved so he can get back home. But it is Andy Umberger who really carries the story as the outspoken and often disliked John Adams (just listen to the others complain about him during the opening number “For God Sake, John, Sit Down”), who is the most adamant about ratifying the document and creating the new country as a separate entity from Great Britain.
The technical team is to be commended for their outstanding artistic contributions to 1776 THE MUSICAL, presented by La Mirada Theatre for the Performing Arts and McCoy Rigby Entertainment, impeccably directed and staged by Glenn Casale with musical direction by Jeff Rizzo. The production continues on Friday, February 8 at 8:00pm, Saturday, February 9 at 3:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sunday, February 10 at 3:00pm at the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for the Performing Arts (The Soraya) at CSUN, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330. Tickets range from $44 – $86 and can be purchased at TheSoraya.org or by phone at (818) 677-3000. I guarantee every member of your family will walk away learning more about the true nature of our founding fathers by seeing this Tony Award Winner for Best Musical.