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|A CurtainUp Feature: Second Thoughts-- #4:
A Fourteen-Year-Old's Memories of the Original 1776 Are Stirred By a Visit To the Show In Its New Home At the Gershwin
Editor's Note: This is a double second look at 1776 .
The first is a >Second Lookat the Roundabout production reviewed last summer by Linda Bloom, to see how it transferred from its intimate setting at the Roundabout to one of the largest venues in New York. We're happy to report that the production has weathered the move splendidly. The cast, except for one actor, is intact. Set designer Tony Walton has taken advantage of the Gershwin's larger stage to expand the set with a V-shaped platform raising up a portion of the stage that wasn't raised before. Also, on either side of the stage hanging from the walls are the flags of the original 13 colonies and there are now two (instead of just one) house fronts straddling the stage." Linda's enthusiastic review of July stands as our review of record in December. With 1933 seats available, this entertertaining musical history lesson can now be seen by young an old--American citizens, citizens-to-be, visitors to our shores--and, hopefully, lots of students.
That brings us to our second Second Look -- an interview with Paul Stewart who saw the original 1776 when he was a high school student. Our questions and his answers follow.
CU: You saw 1776 in 1969 when you were 14. Was it your first Broadway show?
PS: It wasn't the first. My parents took me to quite a few plays and musicals in my early teens, but this was the first one that seemed made to order for me because American history had always been my favorite subject.
CU: What memories of that experience did you bring to the revival?
PS: Funny thing is that though I love a wide variety of music and have a better than middling CD collection, it's primarily the story line and the characters that have remained vivid in my mind. I can still see William Daniels who played John Adams and Howard DaSilva who was Ben Franklin. I also remember the arguments about the slavery issue and that final "It's Done! when the delegates finally agree to agree and the Declaration is signed.
CU: How did Brent Spiner and Pat Hingle measure up to Daniels and DaSilva? PS: Since, like so many people of my generation, I'm a Star Wars fan, Brent Spiner was a very definite drawing card bringing me to the show. Seeing him was like having Data step out of the Holodeck. (ed note: Of Star Trek: The Next Generation). I'm not that familiar with Pat Hingle's work but he struck me as just right as Ben Franklin --shrewd and quick on the draw with the aphorisms, and fond of women even with his gouty foot -- that foot, by the way, did come back to me as soon as I saw Hingle.
PS: I'd also looked forward to seeing Greg Edelman whom I liked a lot in City of Angels and even though he had only one big number (ed note: "Molasses to Rum") it was one of the high spots of the entire three hours. Now that I'm a practicing lawyer, as I obviously wasn't in 1969, I was also struck by Michael Cumpsty's terrific courtroom voice and manner as John Dickinson.
CU: That brings us to the rest of the music, which from what you said about remembering mostly the story and characters, would make this less a re-visit than a completely new experience for you?
PS: Pretty much and actually I'm not surprised because that music has a lot of dissonant melody and atypical rhythm and rhymes which should be listened to more than once -- I'll probably get a CD this time around.
CU: What about the staging--did any of that strike a familiar chord? PS: Well, as I said, I remembered the signing scene, and the letter writing between John Adams and his wife rang a bell. In general, unless a fourteen year-old is in the school drama club or a really sophisticated theater goer, he just sort of takes in the overall sense of a show but not that many of the staging particulars -- at least not with a show like this which could probably stand up even without music. Anyway, my greater awareness of these elements added to the experience of seeing a show I knew, but enjoying a brand-new experience. I think that revolving set is terrific and I thought the two main props -- the wall calendar from which the days are ripped off and the board on which the tally is kept as to which colony is voting Nay or Yea adds a certain suspense to the outcome. You know how it's going to come out and yet as it gets closer and closer to July 4th, you almost forget that you know and catch yourself rooting for the Yeas.
CU: So how did it all hold up for you?
PS: I was a little concerned that having become a little more cynical about the political process over the years that the show would come off as too hokey and idealized textbook history, but it isn't at all. It's evident that Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards really dug into the history archives to narrow things down to these twenty delegates -- I think there were fifty-six originally -- and that they did a great job in characterizing each one as someone with a change of costume and hair style could step on the floor of the Senate or House.
I don't remember that first act being quite as long as it is. According to my parents, neither I or my younger sister were restless then though I'll admit I did get a little impatient this time around. Maybe kids have longer attention spans than we adults give them credit for! I hope that by the time my four-year-old son is ready to go to his first Broadway show there's something meaty and memorable like this on the boards.