Sprinkles of rain did not dampen the spirit of independence last night as a feisty cast and orchestra opened a five-day stand of "1776," the sprightly musical that turns a history lesson into a stage delight.
Except for an unscheduled 15-minute intermission to mop up the dampened musical instruments, the performance went on without any problems beyond a few shaky steps on the slippery stage during the minuet of conservative representatives (who move only to the right).The rain wasn't heavy enough to disperse the audience in the open-air amphitheater. Tuesday night's scheduled opening had been washed out by thunderstorms.
After its tryout at the National Theater here in 1969, "1776" went on to Broadway success and a Tony award as the year's best musical. Howard da Silva, who created the role of Benjamin Franklin in the original production, is back in the role for the company at Carter Barron. He drops his witticisms with the impeccable timing of a comedian and leers with a lust that belies his 70 years. His Franklin is a hot-blooded as well as a red-blooded patriot.
Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone have fashioned an entertaining musical from history in a story based on the deliberations of the Second Continental Congress in writing and issuing the Declaration of Independence. Its gallery of characters include Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, and the other patriots of the revoution. But they become more than history book names and take on flesh as human beings as they argue, complain and reveal their own personal eccentricities on those hot, sultry days in Philadelphia when a nation was formed.
If there are no show-stopping songs in "1776," the music and lyrics by Edwards beautifully carry on the story and there are such quietly lovely tunes as "He Plays the Violin" and the poignant ballad of a dead soldier, "Momma Look Sharp."
The cast and production at Carter Barron carry off "1776" with professionalism. There are some weaknesses in the casting, but the key roles are performed with verve and style. Don Perkins is abrasive and irritating as John Adams, the Massachusetts patriot who lacks the patience and tact to go along with his patriotism. Michael Scoot is a fine figure as Jeffeson, the tall, redhaired Virginian who is dragooned into writing the Declaration of Independence while chafing as a new bridegroom.
The songs do not require great voices except for the powerful "Molasses to Rum," and Lance Hewett, as Edward Rutledge, the elegant South Carolinian who tosses the argument of slavery back to the New Englanders, delivers it with booming voice and conviction.
The single setting representing the chamber of the Continental Congress and Jefferson's rooms offers no problems for the open-air stage at Carter Barron. The production is handsomely costumed from the simple New England greys and blacks to the elegant and colorful dress of the proud Southerners.
The Carter Barron stand of "1776" runs through Sunday with curtain time at 8:30 p.m. tonight and for the closing performance Sunday. On Friday and Saturday there are two performances each night, with curtain times at 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.