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Review: Rivertown runs historical musical 1776

Gary Rucker directs the Tony Award winner



If politics were as satisfyingly entertaining as Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts' production of 1776, the recent presidential election could have been far more enjoyable. Imagining the Founding Fathers tripping the light fantastic while hammering out the ideals of the Declaration of Independence is a remarkable concept, and the cast at Rivertown delivers an impressive ensemble performance.

  Winner of three Tony awards, including Best Musical, 1776 is a brilliant history lesson that elucidates the lengthy, rigorous and contentious convention of the Second Continental Congress. Some dialogue was pulled from historical documents, and other narrative was fabricated since the actual debates were not recorded on paper.

  Like the jury in 12 Angry Men, the political leaders are sequestered during the heat of summer, jousting with verbal arguments while attempting to reach a unanimous decision for or against revolution.

  "We're men, no more, no less, trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous god would have allowed," says Benjamin Franklin (David W. Hoover).

  The lively score, written by former high school history teacher Sherman Edwards with book by Peter Stone, tackles complex issues of states' rights and federal authority with song and dance. While the Continental Army battles British troops and "depressing dispatches" from Gen. George Washington arrive from the front, 20 men with divergent perspectives wrangle with issues affecting their various constituents.

  Gary Rucker, Rivertown's artistic and managing director, magnificently plays John Adams, the forceful leader of the independence movement. Known to be "obnoxious and disliked," he is relentless in his pursuit, commanding both the stage and the debate.

  "For 10 years, King George and his Parliament have gulled, culled and diddled these colonies with their legal taxes! Stamp Acts, Townshend Acts, Sugar Acts, Tea Acts! And when we dared to stand up like men, they have stopped our trade, seized our ships, blockaded our ports, burned out towns and spilled our blood," Adams says.

  The colonies are sharply divided and a vote results in a tie. Jimmy Murphy portrays the powerful, conservative Pennsylvania statesman John Dickinson, clinging to the "protections and benefits of being a colony of Great Britain." He calls Adams an agitator and a madman, and Adams declares Dickinson a coward. Dickinson moves that the vote must be unanimous.

  A committee selects Thomas Jefferson (Matt Reed) to pen a draft of the Declaration of the Independence since he writes "10 times better" than anyone else. When Jefferson suffers writer's block, his wife Martha is summoned for inspiration.

  Two outstanding performances include a poignant solo, "Momma Look Sharp," sung by a soldier (Aaron Richert), describing mothers searching for wounded sons on the battlefields, and Martha Jefferson's delightful rendition of "He Plays the Violin."

  South Carolina's Edward Rutledge (Scott Clausen) delivers a dramatic and chilling operatic defense of slavery in "Molasses To Rum."

  1776 is an entertaining and educational reenactment of one of our nation's finest hours and a reminder to cherish our independence so bravely wrought.

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