1776 THE MUSICAL (Media): Rollicking romp through history

Ben Dibble stars as John Adams, in 1776 The Musical. Photo by Maura McConnell
Ben Dibble stars as John Adams, in 1776 The Musical. Photo by Maura McConnell

In this delightfully irreverent, foot stomping musical glimpse into our country’s independence, the first actual declaration made may be that John Adams of Massachusetts (Ben Dibble) is “obnoxious and disliked”.  With the stirring opening number, “Sit Down, John” Adams is vehemently told to shut up told by congress as he persistently pushes them to vote “Yes” for independence.  In return, Adams sings out his frustration towards a congress who will not act with the tempestuous tune “Piddle, Twiddle”.  

And so the beat goes on as the congressional conflict continues, with occasional respite by beautiful ballads and splendid comedic interludes. Director/Choreographer, Jennie Eisenhower, cast, musicians and crew deliver all the verve and excitement of Sherman Edwards’ music and lyrics and Peter Stone’s book with clever, courageous staging in Media Music Theatre’s production of 1776 THE MUSICAL.

The setting is Philadelphia, 1776, where the weather is sweltering from May through July 4th,  and the flies are rampant. Tempers and temperatures are rising as obstacles and indecision reside in congress regarding independence.  John Hancock (Andrew Kriss) flippantly encourages congress to “..go on…” because “…gentlemen, you’re making the only breeze in Philadelphia”.

The show is entirety riveting, as various cast members sing, dance, bang staffs and shout, particularly in the musical numbers “The Lees of Old Virginia” featuring a superbly sardonic rendering of Benjamin Franklin by John Morrision, lively, effervescent Richard Henry Lee played by Larry Lees, and John Adams brilliantly portrayed by Ben Dibble and the really cool “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men” with John Dickinson, stoically done by Bob Stineman, and the “Conservatives”.

Detail in subtle background business, character’s expressions and physicality enrich each scene in which they appear.  Moving numbers include “Mama Look Sharp”, wistfully sung by Thomas Lock as the Courier along with Bill Van Horn as Andrew McNair and Chris McCollum playing Leather Apron.  Beautiful soothing ballads like “Till Then” take place in an imaginary light between Adam and his wife Abigal, imbued with wonderful warmth and voice by Elyse Langley, while others, like the solo “Molasses to Rum” deftly delivered by Luke Brahdt as Rutledge, inflame.  Others pieces are great fun, such as the plucky “He Plays the Violin” spotlighting Meredith Beck, bright as Martha Jefferson, and “The Egg” featuring Franklin, Adams and a firey young Thomas Jefferson played by Joseph O’Brien.

The list goes on…  A sizable portion of the show, as compared to other musicals, is without music, and it is in these songless spots that powerful speeches, heated dialogue and witty one-liners occur, like the reading of dispatches from George Washington (drum roll, please) by Charles Thompson, as poignantly depicted by Anthony Marsala. The rousing instrumental music, conducted by Christopher Ertelt, pervades each scene with vivacity and spirit.

Lavish, intricate lighting (Shawn Butcher) spills, spotlights, colors and highlights seamlessly throughout each spectacularly staged (Jennie Eisenhower) scene, and is executed with alacrity. Sound (Carl Park) is highly coordinated, period costumes (Katy Yamaguchi) and props (Melissa Cristaldi Little) picque visual interest, especially the wall calendar and and video backdrop of the signatures as they appear on the Declaration of Independence.

1776 THE MUSICAL is a happening experience.
[Media Theatre, 104 E State St., Media, PA] April 13-May 22, 2016; mediatheatre.org

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