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It's also good to remember that had there not been a bit of "fiddling around," between Thomas and Martha Jefferson, a certain decisive 1776 document proclaiming American independence would not have been written. Then again, perhaps it was really getting the indecisive Georgia representative Dr. Lyman Hall (Tom Treadwell) to make up his mind . . . but never mind. Those thoughts are meant to cross your mind as you enjoy 1776, that grandly patriotic musical pageant at the Paper Mill Playhouse.
The award-winning show that composer-lyricist Sherman Edwards and librettist Peter Stone wrote to commemorate the momentous, often tumultuous confrontations between some great and some not so great men immediately preceding the signing of the Declaration of Independence has been handsomely and stirringly staged by Gordon Greenberg.
This show is just in time to bolster and renew our faith in preserving through our duly elected representatives, the rights our forefather fought so diligently to establish. And fight they did — nay, rather bickered, browbeat, cajoled and coerced each other, those ferocious, determined men of the first Continental Congress. The show's collaborators imprinted memorable impressions on their two dozen or so illustrious historical participants. And with particular recognition going to the Paper Mill's excellent cast, more than enough of their amusing evocative and humanizing traits are visible to make the show much more than a merely reverential celebration of an historic event.
Interestingly, for such a successful musical, Edwards' score, although impressively conducted by Tom Helm, is not especially distinguished. Still, it conveys what is needed melodically and perceptively enough with conviction and vitality. Don Stephenson is ideal as the "obnoxious and disliked agitator," John Adams, a man whose overzealous personality is tempered best by his devoted, loving-in-absentia wife Abigail (Kerry O'Malley). It's no wonder Adams uses the self-confident, personality kid himself, Richard Henry Lee (Aaron Ramey) of Virginia, to formally introduce the controversial declaration.
Conrad John Schuck is a delight as that mischievous over-fed fossil and "inventor of the stove," Benjamin Franklin. The particularly strong male cast, including MacIntryre Dixon as the rum-loving (even at 10 o'clock in the morning) Hopkins of Rhode Island; James Barbour as Adams' nemesis, the handsome and arrogant pro-slavery advocate Rutledge of South Carolina; and Robert Cuccioli, Cuccioli, who may be everyone's favorite Jekyll and Hydeas the cynical pro-England Dickinson of Pennsylvania , represents the best in musical theatre ensemble performing. Cuccioli, who may be everyone's favorite Jekyll and Hyde, played Rutledge splendidly at the Paper Mill Playhouse 21 years-ago. An imposing Barbour, who received a nomination from the Outer Critics Circle for his performance on Broadway this season in A Tale of Two Cities, causes the walls of the theatre to quake with the reverberations of his resounding baritone voice and dynamite performance.
The men are graced with the lovely presences of O'Malley and Lauren Kennedy, who, as a vivacious and pert Martha Jefferson gives "He Plays the Violin," all the innuendo it needs. Both have the advantage over the men of wearing costume designer Alejo Vietti's lovely 18th century frocks.
Right up to the inescapably emotional tableau vivant finale, 1776, although long and bravely talky, conveys with an appealing unpretentious sense of modesty (exemplified by Kevin Rupnik settings) those truths, that are in many a good musical such as this, self-evident.