1776 at the Briggs: For God’s Sake, John, Sit Down!

John Adams was “obnoxious and disliked.” So said his enemies and his friends. The play, 1776, just opened at the Briggs Opera House in White River Junction, is anything but. It’s engaging, and judging from robust ticket sales, is sticking a perfect landing with audiences.

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1776 was first produced in 1969, designed to turn American history into musical theater in the days before the wildly successful Hamilton was a gleam in anyone’s eye. Perry Allison, who directed and produced this version, thought that today’s political climate begged for its return to the stage. You'll thank her.

Viewers will undoubtedly learn a bit of history from their ring-side seats to the boxing match/street brawl that birthed the Declaration of Independence. In addition, the play speaks to the very human sturm and drang of any common enterprise. The characters speak from deep and contrary convictions. And they’re petty, and snarky, and funny. (It could have been a depiction of a faculty meeting, or of what happens when three or more people gather in a room to try to do anything.) 

1776 is an ensemble piece, with both male and female actors in roles as the historic congressional members who are stuck in an airless chamber in sweltering Philadelphia. The standout performance by Taylor Hooper as John Adams, on stage for virtually the entire time, is central to the story and to the production’s vitality. While his duets with the absent Abigail (Jenn Langhus) are tender and sweet, he earns his reputation among his colleagues as impulsive and vibrantly annoying. In his defense and to paraphrase a popular meme, well-behaved people seldom make history. 

Jonathan Verge as Edward Rutledge from South Carolina grabs the congress and the audience by the lapels with “Molasses to Rum,” in which he calls out the hypocrisy of Northerners on the issue of slavery. Gunnar Langhus, a dying soldier, hauntingly calls for his mother. Beata Randall’s McNair serves up fortifying rum; as an opener of windows, she delivers her lines with punch, deflating the room's accumulation of hot air, both literally and figuratively. Da-Shih Hu has predictably few lines as New York’s Lewis Morris, but he’s busy bringing the live musical score. 

The bombastic tone of deliberations gives way to a more somber one in the final scene, when the realization of what has transpired settles in. It will bring a lump to your throat. 

1776 is a limited run through April 14. Get your tickets by going (and quickly) to the project’s website, https://www.the1776project.org/


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