'1776' brings history to life
The Salem Community Theatre production reveals the Founding Fathers.
BY MARGARET NERY
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
Since politics has been dominating the news of late, it was only natural that on Friday night Salem Community Theatre turned back the clock to a time when fiery rhetoric laid the foundation for a nation.
The audience was transported to another time and place and given more than a passing glimpse into the lives of the influential men of "1776."
The musical focuses not only on the differences in ideas and ideology but on the clash of personalities as a group of passionate men argues and debates the issues that would ultimately become the Declaration of Independence.
While the mission is serious in nature, it is the amusing antics and the individual foibles of the men that are spotlighted in the humorous yet dramatic musical.
The musical often shows the lighter side of the debates, which are peppered with passionate outbursts, and swayed by the determination of the cloistered men who know full well that they could be hanged for treason.
Excellent in pivotal roles are the wise, lecherous but remarkably funny Benjamin Franklin (David Bedell), the dynamic, outspoken John Adams (Tony Snyder), the quiet, highly intelligent Thomas Jefferson (Rob Dumovic), and the brash Richard Henry Lee (Kyle Snyder), who are opposed in their efforts for independence by the stubborn John Dickinson (Eric Kibler) and the belligerent Edward Rutledge (Matt Newman), who think it would be wise to reconcile with England.
Adams, who by his own admission "is obnoxious and disliked," upsets his cohorts with his passionate outbursts, and is met with a rousing chorus of "For God's Sake, John, Sit Down."
But it is he who is the driving force that keeps the men of the Continental Congress arguing for things they believe will do the most for the states they represent. The group is evenly divided over the issue of slavery, as the South contends "slaves are property," while the North insists "slaves are individuals and have the right to freedom."
Even as these visionary men struggle to settle their differences, discouraging news from the battlefront is often delivered by a courier.
Despite the discomforting news, it is finally decided that Jefferson should draw up an official document announcing the colonies' determination to be free from England and its oppressive taxes. However, Jefferson is reluctant to write until the crafty Adams reunites him with his young bride.
His first draft is rebubffed, but ultimately politics are put aside and the men find that only through compromise can they make this a better country in which to live. And so they unaminously approved the Declaration of Independence.
The first to place his name on the document is John Hancock (Bill Johnson), who signs with a flourish, "So George in England can read it without his glasses."
Among the musical highlights in the production is "Molasses to Rum," Rutledge's powerful song about slavery and hypocrisy, and "The Lees of Old Virginia," which is given a braggadocio performance by the arrogant Lee as he struts proudly with Franklin and Adams.
But finally the group of dedicated men agree with Franklin that "a nation should be built a step at a time," and they learn to compromise and settle their differences.
Mark Frost did a remarkable job of rounding up and directing the 26 talented performers who, combined with authentic costumes, a realistic setting and stirring music, turned this patriotic production of "1776" into a delightfully humorous but dramatic history lesson about the men who were willing to give their lives and fortunes to form a more perfect union.