Published On: Tue, Jul 5th, 2016

Celebrate the USA with “1776”

By Skip Sheffield

Nicholas Richberg in 1776

Nicholas Richberg in 1776

“1776” is no ordinary history lesson. It is a moderately successful 1969 Broadway show with singing, dancing, and yes history, all keyed to the days leading up to America’s Declaration of Independence. The Palm Beach Dramaworks production of said show runs through July 24 at 201 Clematis St., West Palm Beach.

I saw “1776” long ago at Jan McArt’s Royal Palm Dinner Theatre. I can’t say I remember a single song from that show.

That’s because Sherman Edwards’ score is not your typical Broadway fare. It is largely incidental music, designed to move the story along.

If there is anything to be taken away from this show, it’s that democracy is messy. Since the earliest days of our nation, people have been at cross purposes. The Declaration of Independence, so eloquently composed by Thomas Jefferson (Clay Cartland), was no unilateral decision. There was a lot of in-fighting, not the least of which was the issue of slavery.

Palm Beach Dramaworks has a taken a different approach to this sprawling musical. Director Clive Cholerton has cast just 13 people for more than 30 roles.          This means that all but the central role of John Adams, played by Gary Cadwallader, are called to play double and even triple roles. This can lead to confusion at times, especially when a female is playing a male role, as is the case with Mallory Newbrough (Martha Jefferson and a courier); Sandi Stock (Robert Livingston, Charles Thomson and a dancer, and Laura Hodos, who plays the principal role of Abigail Adams and notable Declaration signer John Hancock.

Gary Cadwallader & Allan Baker in 1776

Gary Cadwallader & Allan Baker in 1776

Hodos has the best voice of the female cast, which serves her well on the duets “Til Then,” “Your, Yours Yours,” and especially the solo “Compliments.”

Peter Stone’s book probably takes some liberties with the actual personalities of the founding fathers. Thomas Jefferson (Clay Cartland) is portrayed as a romantic, madly in love with his wife (Mallory Newbrough). Cartland comes back to play Georgia legislator Dr. Lyman Hall.

Benjamin Franklin (Allan Baker) is the Renaissance man; inventive, genius, argumentative and sexually frisky.

Hanging heavily over the optimistic beginnings of the USA is the spectre of slavery, which is brought forth most vividly with Shane R. Tanner’s rendition of “Molasses to Rum to Slaves.”

The five-piece onstage combo is handled with the deft direction of Craig Ames. It’s not that often that violin (Dale Sandvold) plays such a prominent part, but the guy who amazed me most was Mark Ligonde, who is only 17, doubling on bass and trombone. Then there is percussionist Julie Jacobs, who plays practically every instrument in the book.

I must admit I got more out of “1776” than the first time around. Kudos to Clive Cholerton, his cast and crew.

Tickets are $65, with group discounts available. Call 561-514-4042, ext. 2 or go to www.palmbeachdramaworks.org.

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