Virginia Rep probably didn’t know when it added 1776, The Musical to its 2016 schedule that the play would open at a time when the country is experiencing a sobering dose of political tensions – or did it? Whichever is the case, the Tony Award-winning musical is a timely and highly entertaining reminder of how politics can bog down the decision-making process and create chaos. If that seems like an oxymoron, it’s not.
The musical revolves around the events in the Second Continental Congress in 1776 leading up to the writing and signing of the Declaration of Independence. It provides a look into the thoughts and actions of the men from the thirteen British colonies who were battling between themselves in Philadelphia.
Based on history, the play brings its own lighthearted take on the men and the events of the weeks leading up to July 4. Full of wit and candor, some of the musical’s lyrics sung by the scrappy John Adams could be used to describe Congress today: “We piddle, twiddle and resolve … not one damn thing do we do to resolve.”
Lucky for us, 1776, The Musical focuses on the humorous, excitable John Adams (played by Scott Wichmann) who was resolute in his fight for independence from Great Britain. The problem is he had to convince half of the delegates to vote his way. And that was not an easy task. He did have two partners-in-crime, so to speak, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who were equally strong in their quest for freedom.
I had never seen “1776” before (which made its Broadway debut in 1969), so I wasn’t sure what to expect. But the moment the music started, I knew it was going to be a fun ride. From the scenery to the staging to the actors, it was a top-notch Broadway revival. Wait, what do you mean we weren’t on Broadway? Hmmm. It certainly felt like we we were.
Director Debra Clinton kept the reigns loose so the musical’s talented actors could show us what they’re made of. Even though there were approximately twenty-two of them on stage at any given time, the stage never felt crowded.
The show pulls you in quickly and throws you into the action, thanks to Rich Mason’s outstanding, realistic set design, which makes the actors look as if they are stepping out of an actual historical portrait. Sue Griffin’s costumes bring home that air of authenticity. South Carolina’s delegate, Edward Rutledge, gets my vote for best costume – think brocade, coral, and ruffles.
When it comes to the performances, there’s not enough room to single out all that stood out even though they are more than worthy of a mention. Instead I will concentrate on the main characters.
Alexander Sapp, who plays the flamboyant Edward Rutledge, puts in a strong, entertaining performance that brings down the house after his powerful rendition of “Molasses to Rum.”
Landon Nagel gives us a fun, but slightly naughty look at Thomas Jefferson who needed an intimate visit from his wife, Martha, before he could actually pen the Declaration.
Jason Marks fully embodies the spirit and playfulness of Benjamin Franklin with his spot-on performance. He is an absolute joy to watch.
Scott Wichmann takes on his role of a lifetime, John Adams, and completely slays it. If Adams were here to “drop a mic,” it would be for Wichmann’s performance. He showed us the perfect combination of talent, wit, tenderness, angst, and anger. The best way to describe it: outstanding. His energy and passion were off the charts.
I also want to commend BJ Wilkinson for the amazing lighting design that adds depth and dimension, sometimes in red and green hues, to the show.
Virginia Rep’s 1776, The Musical is worthy of a Broadway run. It’s entertaining, fun and educational. It is a must see. The family show is suitable for children ten and up. It runs through October 23 at the November Theatre.
For tickets, showtimes, rush tickets, student matinees, and discount information, visit Virginia Rep.