Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
1776's beloved score includes outstanding songs like "The Lees of Old Virginia," "Momma Look Sharp," and "Molasses to Rum." This fresh and daring production features a spectacular multiracial cast of female, transgender, and nonbinary actors. Despite a handful of slow moments it is a joy to watch this elevated version of the classic musical.
In the summer of 1776, representatives from all of the American colonies came together for the second Continental Congress. The musical tells the story of how those individuals fought, struggled, and eventually came together to officially declare independence from England. This production also acknowledges, and quietly grapples with, the fact that only white men were represented in the process. Directors Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus also give appropriate weight to the irreparable harm caused by those men's willingness to allow the practice of slavery to continue in their new nation.
The ensemble for this touring production is sensational. Utterly austere and unrelenting, Gisela Adisa anchors the production as the ever-exasperated John Adams. The immensely talented Liz Mikel brings warm humor and wisdom to the role of Benjamin Franklin. Richard Henry Lee is played by Shawna Hamic. Hamic brings playful energy and lots of humor to their delightful rendition of "The Lees of Old Virginia." Kassandra Haddock is appropriately haughty as Edward Rutledge, and their rendition of "Molasses to Rum" is devastating. Brooke Simpson plays the Courier and sings the powerful ballad "Momma Look Sharp," one of my favorite songs–this version is hands down the best I have seen.
Emilio Sosa's dazzling costumes are cleverly designed and flawlessly executed–evocative of the style of the time, but unapologetically re-engineered to suit the wonderful diversity of body types represented in the ensemble. The detail in these pieces is amazing, and Sosa's artistry is remarkable.
The story of 1776 is the story of the birth of America. Directors Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus' stirring production invites us to consider that story from the perspective of all Americans. It is thought provoking art, excellent theater, and a really fun time.
1776 runs through February 26, 2023, at the Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets and information, please visit the Forrest Theatre box office or www.telecharge.com. For more information on the tour, visit www.1776musical.com/.