Successful Broadway plays often have revivals, but perhaps no other Tony Award-winning musical has flew under the radar as much as 1776.
Asolo Reperatory Theatre placed itself in the best position to pull off this updated production of 1776 with Sarasota resident and Tony Award-winning director Frank Galati who is teaming up with his longtime partner Peter Amster, a choreographer who was a part of the first national tour of 1776. (It's also the first time the two worked together in years.)
"Forty-three years after opening on Broadway, 1776 remains a one-of-a-kind work of sophistication without irony, corn without camp and history without apology," Galati. "Today, the show reintroduces our Asolo Rep audiences to our Founding Fathers and Mothers in musical mode."
The show opens with previews at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday and then opening night is 8 p.m. Friday. The play runs through Dec. 22 with three specially programmed matinee performances (details at the end of this story.
1776 isn't your standard history play or musical for that matter and Galati said it was once considered one of the "worst ideas for a musical and a musical about the Founding Fathers" but became a smash. The play explores the birth of a nation through the eyes of the Continental Congress and the debate over the creation of the Declaration of Independence with both light-hearted songs and moving scenes.
"It was an overwhelming experience and a complete shock," Galati said about the first time he watched the play back during its original run in New York. "The whole idea seemed like kind of cranky and off-the-wall, but it made a deep impression on me. I always loved it."
It's been 40 years since he watched a production of the play and hasn't seen the film version of it either, he said.
Like many productions, the challenge for 1776 is staying true to the interpretation while updating the piece.
"It's not the same play that it was 40 years ago because we're not the same people," Amster tells Patch. "The telling of a story depends who you're telling it to. I think we are in some ways, there are great similarities of the audience of 1969 and 2012—we're bruised, we're divided and we need healing.
"This story reminds us of how people who differed deeply and vigorously came together for something larger than themselves, and that part is still the same."
Just trying to get the key original components takes a huge effort, Galati explained, trying to manage a cast of 20, 18th-century costumes and lightning.
"I think the precedent is the skill and the artistry of the show itself," Galati told Patch. "If we're true to that, I don't think we'll miss the mark."
One of the strongest and amazing stories of the creation of the Declaration of Independence is what was left out of it, and those documents were included in a bibliography when the musical was written, Galati said.
The soon-to-be United States of America could have denounced slavery from its inception, but a South Carolina delegate Edward Rutledge demanded that Thomas Jefferson remove his denouncing of slavery, which Galati calls one of Jefferson's most eloquent passages.
"In order to preserve the union of new states, that passage was struck from the Declaration of Independence," Galati said. "Four scores and seven years later, Abraham Lincoln became the narrator of our American story."
That moment of ultimate divisiveness in American history is being remembered this year with the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War, and how far this county has come where a black man is now the president of the United States.
"But on the state, 1776 is not a history lesson. It's a musical play that against all odds became a Broadway smash hit and won the 1969 Tony for best musical, beating out both Hair and Promises, Promises that season," Galati said.
That document is almost like another character in the play and has it's own big moment. When revealed, the entire Declaration of Independence is hand painted on a backdrop, Edwards said.
Songs such as Momma, Look Sharp, He Plays the Violin and Sit Down, John are also what make the play timeless despite the somewhat anonymity of the muscial.
Asolo's Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards like many folks nowadays, never seen 1776 but was attracted more and more to the play as he delved through it through the guidance of Galati and Amster.
"One of the great joys of my life was being in their apartment and listening to this music and having them guide me into an understanding of what it was, and it became clear there was no other show to start this exploration," Edwards said.
Michael Rice is the musical director for 1776 also has a history with this play at the Historic Ford's Theatre in Washington.
"Every time you do this show, the piece itself makes it a remarkable experience," Rice said.
And so is trying to get a copy of the original eight-piece orchestra ensemble score from the previous Broadway revival. Rice contacted the orchestrator who worked on that production, Brian Besterman, to get copies of the arrangement, and the only thing they had were the sheet music copies that each performer had in the pit.
"I drove them down here and we Xeroxed them, tried to get all the pencil markings off of it we could, and that's what we're using," Rice said.
Another amazing part of 1776 is the lack of a big ending number or show-stopping finale, Amster said.
"It's just these brave men signing a document, putting their names on a piece of paper to change the world," Amster said.
The play runs from Nov. 16 to Dec. 22 with previews Nov. 13-15. Tickets cost:
- Previews range from $26-$45
- Opening Night ranges from $35-$75
- Tues/Weds range is $31-$69
- Thurs-Sat eve shows go for $34-$73
- Matinees are $29-$66
Inside Asolo Rep — 11 a.m. Nov. 28
Get a glimpse of what goes on behind the curtain in this special event featuring director Frank Galati and musical director Michael Rice leading a panel discussion with audience interaction. Lunch on the mezzanine will follow at noon to 1:30 p.m. Maintee begins at 2 p.m. ($5 for panel discussion only; $25 for panel discussion and lunch; $75 for show, lunch, discussion)
The American Family Day — 1 p.m. Dec. 1
Before the show, families in attendance will enjoy live music, food, photos and a few special suprises. Following the 2 p.m. performance, everyone in the audinece is invited for a post-show discussion with the cast. Discounted tickets are availble for familes for this performance.
Meet The Actors — 1 p.m. Dec. 9
Interact with the cast during a moderated talk-back during the performance.
Cast (In Order of Speaking)
Bernie Yvon...John Adams
Abby Mueller...Abigail Adams
Andrew Boyer...Benjamin Franklin
Jay Lustek...Richard Henry Lee
Steve Hendrickson...Andrew McNair
Don Walker...Dr. Lyman Hall
Joe D. Lauck...Stephen Hopkins
Jarrod Zimmerman...Edward Rutledge
David Lively...Col. Thomas McKean
John B. Leen...Caesar Rodney
Jeff Parker...John Dickinson
Bernard Balbot...James Wilson
Patrick Clear...John Hancock
Jim Sorensen...Charles Thomsen
Brandon Dahlquist...Thomas Jefferson
Ashley Richards...Dr. Josiah Bartlett
John Mark Jernigan...George Read
Rob Riddle...Roger Sherman
Cliff Roles...Lewis Morris
Paul Crane...Samuel Chase
Daniel Schwab...Joseph Hewes
Mitchell Walker...The Rev. John Witherspoon
Jesse Dornan...Robert Livingston
Andrea Prestinario...Martha Jefferson
Zachary Kenney...The Courier
Griffith Whitehurst...Leather Apron