I made a huge mistake before going to see 1776 at Super Summer Theatre tonight: I read a review. Las Vegas Review-Journal critic Anthony Del Valle had lukewarm comments. Luckily, I was more in the mood for easy emotion than technical detail.
1776 would be hard to screw up. As someone recently noted about one part of the Founders’ story–the death of Adams and Jefferson on the 50th anniversary of their signing the Declaration of Independence, on July 4, 1826–no author, if the Revolution had been fictional, would have had the audacity to write something so impossibly Romantic. And yet it happened. The story of our nation’s birth is audacious; audacious and inspiring and exciting and full of humanity. 1776 captures all of this wonderfully–it serves you up thigh-slapping jokes and misty-eyed pride on the same silver platter.
Overall, though, I wonder if this production was too reverently modeled on the 1972 film of the play–for example, Nick Caruso as John Adams does his best to channel William Daniels from the big screen, even copying his inflections of certain words and his habit of throwing his head back and airily waving his hand to scoff at others. Granted, the way the role is written, there isn’t a very wide spectrum in which one could play Adams, but I’d hope that in the near-immediate wake of Paul Giamatti’s stellar, acclaimed portrayal of Adams in the HBO miniseries of David McCullogh’s eponymous biography of our second president, an updated interpretation should be viable.
Still, at least Caruso plays Adams well. Kevin Ruud, as Benjamin Franklin, botched several lines near the end of the play, and his listless work made him miss the comic timing on a few key sight gags. Perhaps also basing his character on the film, he tries to make Franklin a laconic wit, but only succeeds in giving us a nasal goofball. (Incidentally, I have a similar complaint about Michael Gambon’s work as Dumbledore in the more recent Harry Potter movies. Richard Harris, in the first two films, made Dumbledore a reticent sage. Gambon turned him into a silly hippie.)
Del Valle, in his review, especially criticized the number, “Momma, Look Sharp,” saying it was poorly staged, with superfluous movement that detracted from the song’s gravity. Either he read that scene wrong or the actors revised the scene as per the review, because what I saw was restrained and dignified. It was tasteful…and also more in line with the film version. Alas, at the one point where this production thought outside the box, it was quickly beaten back in. But I suppose this might have been for the best.
But as I said, I enjoyed it. The musical numbers were all crisply delivered, the singing so good that it took the rare sour note to remind me how good the ensemble was. And there’s a bold, patriotic flourish at the end involving a large display of the Declaration that catches you off balance at first, but fits perfectly in this rustic yet sincere love note to a classic musical.
Overall Grade: B
Ancillary items reviewed:
- Chocolate chip cookies from Cosco: still moist after a week, and substantial enough to offer hearty mouth fulls of bakery goodness. A-
- Stars: more visible out at Spring Mountain Ranch than at any time in the city in at least twenty years. Not saying much, really, as there were no more than a hundred or so, but enough of an improvement to please me. Besides, what in life isn’t better when set under a starry sky? B+
- The breeze: messed up actors’ microphones a bit near the end, but added some life to the otherwise staid set, and a nice bit of wind can certainly help take the edge off a summer evening. For that matter, breezes and summer evenings should be required to come in a package, like chocolate and peanut butter. I know they’re not, but they should be. B+
- The dragonfly that tried to kiss me: I sure don’t get to see these very often, and when they are encountered, it’s usually while visiting someplace humid. This one came out of nowhere and got nice and close, which I didn’t mind, until it got too close to the cookies, at which point it was flirting with a swift and horrid destruction. Sensing danger, my new friend absconded for safer snacks to investigate. All’s well that ends well. A-
- The kids staying at Grandma’s house tonight: A+