Theater Review: ‘1776’ formidable at NCC Summer Theatre
With rousing music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, and an engrossing book by Peter Stone, “1776” is an often whimsical, frequently poignant reminder that the tortuous path to American independence began not just on the battlefield, but on the political front, as well.
In staging the Tony Award-winning “1776,” Northampton Community College Summer Theatre Director Bill Mutimer, his production staff and amazing cast of 27 took on a formidable challenge. The result is a finely-crafted, highly-professional, immensely-entertaining offering. The July 5 performance was seen for this review.
Beginning with the cast members who portray the numerous delegates to the Continental Congress, everyone has his moment in the spotlight, particularly during the roll-call vote for independence.
Each portrays his or her character’s personality and political proclivities with such authenticity that it is hard to believe that this is a cast made up almost entirely of young actors.
The lead actors are Matthew Michael (John Adams), Rick Stoneback (Benjamin Franklin) and Patrick Mertz (Thomas Jefferson), In equally-strong supporting roles are William Jackson (Richard Henry Lee), Erich Schleck (Edward Rutledge), Laura Sweeney Riker (Abigail Adams) and Kimberly Tassinaro (Martha Jefferson).
Michael is notably obnoxious as Adams, whose stubbornness almost scuttled the vote for independence, but shows a softer, more vulnerable side, as well. His duets in “Till Then” and “Yours, Yours, Yours” with the vision of his wife Abigail (Riker) are among his best-sung and most touching scenes.
Stoneback, the only Equity actor in the cast, skillfully captures the nuances of Ben Franklin the diplomat, philosopher, statesman and ultimately, realist in the face of unbeatable opposition.
As Jefferson, Mertz is as adept at playing the staunch patriot as he is the love-sick husband and the author of the Declaration of Independence who ultimately compromises his views on slavery to win the overall battle.
All three leads showcase their musical comedy skills as a trio singing “The Egg.” Now we know why the turkey isn’t the United States’ national bird.
The two female actors provide a much-needed respite from the intense debate scenes. Riker comes across beautifully as Adams’ determined wife, who talks and sings to her husband with love, support and caring, tempered with the strength to have her views heard.
Tassinaro is charming as Jefferson’s bride, whose singing and dancing around Adams and Franklin adds zest to what could have been a much less interesting scene.
On the darker side, Schleck gives an explosive rendition of “Molasses To Rum” as Rutledge, the South Carolina delegate arguing the case for slavery, and condemning what he views as the hypocrisy of the abolitionists.
Notable among the featured players is Jack Boyd as the courier, who spent most of the show coming down and going up stairs delivering dispatches from General Washington. At the end of Act One, however, he finds his voice in a riveting rendition of “Momma, Look Sharp,” reminding us that while politicians were debating, soldiers were dying.
Music direction (Lucille Kincaid), choreography (Cristina Williams), scenic and light design (Brett Oliveira) and costume coordination (Brenda McGuire) create a delightful theatrical experience.
According to the script, Ben Franklin is supposed to have said, “Independence has never been done.” Maybe so, but with “1776” the musical, it has never been done better.
NCC Summer Theatre’s “1776” concluded July 15. Next at NCC Summer Theatre: “Dreamgirls,” July 25-Aug. 5.
Tickets: Lipkin Theatre box office, Northampton Community College, 3835 Green Pond Road, Bethlehem Township; nccsummertheatre.org nccsummertheatre.org