October 6, 2016
If you happen to be a history buff who likes musicals, or vice versa, and you don’t feel like spending that proverbial “arm and leg” for a Broadway production, I have a solution. The show is called “1776,” which runs until November 6. The outlet is the landmark John W. Engeman Theater in the picturesque town of Northport, New York. And the experience, unless you are a past attendee at this regional playhouse, will leave you wondering why it took you so long to discover this memorable outlet.
“1776,” for course, is no stranger to anyone who fancies themselves as a musical theater aficionado. The 1969 Tony Award winning production, with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and book by Peter Stone, is based on the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It dramatizes the efforts of frustrated John Adams (played here by Jamie LaVeriere, who adeptly mixes angst and moments of comedy and romance) to persuade his colleagues in the thirteen colonies to vote for American independence and to sign the document.
Naturally, writing history can be a painstakingly serious task. But as representatives of the colonies gather for the rousing first number, “For God’s Sake, John, Sit Down,” the mixture of drama and a good dose of humor becomes the inherent path for this two-hour production. And the arrival of Jennifer Hope Wills as Abigail Adams, the wife of John (and one of only two females in the entire show), displayed his softer, showcasing what life was like at that time for anyone of a female persuasion. A shining moment was Wills belting out “Yours, Yours, Yours.”
John Adams was not alone in his history making efforts, and credit, in particular, goes to David Studwell as fatherly Benjamin Franklin, the voice of reason, and Michael Glavan as Thomas Jefferson. As Jefferson yearns to see his wife Martha (Adriana Milbrath), the result is the truly glorious rendition of “He Plays to Violin” with LaVerdiere and Studewell.
Position mention also goes to the cluttered cast, who housed in that painfully warm room bickering about the Declaration of Independence manage to each have a standout moment…or two. In particular is Peter Saide as Edward Rutledge, who belts out “Molasses to Rum” with gusto. But it is young Matthew Rafanelli as the Courier, whose emotional rendition of “Momma Look Sharp,” which details the loss of the boys in the battlefield that leaves the audience in tears before intermission.
A sharp contrast to the glorious sing-along “Mamma Mia!” this past summer, the arrival of “1776” and upcoming “Mary Poppins” proves there is something for every member of the family at the John Engeman Theater.