The Observer Review: History comes alive on Engeman Stage with 1776

The Observer

September 29, 2016

David Ambro


If presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump want to get it straight, they should have driven from the Hofstra University auditorium to the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport.

The Broadway musical hit 1776 opened at the Engeman and it’s a hit, certainly more entertaining politics than the show Hillary and Donald performed at Hofstra Monday.

Presenting one of the larger casts to take to the Engeman stage, 1776 is a look back at the drama of the Founding Fathers from the original 13 colonies forging the United States Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in the summer of 1776.

After some starts and stops down the road to independence from England, a story told in classical songs and dialogue steeped in history, a rift between the North and the South leaves the fledgling United States deadlocked. To rekindle the quest for independence, Massachusetts Congressman John Adams, played by Jamie LaVerdiere, and Benjamin Franklin, played by David Studwell, broker an agreement for Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia, played by Michael Glavan, to write the Declaration under the condition that it must be unanimously approved.

After days of amendments and compromise, the Declaration close at hand, the Congress is once again deadlocked when South Carolina Congressman Edward Rutledge, played by Peter Saide, objects to language penned by Jefferson that would free the slaves.

It doesn’t come until Act II, but Saide is powerful as Rutledge with his Molasses to Rum solo and Glavan explodes out of the shadows as Jefferson in his performance of The Egg with LaVerdiere and Studwell. These guys can sing and they bring the Engeman alive with music while they deliver the story line familiar to us otherwise only through textbooks.

If history class could only be like this.

An Act I favorite is The Lees of Virginia, a song in which LaVerdiere and Studwell, as Adams and Franklin, convince Congressman Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, played by Jon Reinhold, to go home and convince his state legislature to support independence from England.

1776 is a show that features mostly male voices, with a sprinkling of the feminine touch, and at the Engeman that sprinkle is a highlight of the performance. Jennifer Hope Wills as the Congressman’s wife Abigail Adams, and Adriana Milbrath, as the Congressman’s wife Martha Jefferson, are both talented singers with beautiful voices that balance the masculine storytellers.

With all its powerful voices of skilled acting, 1776 lives up to the Engeman motto: “Bringing Broadway to Main Street,” but it is also much more. 1776 is a musical look back at the history of America which has given rise to the political discord of the day, in what has become the greatest country on earth. It’s an interesting juxtaposition with Hillary and Donald.

1776 is another one of those must see performances at the Engeman. Don’t miss it.

1776 will be playing through November 6, two days before Election Day. For tickets call 631-261-2900, or go online to or visit the theater box office at 250 Main Street in Northport Village. Tickets are $76 on Saturday evenings, $71 all other performances.


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