Critic won't review '1776' he's in it

June 17, 1994|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Special to The Sun

Ordinarily this space would be filled by a review of "1776," the superb musical depicting the personal and political trials that led to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

But there can be no review here of the Annapolis Dinner Theatre production, for in the newspaper business dear reader, it's considered bad form for the critic to critique himself.

Yes, lurking amid the gifted actors who portray our forefathers is none other than yours truly, Phil Greenfield, who has donned his white tights and page-boy wig to play 26-year-old Edward Rutledge, the courtly South Carolinian whose aggressive pro-slavery stance nearly derailed Congress' adoption of Jefferson's immortal handiwork.

It hardly seems fair: At last I get to play a fellow gentleman conservative and he turns out to be a racist jerk who nearly fouls up American independence and all but hands his countrymen the Civil War on a platter. Nice guy.

But, on the other hand, he gets to sing one heck of a song.

So, the proverbial shoe is on the other foot. The judge may now indeed be judged.

So how does it feel for the critic to await the verdict of others for a change? In truth, it feels marvelous.

I saw "1776" on Broadway 24 years ago on my senior class trip to New York City and have wanted to sing Rutledge's song "Molasses to Rum" on stage ever since. It feels great -- if a tad ironic -- to be in the position to do it now.

Indeed, it's interesting to work with actors I may have zapped in print at one time or another. A couple of those initial collegial smiles seemed plastered into place, now that I think about it.

One colleague reminded me that I'd once criticized him for being a bit too Presley-esque on stage. So I started calling him Elvis in the dressing room. And he smiles . . . on the outside, anyway.

But no critic could be as exacting as the two small ones I've sired. Joann, 9, and Benjamin, 7, are "1776" aficionados (we own the video), and as Dad was prepping for the role, their advice came fast and furious.

Benjy called sweetly for his Daddy late one night a few weeks ago. For a reassuring hug? Don't be ridiculous. "Dad," he said at 12:17 a.m., "I want the middle of your song to be more legato."

"C'mon Dad, don't say 'out of Boston' like it's three words," said Joann, her voice dripping with reproachment. "It's 'outta, Dad. Outta.' "

Finally, I hit the roof. "The next person who tells me how to sing this song had better bloody well be able to really sing it better than I can," I stormed at my wife one day.

"Actually," she replied, "I think you're handling the beginning much too romantically."

Sigh. If a reviewer pans me, it will pale in comparison with the in-house abuse I've already taken.

So by all means, drop by the Annapolis Dinner Theatre this summer to see and hear the great pontificator in action. I'll be the chubby one with the barrettes in my shoes.

And perhaps my stint as Rutledge will make my written criticism even more tolerant and accepting than ever.

Now if there were just some way to get those blokes who work the bar to stop clinking their blasted cocktail glasses every night as America is being invented.

"1776" will play through Aug. 20. The Annapolis Dinner Theater is on U.S. 50 just east of the capital city. Call 626-7515 for ticket


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