`1776,' patriotic entertainment

Musical: This weekend, the Naval Academy Glee Club will bring the former Broadway hit to life. "1776" won five Tony Awards, and was named best musical of the year.

February 11, 1999|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and the rest of the Second Continental Congress went about the business of inventing America, they must have sensed that their words and deeds would be of interest to posterity.

Visionaries though they were, I doubt they could have dreamed that their act of revolution would furnish the libretto for one of the most engaging musicals crafted for the American stage.

But it did. And this weekend, almost 30 years after it opened on Broadway, "1776" will come to life at Mahan Hall on the campus of the Naval Academy, courtesy of the Academy Glee Club. The midshipmen's production of the Sherman Edwards-Peter Stone musical will play at 8 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, Feb. 19 and 20, and 3 p.m. Sunday and Feb. 21.

"1776" became an enormous hit in 1969. It won five Tony Awards, beating out "Hair" for best musical of the year. It ran on Broadway for three years, and enjoyed a successful run in London's West End as well.

Even Hollywood flattered the play's artistic intentions by turning it into one of the best musical films ever adapted for the screen.

"It's really a play with songs rather than a musical with a capital `M'," said John Barry Talley, the academy's director of musical activities who will conduct the performances.

With dialogue culled from the congressional debates on independence, the play is packed with wit and suspense.

"I always figured Jefferson took a couple of days to write the Declaration and then they voted on it," Talley said. "But it was a long, intense process full of excitement, and that's what the play shows so well. It's patriotism, history, and entertainment all at the same time."

The score for "1776" is packed with engaging songs, ranging from the amusing "Sit Down, John!", which expresses Congress' impatience with Adams' diatribes against the British crown, to the extraordinary "Molasses to Rum," in which South Carolina's Edward Rutledge evokes a sinister slave auction as he lambastes the North's hypocritical complicity in the slave trade.

The founders pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. Little did they know they were bequeathing us remarkable theater as well.

Information: 410-268-6060.

Pub Date: 2/11/99

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