The fight for in­de­pen­dence be­gins with song tonight in ‘1776’

Port Tobacco Play­ers stage mu­si­cal about na­tion’s found­ing be­gin­ning this week­end

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By JAMIE ANFENSON-COMEAU jan­fen­son-comeau@somd­ Twitter: @JamieA CIndyNews

The place is Philadel­phia; the year is 1776. The Sec­ond Con­ti­nen­tal Con­gress is re­luc­tantly de­bat­ing the sub­ject of in­de­pen­dence as the Bri­tish Army closes in. The per­fect set­ting for … a mu­si­cal?

The Port Tobacco Play­ers’ pro­duc­tion of “1776” runs for four week­ends, be­gin­ning this week­end and run­ning un­til Aug. 7 in La Plata.

Orig­i­nally pre­mier­ing on Broad­way in 1969, “1776” is a hu­mor­ous, his­tor­i­cal mu­si­cal fo­cus­ing on the ef­forts of Con­ti­nen­tal Con­gress del­e­gates John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to per­suade their col­leagues to vote to ap­prove the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, with mu­sic and lyrics by Sher­man Ed­wards and a based on a book by Peter Stone.

When Adams’ at­tempts to get the frac­tious del­e­gates from the 13 Colonies to vote for in­de­pen­dence stalls, fel­low del­e­gate Thomas Jef­fer­son pro­poses the cre­ation of a Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, to lay out in plain words the cause of in­de­pen­dence and the need to take up arms against Great Bri­tain.

Jef­fer­son is tasked with writ­ing the Dec­la­ra­tion, while Adams at­tempts to drum up sup­port among the del­e­gates. All the while, let­ters from Gen­eral Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton in­di­cate that morale amongst the Con­ti­nen­tal Army is slip­ping as the Bri­tish are clos­ing in.

Op­pos­ing their ef­forts is John Dickinson, del­e­gate from Penn­syl­va­nia, who is hope­ful a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion can be reached be­tween the colonies and Great Bri­tain.

The play runs for three hours and is di­vided into two acts, with five scenes in the first act, and two in the sec­ond, with a 15-minute in­ter­mis­sion.

The Port Tobacco Play­ers’ pro­duc­tion fea­tures a live orches­tra in a pit be­low the stage.

For di­rec­tor Joselle Gilpin, the play is an op­por­tu­nity to bring a per­sonal fa­vorite to the stage in Charles County.

“My hus­band and I first saw it on the bi­cen­ten­nial, and we loved it. Our kids have grown up with it, so this has been very spe­cial for us,” Gilpin said.

Gilpin said it was chal­leng­ing cast­ing for “1776,” which has 27 stage roles and re­quires ac­tors to sing and, in the case of some parts, to dance as well.

“It is a hugely male-dom­i­nated show,” Gilpin said. The mu­si­cal only has two fe­male parts. “We are very lucky that we have a lot of tal­ent in South­ern Mary­land but when you’re cast­ing for 20-some­thing men at one time, it’s dif­fi­cult. We were very lucky to get ac­tors who could also sing.”

John “Jack” Fa­herty plays Caesar Rod­ney, a del­e­gate from Delaware in the pro­duc­tion. This is Fa­herty’s sec­ond time per­form­ing in “1776” on the Port Tobacco Play­ers’ stage; the first time was in 1976.

“Back then it was just a group of guys hav­ing a good time, but this is a class act,” said Fa­herty, who played Rhode Is­land del­e­gate Stephen Hop­kins in the 1976 pro­duc­tion. “I was 35 then, I’m 75 now, it’s a lot more ef­fort now than it was then. I love ev­ery minute of it, I’m back into the swing, and I thor­oughly en­joy it. I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

“He came out al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter we started au­di­tions,” Gilpin said of Fa­herty. “We are so ex­cited to have him.”

Tommy Scott plays Adams. Scott has per­formed in other pro­duc­tions of “1776,” but this is his first time play­ing Adams. Scott said he re­searched a num­ber of sources in prepa­ra­tion for the role of the mu­si­cal’s cen­tral char­ac­ter.

“Years ago, I read sev­eral bi­ogra­phies on Adams, and of course I’ve watched the HBO minis­eries with Paul Gia­matti, and I’ve seen the ‘1776’ movie and Wil­liam Daniels’ por­trayal, so I think I’ve tried to in­cor­po­rate all of those por­tray­als into this one; I hope that I’m suc­ceed­ing,” Scott said.

Scott said he finds Adams’ drive and tenac­ity com­pelling.

“In the face of an en­tire Con­gress who didn’t want any­thing to do with lis­ten­ing to his talk of in­de­pen­dence, and he just kept go­ing and kept go­ing un­til he fi­nally achieved what he wanted,” Scott said.

Ab­bie Derosiers plays Abi­gail Adams, the main char­ac­ter’s wife. Al­though she is not present in Philadel­phia at the time, she is present within John Adams’ imag­i­na­tion and in let­ters ex­changed be­tween the two.

Derosiers said it was dif­fer­ent play­ing a char­ac­ter who ex­ists only in an­other char­ac­ter’s mind.

“It’s very in­ter­est­ing, be­cause she doesn’t have a stan­dard char­ac­ter arc like some of th­ese other char­ac­ters; she just sort of blips in and says, ‘John, it’s me,’ and then she just floats away, but it’s been great fun,” Derosiers said.

Gilpin said that al­though the mu­si­cal plays fast and loose with his­tor­i­cal de­tails and per­son­ages, it can serve as a start­ing point for peo­ple who would like to learn more about this piv­otal event in Amer­i­can his­tory.

“This is a fam­ily show; there are a cou­ple of ‘damns’, but it is a fam­ily show,” Gilpin said. “I think that’s what this can do, it can bring peo­ple in in a way that’s fun, and maybe en­cour­age them to do a lit­tle re­search on their own.”

Show­times of “1776” are 8 p.m. on Fri­days and Satur­days, and 3 p.m. on Sun­days through Aug. 7. Tick­ets are $18 each for gen­eral ad­mis­sion, and $15 for se­niors, stu­dents and mil­i­tary per­son­nel. The Port Tobacco Play­ers The­ater is at 508 Charles St. in La Plata.


Benjamin Franklin, played by Peter Ull­man, John Adams, played by Tommy Scott, and Thomas Jef­fer­son, played by Matt Jones, sing “The Egg” in Act 2 of the Port Tobacco Play­ers’ pro­duc­tion of “1776.”

Ab­bie Derosiers as Abi­gail Adams and Tommy Scott as John Adams in the Port Tobacco Play­ers’ pro­duc­tion of “1776.”

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