The fight for independence begins with song tonight in ‘1776’
Port Tobacco Players stage musical about nation’s founding beginning this weekend
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.”