“1776” may be about white men sitting down and hashing out a Declaration of Independence, but as for the SLOC production of the Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone musical it’s the women that are in charge.
Heather-Liz Copps is directing the Broadway smash from 1969, and assisting her are musical director Amy Shake, co-producers Mary Darcy and Meliussa Narusky, and assistant producer Rory Alexa DiCristofaro. All are female, a fact that wasn’t lost on Copps.
“Yeah, I love it that our core production team is all female, but I did have a purpose,” she said. “Having all females was a great way to make sure I didn’t to lose any men for the cast, so it s a predominantly male cast being run predominantly by women.”
That was fine with Bill Hickman, who plays Delaware delegate Cesar Rodney. This is Hickman’s fourth time time on stage in “1776.” He’s done it twice with the New York State Theatre Institute in Troy, playing another Delaware delegate, George Read, in 2006 and again in 2008 when NYSTI reprised the production. He also played Ben Franklin in 1989 when SLOC did a production on the main stage at Proctors.
“I’ve been around here since 1960 and I’ll tell you Heather-Liz and her staff are doing a great job,” said Hickman, who has also done a lot of work with the Schenectady Civic Players. “They’re using Facebook and other social media things, and from the backstage standpoint they are an extremely efficient team the way they’re working. I’ve been in this business a long time and Heather has the most organized approach I’ve ever seen. She’s tremendous.”
While “1776” is Copps’ directorial debut at SLOC, among her many credits as a performer at SLOC are “Curtains,” “South Pacific,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels,” “Cabaret,” and “The Producers.” She says she’s been thinking about staging her own production of “1776” for a long time, .
“I was a history nerd and I fell in love with it when I saw it back at NYSTI in 2006,” she said. “You might think it wouldn’t be that interesting, but it’s one of the most charming shows I’ve ever seen on stage. All these Founding Fathers are presented as real people with real struggles, and the issues they were fighting over are the same things you hear in politics today on CNN. The story really works.”
“1776” was nominated for five Tonys in 1969 and won three of them, including Best Musical. There are 24 men in the cast, led by Gary Hoffman as John Adams, Nick Foster as Thomas Jefferson, Joe Phillips as Benjamin Fanklin and Rick Reed as John Dickinson. The two women in the cast are Emily Rose as Abigail Adams and Elizabeth Sterling as Martha Jefferson. While Copps was concerned about getting enough good men to fill out the cast, she need not have worried.
“We had over 50 people show up for auditions so we did have to turn away quite a few,” said Copps, a Clifton Park native and Shenendehowa High grad. “That’s quite a bit, and it’s great. It’s an indication that SLOC is a company that does quality productions. People want to work with them. We got incredibly lucky because we got some great talent for the principal roles. We wanted to get those guys real close to the character’s physical appearance. Everyone came in and auditioned for whatever role they were interested in, but then we had to take a look and see who fit best where.”
Developmental Manager for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Capital Region since July of 2017, Copps has had to curtail her theater activity to a degree.
“Since I started at the Ronald McDonald House I have had to take a step back,” she said. “I would do three or four shows a year, and now I’m down to one or two shows but that’s fine.”
Copps, who attended Marymount Manhattan College and got a master’s in theater history at The Catholic University of America, has also directed the New York Legislative Correspondents Association Show in Albany the last two years.
If Copps were to lose one of her key actors in the cast this week, Hickman could probably take over. He knows the show as well as anyone.
“I went back and watched the movie again the other night, and in my view it’s almost 100 percent adapted from the stage play,” he said. “It’s almost exactly the same dialogue. They created a few outdoor scenes for the movie, and it’s a marvelous film, but it’s the stage play on film. I’m honored to be involved in another production.”
WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company, 427 Franklin St., Schenectady
WHEN: Opens Friday and runs through March 17; performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday
HOW MUCH: $28-$22
MORE INFO: Visit www.sloctheater.org, or call 1 (877) 350-7378