In her director’s notes to SLOC’s “1776,” Heather-Liz Copps rightly says, “The musical play you’re about to see is funny, charming, and incredibly poignant. You’ll be amazed to see how much of it still resonates today in local and national politics.”
It’s to her credit (and that of producers Mary Darcy & Melissa Marie Narusky and music director Amy Shake) that the production of this 50-year-old Tony winner is a success.
And, of course, to the enormous cast, orchestra, and tech team.
This story of the Second Continental Congress, led by John Hancock (James W. Alexander), discussing independence from Great Britain doesn’t feel like a full-blown musical (lyrics and music by Sherman Edwards, book by Peter Stone) because there are long stretches of dialogue — not a criticism, merely an observation about what to expect.
“Funny”? You bet. Whether it’s the snarky comments of wise Ben Franklin (Joe Phillips) or the more waspish remarks of intellectual John Adams (Gary M. Hoffmann); the silly behavior of Richard Henry Lee, exhibited so wondrously by Tommy Swimm in “The Lees of Old Virginia;” the opening number, “Sit Down, John,” wherein the heat-bedraggled congressmen tell Adams to stop talking, thus reminding us that these guys were ordinary men before they were illustrious signatories to our founding document — well, laughter abounds.
“Poignant”? Abigail Adams (Emily Rose) and Martha Jefferson (Elizabeth Sterling) reveal the cost to the families of these men in public service, and, in “Mamma, Look Sharp,” the courier (Daryl Travis M. Hirschfeld) movingly sings of the costs of war. Listen, too, to Dave Dixon’s touching readings of battlefield dispatches from a desperate Gen. George Washington.
Another source of poignance occurs in Act II as the men tackle Thomas Jefferson’s (Nick Foster) first draft of the Declaration. The sharpest challenge to his text comes from Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, commenting on the North’s hypocrisy about slavery. Shawn Olander-Hahn tears it up with “Molasses to Rum.”
How much of it “still resonates today in local and national politics?” Listen to the knowing laughter of the audience as Lewis Morris (John J. Quinan) of New York amusingly muddles his way through abstentions on every vote; observe North Carolina’s Joseph Hewes (Michael J. Murphy) fanning himself with boredom at the proceedings; appreciate the heroics of Delaware’s Caesar Rodney (Bill Hickman) to fulfill his responsibility, illness notwithstanding; notice James Wilson’s (David E. Rook) moral wrestling with party over country; and ponder the rip-roaring debate between John Dickinson (a first-rate Rick Reed throughout) and Adams.
The cast is finely dressed and be-wigged by, respectively, Michele Santucci and John Fowler, and play on a handsome set by Jeff Rauhauser. Kevin O’Toole is responsible for the smart stepping in “But, Mr. Adams” and the minuet “Cool, Cool, Considerate Men,” which gains savagery against the backdrop of Dixon’s readings.
Of course, the show focuses on Franklin and Adams, and in Phillips and Hoffmann the production has two highly accomplished performers. Phillips projects Franklin’s twinkle and common sense in both song and dialogue; Hoffmann, reprising his role from 30 years ago, makes Adams a great hero — deep-thinking, passionate, strategic — with undiminished singing and acting chops.
Copps left out the word “long,” but you will nevertheless find yourself entertained, engaged, and deeply touched at the final tableau.
WHERE: Schenectady Light Opera Company, 427 Franklin St.
WHEN: Through March 17
HOW MUCH: $18-$28
MORE INFO: 1-877-350-7378 or sloctheater.org