Piddle, twiddle, ‘tis well resolved




Book by Peter Stone

Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards

Directed and Choreographed by Brian Feehan

Musical Direction by Brenna Sage

The St. Bart's Players (

St. Bartholomew's Church, 51st Street and Park Avenue

Non-union production (closes November 18, 2007)

Review by Judd Hollander


Kudos to The St. Bart's Players for a strong presentation of one of the must rousing (and at times, most difficult) musicals around: 1776. Set in Philadelphia at the Second Continental Congress during the year indicated in the title, 1776 is the story of Massachusetts representative John Adams (Brien Milesi) and his efforts, along with a little help from the likes of Ben Franklin (Jim Mullins) and Thomas Jefferson (Michael Weems) to pass a resolution declaring that the 13 united colonies of America are no longer subject to the British crown and are (and ought to be) free and independent states.


It's not giving away much to say that Adams was ultimately successfully one day early in July of that year; that said declaration was signed and that American won its independence. But the crux of Stone's tightly written book is not what happens, but how (and to a lesser degree) why it happens. Although the outcome is never in doubt, one is kept guessing till the very end as to how Adams and company will pull it off, along with what sacrifices (physical, moral and emotional) they will they have to make in order to get this new nation born. So much dialogue is necessary to cover all this material that at one point, more than 20 minutes passes between musical numbers - a record in the genre.


It's also interesting to see the various delegates from the 13 colonies, each with their own agenda. This includes John Dickinson (Kevin Kiniry) of Pennsylvania, desperate for the colonies to keep their allegiance to Great Britain; Edward Rutledge (Jason Burrow) of South Carolina, who wants to make sure slavery remains legal; and Joseph Hewes (Robert Martz) of North Carolina, who is more interesting in deep-sea fishing rights than anything else. There are a lot of interesting political digs in the script (especially in regards to the New York legislature), proving such things as political ineptitude and inertia aren't exactly recent occurrences.


Milesi makes a strong Adams, never speaking softly when a shout will do, and having no use for diplomacy or the refined gentleness of the more conservative member of Congress. Mullins is nicely irascible as Franklin, always ready with a quip, joke or cutting remark, under which are often buried some hard truths. Weems is good as the quite but passionate Jefferson, and David Pasteelnick is enjoyable in his brief appearance as the foppish Richard Henry Lee of Virginia - the one who actually proposes independence, for those keeping track of such things.


Standing head and shoulders above everybody else in the singing department are Amy Jane Finnerty and  Reanna Muskovitz in the roles of Abigail Adams and Martha Jefferson, respectively. More than anyone else in the play, these two women make their characters come alive. Finnerty as the strong and steady New Englander still deeply in love with her husband after years of sometimes hard family life in the solid ‘Yours, Yours, Yours’; and Muskovitz as the young bride from Virginia awash in the passion of first love with the lilting melodies of ‘He Plays The Violin’.


Edwards' entire score works quite well, from the enjoyable ‘Sit Down John’ and ‘The Lees of Old Virginia’ to the haunting ‘Momma Look Sharp’ (about the horrors of war), and the bitterly ironic ‘Molasses to Rum to Slaves’ - a tune which shows no one's hands were really clean on that subject. And the rousing finale is the perfect ending to the show.


However, while Stone's book is fascinating, it's also quite dense. With 26 characters (each of the 13 colonies are represented, some by more than one person) plus various other people coming in and out of the tale, at times it's hard to distinguish one historical figure from another, especially since many have only a handful of lines. As such, while one can stay focused on the main characters, the rest of the group tends to blur.


Another problem, unique to this production, is its rather poor sound quality. The St. Bart's Players usual space at St. Bartholomew's is currently under renovation so 1776 takes place in the church itself. It's a beautiful venue, but so large it swallows up much of the sound, the result being large portions of dialogue (and songs lyrics) are lost.


The set by Brian Howard is quite nice, although it's not as tall as it should be. As a result, a key prop, a board listing the various colonies and where they stand at different points during the voting for independence, is not visible from everywhere in the audience. The show also has some problems with sightlines, with certain areas getting an obscured view of the action.


Despite these shortcomings (including some lines being flubbed here and there), 1776 is a lot of fun (if a bit long). Brian Feehan's direction and choreography keeps thing moving nicely, making good use of the various entrances and exits when moving the cast on and off stage. Anne Lommel's costumes are excellent, showing the care that went into this production pretty much all around. Informative, interesting and, in this era of red and blue states, 1776 is quite the breath of fresh air.


Also in the cast are  Joe Hunt, Jack Molyneaux, Bob Oliver, Dan Grinko, Bill McEnaney, Mitchell Scott Shapiro, Brian Haggerty, Miles Lott, David Salyers, Bradford Harlan, Kelvin Ortega, Michael Blake, Ken Altman, Joe Gambino, Richard Berens, Michael Vannoni and Jack Barnett.


Box Score:


Writing: 2

Directing: 2

Acting: 2

Sets: 1

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 1


Copyright 2007 by Judd Hollander



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