American History Comes to Life in “1776”

Photo courtesy of MadKap Productions
Statesmen gather to debate the Declaration of Independence in the hot summer of 1776 in Philadelphia.

Knowing the heated arguments going on in Congress right now, one can only imagine what our founding fathers must have endured rebelling against England and King George in 1776. Fifty years ago, the musical play 1776, made its Broadway debut, followed by a film version in 1972. Now, this historical (and hysterical) play is being performed by MadKap Productions at the Skokie Theatre until July 21.

Written by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone, this musical tells the story leading up to the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence. A cast of characters based on historical facts shares with the audience the account of the 2nd Continental Congress and how the birth of the United States of America came to be. It’s funny, sad, touching and memorable.

The play is directed by Wayne Mell, choreographed by Marianne Brown with musical direction by Aaron Kaplan and produced by Wendy Kaplan.

The play opens with a powerful image as the statesmen of the original colonies stand motionless, as if frozen in time.

The cast of 1776 courtesy of Wayne Mell, Madkap Productions.
John Adams (Sean Michael Barrett) and Ben Franklin (Edward Kuffert) lead the statesmen at the 2nd Continental Congress in “1776” (MadKap Productions)

Sean Barrett as John Adams is outstanding, with a strong, domineering voice he uses to get his way and sway the vote to Yay for independence. Joseph Jefferson Award-nominee Edward Kuffert is Ben Franklin, the voice of reason in untenable times. Franklin is always quoting himself, while the audience laughs in recognition. Franklin is the senior statesman, earning the respect of the others who hang on his every word. Kuffert is a standout. Gretchen Kimmeth is Abigail Adams, the most powerful of women in the cast and Emily Ann O’Brien as Martha Jefferson looks as beautiful as she sings. But it is the magnificent voices of Andrew Buel as Richard Henry Lee and Jeffrey Luksik as Edward Rutledge who make the audience stop and take notice. This is more than singing; this is opera. Joe Lewis as the courier, turned into a more in-depth character, is also excellent as the soulful balladeer.

Sean Michael Barrett and Gretchen Kimmeth are John and Abigail Adams in “1776”

The cast demonstrates a range of emotions as the statesmen must all come to grips with their duties and responsibilities to their new country as well as their own families. More poignantly, the hypocrisy of slavery arises and is stricken from the original Declaration document. Sadly, the audience knows what happens less than one hundred years later.

Kudos to costume designer Broadway World Award-winner Patty Halajian for her gorgeous, colorful, striking costumes for both the statesmen and women. Credit Wayne Mell for set design which utilizes the stage and steps for maximum impact.

The cast of 1776

See 1776 while it’s here and take along a child or two to share the important story of America’s founding.

The Skokie Theatre is located at 7924 Lincoln Ave in downtown Skokie. Tickets are $45 general admission, $38 for seniors and students.  See their website for a complete line up of shows and events at SkokieTheatre.org or call the box office at 847-677-7761.

1776 is the first of a four-show series which also includes The Fantasticks in September, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Marjorie Prime in November, and concludes next February with the thriller Veronica’s Room.

About MadKap Productions
MadKap is celebrating its 5th anniversary year at Skokie Theatre and is the recipient of the 2019 Artistic Excellence award from the Village of Skokie Fine Arts Commission. Wendy Kaplan and Wayne Mell formed MadKap Productions in 2012 and have premiered ground-breaking new plays like Clutter: The True Story of the Collier Brothers Who Never Threw Anything Out and Mr. Shaw Goes To Hollywood.

 

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