Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

November 1, 2007


Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam, CT
Running through December 9
By Shera Cohen

While historians may guess at facts about the creation of these United States of America, no person in this century can go backwards 230 years. The most anyone can really know is hearsay. Given this obvious information, the musical "1776" is probably the best depiction of what happened on those hot summer days in Philadelphia.

"1776" is a thrilling, you-are-there (well, almost) account of the months, days, and literally the minutes leading up to July 4th. In spite of our knowing the outcome – to separate from England or not – there is definite tension in the play as the audience awaits the final count of the 13 voting colonies. The story is dramatic at its core, yet so full of humor that one can't help but laugh out loud, and often. The dialogue and song lyrics are purposeful and important.

How Goodspeed fits 26 actors on its small stage is still a wonder. In the play's first minutes, a huge British flag/curtain rises on the poised and motionless image of our founding fathers. It is stunning and receives instant applause. Every stage element is there and is perfect; i.e. set design, costumes, hairdos, lighting. In spite of having the burden of directing such a large cast, Rob Ruggiero makes each character an individual.

Peter Carey (John Adams) leads a troupe of excellent, professional actors/singers. His is a demanding role as he portrays this physically slight man with gigantic dreams, power, ego, and even self-doubt. Carey has the most lines and songs; he is the linchpin that holds the plot and the other 25 characters together. In significant supporting roles are Ronn Carroll (Ben Franklin) who looks exactly like he should look and spouts Franklin-isms constantly; Jay Goede (John Dickinson) as the uptight, conservative naysayer of the Declaration; and Glenn S. Allen (Edward Rutledge) whose "Molasses to Rum" song is almost frightening dramatic. There are only two women in the cast, and they hold their own well with the men. In particular, Jayne Paterson creates a very real Abigail Adams.

As it began, the final curtain is quite memorable with a trick which this reviewer will not give away. Every citizen in this country should see this play at least once.