A robust, sensual take on our favorite patriotic musical.
By Joel Benjamin
“So, sue me, sue me, what can you do me,” *I prefer 1776 to the theatrical juggernaut Hamilton. If the recent robust and inspiring performance of a trimmed down concert version of the Sherman Edwards/Peter Stone patriotic hit at Feinstein’s/54 Below was any evidence, this show has more warmth and inspiration than that hit.
1776 has become a yearly July 4th ritual at this popular nightclub. This year the cast members, directed by Matt Redmond, were substantially younger than in previous years and their performances were eager and exuberant, beginning with Kyle Scatliffe whose booming voice and sensuality gave a new spin to John Adams beginning with his complaint song “Piddle, Twiddle and Resolve” and ending with his heartrending “Is Anybody There” which is Adams’ powerful vision of the nation he helped create.
All the singers found nuance and new life in this score. Scatliffe’s duets with the Abigail Adams of Carrie St. Claire had real passion, their two near-operatic voices joining perfectly in “Till Then” and “Yours, Yours, Yours.”
Kyle Timson was a charming Benjamin Franklin, turning him into a kind of a brilliant puppy dog. He was far less kvetchy than most men who play this role. As Thomas Jefferson, Sam Hartley, wasn’t the tall romantic figure, but an astute, humble man who underplays his own Declaration, particularly in “But, Mr. Adams,” the song in which he is persuaded to write the darned thing!
Alex Prakken used his one moment to shine, “Mama Look Sharp,” to great effect, breaking hearts of every listener with his tale of a young Revolutionary War fighter’s death. So did Wade McCollum with his booming, sardonic “Molasses to Rum.” McCollum, bearded and big-voiced, was almost scary as he dug into this tale of hypocrisy.
Kim McClay’s as Martha Jefferson didn’t take full advantage of her one song, the double entendre trio with Adams and Franklin, “He Plays the Violin” about her just ended tryst with her hubby. She missed the luscious subtext, although her voice is a pleasant and pleasing instrument.
The rest of the cast members, all wonderful, were Michael McCorry Rose, Michael Hull, Ben Biggers, Jordan Jacobs and Nathan Goodrich.
The small, but sassy band, under the musical direction of pianist Geraldine Anello included Kiku Enomoto (violin), Andrea Neumann (trombone) and Russ Nyberg (drums/percussion), all making the most of the score.
Upcoming 54 Sings show include Man of La Mancha, Hello Muddah, Hello Faddah, A Broadway Musical and the cast of Cats singing the songs of Andrew Lloyd Webber. Check their website for further information.
*A gold star to any reader who knows where that quote is from!