"1776" portrays the
struggles and debates of the Continental Congress which produced
America's Declaration of Independence from Great Britain and created
a democratic United States in a world of kings and kingdoms. These
pivotal events are brought to life by director Jennifer MacMurdo and
her talented cast and crew.
MacMurdo, a Lincoln
native and graduate of SIU-Carbondale, is an LCT veteran who has
acted in five productions and directed a marvelous production of
"The King and I" last summer.
Her concern for
historical accuracy in both events and characters was evident in an
interview before dress rehearsal. She spoke passionately about the
play's depiction of the "birth pangs of America."
She was very mindful
of current events as she researched the characters and controversies
of 1776. "America has been involved in many struggles with other
countries in recent years," and "many nations are testing us and our
values," she noted. The events and ideas of 1776 "should be told
over and over," she said.
As a history
professor, this reviewer believes MacMurdo and her LCT have
succeeded in superb fashion.
MacMurdo was ably
assisted in producing the play by several local talents. Tim Searby
directed the vocal rehearsals of the strong male voices. During
their chorus numbers, the men present a rich wall of sound. Julie
Kasa directs a small but very talented and precise orchestra whose
tone and volume were always the perfect accompaniment. Kasa and
Linda Storm accompanied rehearsals.
As with all great
plays, "1776" comes alive and is made authentic through the efforts
of the "unseen stars": the backstage crew and technicians, including
Tony Crawford as technical director; Warren Fink, stage manager;
Jerry Dellinger, lighting designer; and Tony Crawford and Amanda
Perry on lights and sound. Kelly Dowling handles properties, and
Betsy Buttell and Vickie Hum help with wigs and costumes. Tamara
Welter assists with makeup. Friends of LCT and LCT board members
spend countless hours on countless tasks and details that contribute
to an excellent evening of theater.
In the summer of
1776, both temperatures and tempers in Philadelphia were boiling.
Both types of heat are palpable in the LCT production.
Dan McLaughlin, a
veteran teacher and director, steps across the footlights and brings
to life John Adams, the fiery leader of those seeking independence
from England. McLaughlin helps us understand Adams as a conflicted
man struggling to conquer his innate irritability while trying to
win others in the cause of independence.
McLaughlin acts with
great energy and sings with great emotion, especially during the
loving, long-distance duets with his wife, Abigail, who is portrayed
by Kim Peterson-Quinn. She is enchanting in both countenance and
voice. It is both intriguing and touching to watch McLaughlin banter
with his son, Tom McLaughlin, who is a very convincing Thomas
Jefferson. Jefferson, a genius torn between love for his new bride
and love for America, is reluctant to be drafted to write the
Declaration of Independence.
Adams' antagonist is
portrayed by Dan Bailey, an LCT veteran in both acting and
directing. Bailey creates a memorable portrait of John Dickinson, a
landed aristocrat and snob from Pennsylvania who is committed to
reconciliation with Great Britain. Bailey's speeches and manner ring
with a condescending pomposity that sends shivers throughout the
auditorium. When Dickinson leads his conservative allies in the song
and dance of "Cool, Cool Considerate Men," Bailey's broad talents in
humor, song and dance are transfixing.
If Adams and
Dickinson represent the two extremes of the debate in Philadelphia,
Ben Franklin is the voice of moderation. Roger Boss' portrayal of
the sagacious Franklin is as gentle and wry as the influential and
witty man he plays. Boss' Franklin is an excellent living picture of
the historical Franklin.
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Boss is one of six
men in this cast who were in the LCT production of "1776" 18 years
ago. The other actors in that 1985 production were Dan Bailey, Doug
Raffa, Bill Gossett, Ed Dowling and Steve Martin. Three of those
original cast members are reprising their roles. Gossett again plays
McNair, the cranky, overworked custodian; Dowling gives a powerful
bass voice in both speech and song to Edward Rutledge; and Martin
brings down the house with his portrayal of the crotchety,
rum-swilling Stephen Hopkins.
The actors and
actresses cast for this play fit their roles perfectly. Rob Siebert
is the proud, rambunctious Richard Henry Lee, whose song "The Lees
of Old Virginia," is a sidesplitting showstopper. Brittney Dobson is
the young, starry-eyed Martha Jefferson, whose clear, shimmering
voice is delightful in her song and dance with Adams and Franklin.
Jeff Kindred brings
gentle humor to the role of the frustrated congressional clerk. Andy
VanDeVoort is the clear, penetrating voice of the long-suffering
president of the Congress, John Hancock.
Bob Woods is
effective as the reticent but brave Judge Wilson, who casts the
deciding vote on independence. Chuck McCue is wonderful as the
perpetually "abstaining" delegate from New York, and Randy Storm is
the epitome of the 18th-century vicar, John Witherspoon.
Nathan Bottorff and
Shelby Smith, both recent graduates of Lincoln College, are refined,
dignified colonials. Smith's high, sparkling tenor is especially
effective in the song "But Mr. Adams."
Many regions and
backgrounds were represented in Philadelphia, and three actors
demonstrate special skill with dialect and accents. Allen King is a
towering presence as Col. McKean and uses an excellent Scottish
brogue. David Helm uses a gentlemanly Southern drawl to represent
Dr. Hall from Georgia. Brian Welter sounds like a native of "Nawth"
Among the greatest
strengths of LCT has been its ability to welcome and nurture new
actors and young performers. Ross Dowell, Todd Brown and Don Jordan
are convincing congressmen who are making their first appearances
with LCT in this play. Watching Jordan's heart-wrenching portrayal
of the cancer-stricken and dying patriot, Caesar Rodney, it is hard
to believe he is not a stage veteran.
Three young men from
Lincoln high school round out the cast. Tom Swanson, Brian Welter
and Patrick Perry will be juniors this fall, but all three have
developed a long list of credits in LCT productions. Perry's
mournful song "Momma Look Sharp," about the young men who die in
war, is performed with the nuances of a seasoned veteran.
"1776" will wrap up
the 32nd successful season of LCT. This year's president, Teri Fink,
has been involved with LCT from its beginnings in 1972. She notes
how LCT and its children's theater have sparked the interest and
talents of many young performers in central Illinois. LCT alum Terry
Kenny was one the founders of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in
Chicago, which has served as the launching pad for such stars as
Gary Sinese, John Malkovich and, lately, Lincoln's own Jennifer
Jean Gossett, this
year's vice-president of LCT, points out that the "high quality and
family-oriented" productions of LCT have been a great outlet for the
fine arts in a town the size of Lincoln.
The stars of tomorrow
are starring in "1776" today.
"1776" will run through Saturday, Aug. 9.
Call the box office for tickets at 735-2614.