Sunday, November 18, 2012

REVIEW: Asolo Rep’s ‘1776’ musical in Sarasota is a patriotic powerhouse

Thomas Jefferson (left), Benjamin Franklin and John Adams in "1776" at Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota.

Despite what the show might suggest, Asolo Rep’s season opener about getting all those famous signatures on the Declaration of Independence amounts to more than a history lesson peppered with songs.

It’s a patriotic powerhouse.

Entertaining and enlightening, “1776" celebrates all that's right about our country's core values without ever smacking of jingoism or mushy nationalism. 

Of course, those familiar with Frank Galati should expect no less.

Most famous for his Tony Award-winning adaptation of "The Grapes of Wrath,” he directed last season's splendid Asolo Rep opener "My Fair Lady," and the season before helmed the outstanding "Twelve Angry Men."

With “1776,” Galati has chosen the Sherman Edwards (music, lyrics) and Peter Stone (book) show that opened on Broadway in 1969 and won several Tonys including Best Musical but rarely gets performed — probably due to a cast of 26 and all those expensive costumes.

Galati’s Founding Fathers, looking fabulous in frock-coats and lace, are a superb bunch of actors.

Bernie Yvon, who appeared on Broadway in "Ragtime" as Harry Houdini, makes John Adams as endearing as he is annoying. He's the ultimate agitator with a heart of gold, and the star of the show.

But Adams would've never succeeded in leading the Second Continental Congress without the sage advice of Benjamin Franklin (played by Andrew Boyer, another Broadway veteran who was Doolittle in last season's "My Fair Lady").

The potent prose of Thomas Jefferson (Brandon Dahlquist, a rising Chicago star making his Asolo debut), is another key ingredient.

The most stirring song of the show goes to Jarrod Zimmerman who, as Edward Rutledge from South Carolina, sings the stinging “Molasses to Rum.” It shames all members of Congress with its zingers about the triangular trading system.

“Shall we dance to the sound of the profitable pound?” Rutledge snarls. “In molasses and rum and slaves?”

Abigail Adams (Abby Mueller) and Martha Jefferson (Andrea Prestinario) make welcome appearances but this show boils down to our Founding Fathers.

More specifically, their verbal sparring and ability to compromise.

And then there's the suspense, especially during the end of the second and final act, which is not easily accomplished with shows like this or, say, "Titanic."

It was a thrilling and emotive experience that made me forget all the partisan ugliness of the recent election season and take pride in being an American.

Granted, “1776” is basically a bunch of white dudes in wigs bickering, singing and sitting around an assembly hall.

But it’s brilliant all the same and altogether amusing.

Details: Nov. 16-Dec. 22, Mertz Theatre in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota. Tickets: $26-$75. Information: 941-351-8000 or

Asolo Repertory Theater opens season with patriotic musical '1776' in Sarasota

—Photos courtesy of Asolo Rep by Jaun Davila

No comments: