by Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards
Directed by Wayne Mell
The Skokie Theatre
June 28 - July 21 2019
Reviewed by Ruth Smerling
MADKAP PRODUCTIONS RELIVES THE DRAFTING, SIGNING AND IMPLEMENTING OF
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE AT THE SKOKIE THEATRE
As a person who began her early life in the hamlet of Skokie, it has always felt like the heart of America. Perhaps that feeling is a component of the oxygen in Skokie, Illinois, home to many talented souls, and fellow Americans who love this country and try to be model citizens, ever grateful to be spared the tyranny, injustice and discomfort that plagues so many other parts of the world. MadKap Managing Director Wayne Mell has undertaken the momentous task of directing the passionate and hard-hitting musical comedy 1776 (with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and book by Peter Stone), produced by MadKap’s heart and soul, Wendy Kaplan, this Fourth of July holiday season. They can take pride that it is playing to sold-out houses with every person in the audience wishing to get up salute the stellar cast who play our nation’s Founding Fathers and the making of the Declaration of Independence.
Sean Michael Barrett is John Adams, adamant about the 13 original colonies breaking free from the tyranny of King George’s England. Delegates convene in the chambers of the second Continental Congress at Freedom Hall in Philadelphia, in the summer of 1776 (property design by Hillarie M. Shockley) with John Hancock (Richard Salon) as President. It’s hot and miserable in the airless room. Barrett is as tough as he is vulnerable as Adams, a thorn in everyone’s side as he laments about the need to be independent. The rest of the delegates insist that he put a sock in it and join together singing “Sit Down John!” Adams remains steadfast, insisting that freedom from outrageous taxes and British rule is the only way to thrive as a nation. As the Congress convenes, the British get closer with legions of troops. Adams becomes more and more frustrated and panicked. He gets solace from imaging the comfort he would receive from his devoted wife, Abigail (Gretchen Kimmeth). Kimmeth is extremely compelling as Mrs. Adams, she sings a sweet song of comfort to him with a voice that seems divine enough to contain a near holy message.
Much of the Congress would be unbearable if not for the humor and charm of Benjamin Franklin, played by Jeff Award nominee and City Lit Theatre favorite Edward Kuffert. Kuffert delivers Franklin’s witty observations with impeccable timing, levelling off much of the tension in the room.
As the days go on flies swarm into the room, the heat is more and more unbearable. Some of their discomfort is related to the way they are dressed. Costume designer Patty Halajian has done extensive research creating the height of men’s fashion in 1776, complete with lace at the cuffs, knee britches, and waistcoats and tied back hair. It’s a wonder they didn’t all melt in that room. Adams is still as annoying as a tic on a deer. As the delegates are polled, they are still in major disagreement with Robert Livingston (Ryan Morton) courteously abstaining on behalf of New York. Edward Rutledge of South Carolina (Jeffrey Luksik) insists that all the colonies must agree unanimously on the ideas of breaking free. He also raises his point in an impeccable lilting, humid Southern accent that slavery should be allowed to flourish. Of course this is to the abhorrent dismay of John Adams, from Massachusetts, who along with other Northerners believes slavery to be an abomination and a crime. Jeffrey Luksik in his pivotal role as the powerful delegate is a talented actor, and a brilliant singer with the kind of voice and musical dedication that stirs an audience to great emotion.
Mr. Thompson (Jeff Broitman) takes messages from General George Washington from the Courier (Joe Lewis) frequently who warns that the British are getting closer and closer. They must quickly draw up the Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson (Justin Smith) is elected but tries to bow out. He just wants to get back to his beautiful wife, Martha (Emily Ann O’Brien). Finally John Adams compromises and sends for her, so that he can spend time with her and write the Declaration. As the document is drafted and read by Mr. Thompson, many delegates demand revisions. They bicker and edit until everyone is at peace and the blueprint for freedom is set in stone with each delegate signing.
1776 seems like parody but quickly sobers up when the threat of war looms. Despite some unforgettable standout performances, the cast is an iron clad ensemble that work together to emphasize each other’s unique parts in the story. 1776 is a journey back to one of the greatest times in the history of the United States with a talented cast recreating the unparalleled contributions of some of the greatest minds that ever lived. 1776 runs through July 21 at the Skokie Theatre, 7924 North Lincoln, Skokie, Illinois. Tickets are $45 general admission, $38 for students and seniors and can be purchased by phoning the box office at 847-677-7761 or by visiting Skokietheatre.org. 1776 is a don’t miss this season. The theatre is easily accessible by public transportation. The Skokie Swift to downtown Skokie is only two blocks east. The 97 CTA bus stops a block north.
Now is a great time to subscribe to MadKap’s upcoming season. The season opens with the longest running Broadway show in history The Fantasticks to be followed by Jordan Harrison’s futuristic Marjorie Prime and closing with Ira Levin’s thriller Veronica’s Room. The Skokie Theatre also hosts many concerts, lectures and other special events throughout the year. Check out the website, SkokieTheatre.org for more information.