Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

1776 on Stage

The American Conservatory Theatre of San Francisco is staging 1776, what I reckon is my favorite musical (although Game Show Show is a near tie with it). Besides having the theatrical version and the LaserDisc (which has more restored footage than the DVD), I've seen the play staged numerous times, but never in very large theatres. This would be a first, and I sprung for a seat on the lower deck (in fact, on the far left of row D, nearly at the stage). I took the train up to San Francisco last night to see the performance.

I enjoyed this show a lot, as I expected that I would. This production makes some changes to the "cannonical" version, most notably setting every bit of the action in the main hall of Congress, rather than having the ancillary scenes be in other locations. There are also some pieces of dialog cut (the sequence with Adams complaining that history would say that Franklin, Washington, and his horse conducted the entire American Revolution) and at least part of one number (the coda to "Lees of Old Virginia"), but not a huge amount, and it was mostly stuff that only an obsessive like me would notice.

In order to set some things in Congress that in the original were "elsewhere," the director has the members of Congress go into a "freeze" at strategic points in certain numbers. I was admiring the poses that the cast took during those freezes. I also admired how Charles Thomson, Secretary of Congress, continues to "read" the Declaration (without sound) during the sections where the foreground characters (Adams/Franklin/Jefferson) are discussing the Declaration and performing "The Egg." (I meant to ask, but didn't get the chance, if the actor was actually reading the Declaration of Independence or just mouthing things randomly; I expect the former.)

Last night's production featured the cast coming on stage after the show and discussing the production with the audience. I got in my question, which was about the "long section." 1776 famously has the longest stretch (over 30 minutes) of dialog in a Broadway musical without a musical number. I asked if the cast felt any pressure to rush through that section (one of them called it "a play within a play") to get to the next number. They said they did not, although I am not sure about that. To me, that section felt very rushed. It's full of very witty dialog, and in almost every case, it seemed to me that the actors were not waiting for the audience reactions to the "good bits" to die down before rushing forward into the next segment.

But this is all quibbling. It was a good show, well worth the ticket price and the trip up to San Francisco, even though (because I stayed for the on-stage talk), I had to wait until the "Midnight Special" (The all-stops 12:01 AM local departure from San Francisco on Caltrain) and therefore didn't get back to my hotel until nearly 2 AM. That's made today a bit of a challenge, even though I slept in a couple of hours and thus was late to work and will be here late tonight in compensation.
Tags: theatre, trains

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