The City Center Encores! production of “1776,” the pinnacle of political musical wit, is full of pointed comedy, barking laughter, and chilling social commentary, in this striking production. The cast is multi-cultural and boasts passion, prurient humor, salient observation, and brilliance that may surprise those who think the “Daily Show” or “Saturday Night Live” invented political commentary.
Santino Fontana was our John Adams and was as full of fire and acetylene energy as you could want. Contrast that with his interactions with his Abigail, Christine Noll, which were invested with the depth and passion of a long-term loving relationship. Those who think that fire is the province of the young will know that love is much longer lasting, and the chemistry between this John and Abigail was a beautifully banked fire that could roar at any moment.
The multicultural casting was done deftly and well. The nods to what fascinates us as Post Modern audiences were there. Thomas Jefferson’s (John Behlmann) wife Martha was played by Nikki Renée Daniels, which appeared to be a nod to the fact that his wife Martha and his mistress Sally Hemings were half-sisters. Half the delegation in the Continental Congress were men of color, as well as colorful men and the most touching performance of the entire evening for me was that of John-Michael Lyles. All the players were dressed in modern garb. Lyles, as The Courier, wore camouflage fatigue pants and a black hooded sweatshirt over a plain t-shirt. He was a quiet observer as he came in and out of the chamber. Mostly his hood was on his shoulders and once, over his head. When he was offered a tot of rum by McNair, the Custodian (MacIntyre Dixon), he spoke about the fighting he had seen, and the hair stood up on my arms when he talked about seeing his best friends shot dead the same day. When he sang “Momma, Look Sharp,” tears were in my eyes for the entire song. The genius of this show is that whenever you see it, it has something to say. Whether some were working to bring down the Berlin Wall, or others propose building one between the US and Mexico, Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone’s brilliance is for the ages.
Bryce Pinkham played an unlikeable character and led a chilling “Cool, Cool, Conservative Men” marked by touches of dark humor, and Alexander Gemignani’s “Molasses to Rum” ran with the passion of a man who is what he is, and has ways of encouraging others to be as honest.
The trio of Fontana’s Adams, Behlmann’s Jefferson, and John Larroquette as the venerable and salacious Franklin were especially fun, and the charming scene between Adams, Franklin and Mrs. Jefferson was a highlight of the evening, as we watch the memories of earlier times sparkle in both gentlemen at the thoughts of Love, Spring, and Youth, and Daniels’ scintillating dance of joie de vivre at being in limerance still with the man with whom she’ll grow old. Thus it is, thus it shall ever be–we don’t truly make History, we seem to keep repeating it.
Remember, remember come this November! “1776” is one for the ages!
Get your tickets now for this season at www.NYCityCenter.org
. Up next–“Do I Hear A Waltz?”