TR Robertson — Vista, CA….On last Saturday’s balmy, sticky night, a nearly sold out crowd packed in the Moonlight Amphitheatre to watch an “All-Star” cast present Sherman Edwards musical, “1776”, in a concert styled format, as a fund raiser for the Moonlight Cultural Foundation. Under the direction and musical staging of Moonlight’s Managing Director, Colleen Kollar Smith, with musical direction and conducting the 20 piece orchestra, John Glaudini, and Stage Manager Stanley D. Cohen, 30 talented actors and actresses brought the musical version of the story of the hard fought establishment and signing of our countries Declaration of Independence to life on stage. The actors and actresses for this performance were comprised of a host of regional performers, many who have appeared on the Moonlight Stage,and many who have won a number of theatrical awards.
The staging of the event was done with the orchestra on stage in the back half of the Moonlight Stage, with the actors and actresses in the upper half of the stage, and at times using the arched bridge area at the front of the stage. Props were minimal for the production, several tables, and a number of chairs, several risers and the ever present board with the names of the 13 colonies on them used for voting of Yea or Nay on various proposals. Behind the orchestra, a variety of images would appear showing paintings of events from the days of our countries founding, paintings of the actual voting delegates of this Second Continental Congress, paintings of George Washington, Abigail Adams and Martha Jefferson and pictures of the actual Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, room in what is now called Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed.
Prior to the start of the musical, Colleen Kollar Smith told the audience the actors and actresses had only 14 hours of rehearsal time for this presentation and that they would be using their scripts for tonight. Many times, the performers would refer slightly to their lines, but for the most part it seemed as though they had their part “down pat”, especially the musical numbers. The performers would present the musical in modern clothing, which I am sure they were most appreciative of meaning the heavy jackets, high necked shirts and wigs would be missing on this hot July evening.
The full cast is listed in another paragraph, but there were several standout performances that should be mentioned. Moonlights Artistic Director, Steven Glaudini, played John Adams. Glaudini presented the pompous, arrogant Adams with style and stood out on a number of songs, especially when he was singing with his wife, Bets Malone, as they read (sung) bits and pieces of their letters to one another, “Yours, Yours, Yours” and “Till Then”.
He also brought a chuckle to the crowd with “Piddle, Twiddle, Resolve”, reminding many of our own Congress and a memorable line as things were bogging down when the men were discussing sections of the Constitution, “This is a revolution. We’re going to have to offend somebody!” Award winning Randall Hickman played the quick witted Benjamin Franklin and quoted a number of the memorable Franklin sayings, my favorite not being in the musical, but worth stating, “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
Richard Bermudez sang a powerful song when the argument over slavery broke out, as the Declaration was being discussed, when he sang “Molasses to Rum”, bringing back memories of his strong voice from Moonlight’s “Aida”.
Other standouts included Lance Arthur Smith, who recently was on stage in “Mamma Mia”, as the thorn in Adams side John Dickinson. Roger Castellano as Richard Henry Lee of Virginia sang a very funny, “Lees of Old Virginia”, where everything ended in the sound of “Lee”. One actor who didn’t have a lot of lines on stage, Jake Bradford, but who sang a moving song, “Momma Look Sharp”, which brought a rousing response from the audience. The song deals with a woman who sends her sons off to war not knowing if they will return. A very pregnant Jessica Bernard took the stage as Martha Jefferson and even did a little dancing as she sang “He Plays the Violin” as Martha explains to Franklin and Adams what attracted her to Thomas Jefferson.
The remainder of the outstanding cast included Jeremy Bernard as Thomas Jefferson, John Massey, Jr. as John Hancock, Jason Webb as Charles Thomson, Jim Chovick as Stephen Hopkins, Ralph Johnson as Andrew McNair, Jon Lorenz as Robert Livingston, Kurt Norby as Roger Sherman, Douglas Davis as Dr. Lyman Hall, John George Campbell as Caesar Rodney, Joseph Grienenberger as Rev. John Witherspoon, Ryan Dietrich as Samuel Chase, Nicholas Alexander as George Reads, Ted Leib as Lewis Morris, Michael Thomas-Visgar as Joseph Hewes Mike Bradford as Dr. Josiah Bartlett, Josh Bradford as Leather Apron, Danny Campbell as James Wilson and Eric Hellmers as Col. Thomas McKean. This groups opening number, “Sit Down John”, sets the tone for the musical as this is a musical not just about the battle for our nations beginning, but also John Adams battle with those around him in trying to establish himself as someone others will follow and listen to.
The musical premiered on Broadway in 1969 and was nominated for five Tony Awards and won three, including Best Musical. The musical would be adapted into a film in 1972. The musical also has a somewhat dubious distinction, it has the longest gap between songs of any musical that has ever run on Broadway. The 30 minute gap occurs between the songs “Lees of Old Virginia” and “But Mr. Adams”. There are also some historical “inaccuracies, but that is for another time. Needless to say, those that attended “1776”, at Moonlight on Saturday, were thoroughly entertained by incredible performances, got a chance to see a number of leading men and women on stage that appear throughout the year on stages around the county and beyond and a chance to enjoy one of the best theatrical venues in the State of California.
Best of all, it was obvious the performers on stage were having a great time taking part in this production. As Randall Hickman and Douglas Davis, co-owners of Broadway Vista in Downtown Historic Vista, scurried out the back stage area at the end of the musical they could be heard telling patrons what a great time they had in this show and how much fun it was to be a part of the musical. Well done Moonlight Amphitheatre and Moonlight Cultural Foundation.
Photos by TR Robertson