1776: All Over Again

1969 Broadway Production starring William Daniels as John Adams and Howard DaSilva as Ben Franklin

My God, Paul, how many times have you seen this show? The thought synapsed through my brain as the lights dimmed on a covey of actors in revolutionary era brocade and buckles belting, “For God Sake, John, Sit Down!”

My quick recall: five times.

The original Broadway production, in 1969, when this teenage theater maven-in-the-making snagged a pair of half price matinee TKTS. The MIT Theater Guild’s college production circa 1975. A summer stock version with my own youngsters about twenty years ago: an easy spoonful of American History. The New Rep’s non-traditional-cast version four years ago, in which Ben Franklin was a woman, Martha Jefferson a male, and…whatever. Now, Diane Paulus and ART’s no-male casting of this rather hoary chestnut.

John Dickinson to John Adams:

You, sir, are merely an a-gi-ta-tor, disturbing the peace, creating disorder,

endangering the public welfare—and for what?

Your petty little personal complaints.

2002 Broadway Revival – still all men

I don’t especially like 1776. It’s a problem musical, with a long, long dialogue interlude taking up most of the first act, songs that feel glommed onto the action, and an ending that—well—we all know how it ends. Yet, 1776 has its moments. For me, “Till Then,” the love ballad between John and Abigail Adams, and “Momma Look Sharp,” a haunting psalm on war’s futility, are remarkable, if unconventional show tunes.

Caesar Rodney:

Stop it! Stop it! This is Congress. Stop it, I say! The enemy is out there!


No, Mr. Rodney, the enemy is here!

New Rep Gender/Race blind cast

Perhaps the fifth time is the charm as I found Ms. Paulus’ vision of 1776 my favorite, by far. She made one big move—no one in the cast presents as male—and then held the good restraint to let that speak for itself. I could not identify one place where she changed the script or a lyric, and yet knowing that the actors wouldn’t have been “Founding Father” material in the day, gave many of the lines enhanced relevance.


Why, Mr. Dickinson, I’m surprised at you!

You should know that rebellion is always legal in the first person—such as “our” rebellion.

It is only in the third person—“their” rebellion—that it is illegal.

ART 2022: Female/non-binary cast

1776 was a hit in its day, winning Tony Awards for Best Musical and Best Book. Yet, I never really appreciated the book until this recent production. Could history so clever be accurate? I checked the script out of the library and read it aloud. Wonderful! Including an Afterward that clarifies exactly what is specifically true and what historical facts have been shaped for dramatic purposes. By popular theater standards, the history is very good.

John Adams to Abigail:

I have always been dissatisfied, I know that

 But lately I find I reek of discontentment!

It fills my throat and floods my brain, and sometimes—

sometimes I fear that there is no longer a dream,

but only the discontentment.

ART 2022

Which got me thinking about 1776 and 1969 and 2022. Three periods of tremendous social unrest. How accurately, the words, the emotions, and the injustices of one time find relevance in another, and another.

John Adams:

Mark me, Franklin, if we give in on this issue (abolishing slavery),

posterity will never forgive us.


That’s probably true. But we won’t hear a thing. John, we’ll be long gone.

And besides, what will posterity think we were—demigods?

We’re men—no more, no less—trying to get a nation started against greater odds

than a more generous God would have allowed.

John, first things first! Independence! America!

For if we don’t secure that, what difference will the rest make?

ART 2022: Mamma Look Sharp. The only time the cast presents as female, in this tragic tale of a lost son

1776 at the ART in Cambridge only plays through July 24. See it if you can; it’s terrific. But don’t fret if you cannot. The show is on to Broadway, and likely a national tour. Coming soon to a city near you.

About paulefallon

Greetings reader. I am a writer, architect, cyclist and father from Cambridge, MA. My primary blog, theawkwardpose.com is an archive of all my published writing. The title refers to a sequence of three yoga positions that increase focus and build strength by shifting the body’s center of gravity. The objective is balance without stability. My writing addresses opposing tension in our world, and my attempt to find balance through understanding that opposition. During 2015-2106 I am cycling through all 48 mainland United States and asking the question "How will we live tomorrow?" That journey is chronicled in a dedicated blog, www.howwillwelivetomorrw.com, that includes personal writing related to my adventure as well as others' responses to my question. Thank you for visiting.
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