Congress' inability to agree on matters of import isn't exactly a new phenomenon, but the Colonial Players' current production of the musical "1776" reminds us that fiery debate has been a part of our nation from the outset.
Director Beth Terranova says the musical reveals "the enormity of the task our founding fathers set out for themselves."
Facing the considerable task of selecting 27 singing actors to bring alive America's founders, Terranova chose a cast with the ability to rise to the challenge.
Songs in "1776" help define its characters. For example, "For God's Sake, John, Sit Down" refers to Massachusetts delegate John Adams, so dedicated to independence that he derides his colleagues for not resolving issues fast enough. They, in turn, describe Adams as "obnoxious and disliked" — a description he accepts.
Adams is played by Jeff Sprague, who portrays an advocate who is intent on getting the job done and also fully reliant on the support of his wife, Abigail. Sprague delivers admiring and romantic duets in "Till Then" and "Yours, Yours, Yours" with the independent Abigail, played by Sandra Rardon. Their exchanges are charming, with both players reflecting the characters' genuine affection for each other.
Ray Flynt plays Benjamin Franklin, making familiar witticisms sparkle. Flynt communicates Franklin's wisdom in persuading Adams to compromise and suggesting that the more affable Richard Henry Lee, not the abrasive Adams, propose independence.
Perfectly cast as Lee is Nathan Bowen, who lends charm and delightful animation to "The Lees of Old Virginia," a highlight of the show.
Eric Hufford plays the contemplative Thomas Jefferson, who is persuaded to write the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson crunches several early drafts in frustration and pines for his wife, Martha. Musically, Hufford does not fare so well, having a single, forgettable song about the birth of the eagle, the new nation's symbol. Somehow, the line "chirp, chirp of eaglet" seems a bit unworthy of esteemed statesmen.
Martha Jefferson is portrayed with charm by Kaelynn Miller, who displays vocal and dance skills in "He Plays the Violin," reflecting her love and admiration for her husband.
Adams' adversary, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, is played by Timothy Sayles, who conveys Dickinson's disdain of independence and affirms his own conservatism in "Cool, Cool Considerate Men."
Danny Brooks lends substance to his portrayal of John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress. New York delegate Lewis Morris, who "abstains courteously" until he learns the fate of his soldier son, is well played by Tom Bethards.
Jim Ferguson plays Delaware representative Caesar Rodney, a patriot whose illness forces him to leave Congress until he returns to cast the deciding vote for independence. As Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, Ron Giddings provides high drama in his passionate anthem "Molasses to Rum," noting the hypocrisy of New Englanders' opposition to slavery while they profit by running ships in the slave trade. Another highlight is Joshua Rifle as the courier, who tenderly sings of a dying young man whose mother searches for his body in "Momma, Look Sharp."
Bringing this historical drama to life on stage requires the major efforts of several talented volunteer teams. The Players' production benefits from the musical direction of Theresa Riffle and Amanda Cimiglia's choreographic artistry.
Producer Wes Bedsworth, who also serves as sound and video designer, is deserving of praise, and set and floor designer and head carpenter Dick Whaley displays his usual mastery.
Designing and constructing costumes of historic authenticity for 27 cast members requires the talents of 12 seamstresses and assistants, led by costume designer Andrea Elward. Beverly van Joolen serves as wig designer, and credit is also due for other volunteers contributing to the overall excellence of this production.
The Colonial Players' production of "1776" continues Thursdays to Sundays through April 20 at 108 East St. in Annapolis. Tickets are available at thecolonialplayers.org, or through the box office at 410-268-7373.