If only everyone in America could see “1776,” they’d have a much clearer understanding of the political divisions we are experiencing now. Asolo Repertory Theatre has opened its 2012/13 season, celebrating “The American Character,” with a witty, stirring and utterly riveting portrait of the birth of our nation. A 1969 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, book by Peter Stone and music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, this “musical play” about the second Continental Congress and the signing of the Declaration of Independence is both edifying and entertaining.
The production, under the tender care of Artistic Director Michael Donald Edwards and Managing Director Linda Digabriele, is flawless. Maria Blumenfeld’s costume design is impeccably researched and eye-catching in its detail. The music, with orchestrations by Brian Besterman and direction by Michael Rice, is full and rich. Peter Amster’s amusing choreography adds a pithy flourish to the proceedings.
The story focuses on the historical delegates, each with his own unique situation, revealing their differing needs and beliefs through funny quirks, as well as eloquent declarations, as they argue their way to a world-altering decision that leads inevitably to war. It is brilliantly directed by Frank Galati, whose ability to interpret a script and elicit its soul from the actors is evident in each individual performance of the 26-member cast.
Bernie Yvon’s John Adams, who declares to God that a cataclysmic earthquake would have been preferable to a snail-paced Congress, is passionate and humorous, and his sacrifice to his nation is represented by his bold wife, Abigail, evocatively played by Abby Mueller. The lovable, gout-ridden curmudgeonly genius, Benjamin Franklin, is well represented by an impishly dry Andrew Boyer. Jeff Parker, who was Henry Higgins in last years’s “My Fair Lady,” gives a remarkably affecting performance as John Dickinson, the sole delegate who refused to sign the Declaration. Brandon Dahlquist shows us a stalwart and lusty Thomas Jefferson, and we see why in his young wife, Martha, played charmingly by Andrea Prestinario. Jay Lustec lends a penchant for comedy to his portrayal of Richard Henry Lee.
Other unique performances were delivered by Steve Hendrickson as Andrew McNair; Don Walker as Dr. Lyman Hall; Joe D. Lauck as Stephen Hopkins; Jarrod Zimmerman as Edward Rutledge; David Lively as Col. Thomas McKean; John B. Leen as Caesar Rodney; Bernard Balbot as James Wilson; Patrick Clear as John Hancock; Jim Sorensen as Charles Thomson; Ashley Richards as Dr. Josiah Bartlett; John Mark Jernigan as George Read; Rob Riddle as Roger Sherman; Cliff Roles as Lewis Morris; Paul Crane as Samuel Chase; Daniel Schwab as Joseph Hewes; Mitchell Walker as the Rev. John Witherspoon; Jesse Dorman as Robert Livingston; Zachary Kenny as the courier; and Griffeth Whitehurst as Leather Apron.