David Stone
Kimbirdlee Fadner as John Adams in 1776
Kimbirdlee Fadner as John Adams in 1776
Photo courtesy of Irina Hage of www.irinaislandimages.com

On Saturday afternoon, I stopped by the Howe Theatre in the Cultural Center to see how rehearsals were going for director Jacqueline Lucid's 1776, the classic Broadway musical about the founding of America as a new kind of nation. The show opens Friday at Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance. Impressed many times already by the grace and professionalism of productions here, I was still stuck in my tracks, nearly unable to stop watching and go home.

As Tim Di Fiore, forcefully singing through his role as South Carolina delegate John Rutledge dresses down John Adams (Kimbirdlee Fadner) over his aggravating passions for independence and the abolition of slavery, a reality from two centuries ago sparks to life on the stage. And I'm only seeing a rehearsal.

Adams steams in silence. Delegates spread around the stage stare stony-faced, slowly rising to anger as Di Fiore's powerful voice calls out the Southern cause. Here, I realize, I'm watching the birth of a troubled nation, fissures wide and deep ready to consume patriots at the edge.

My heart's in my throat, feeling as the the actors must, painful disagreements that echo across the decades.

You see it in their faces, familiar but taken away, consumed in their roles, no one passive.

By the time Rutledge leads a crippling rush of delegates out of the room, leaving Adams alone with revered American sage, Benjamin Franklin, who also rebukes him, this time for his zealotry alone, I'm emotionally engaged as I've never been, the many times I've seen the film version, excellent as it is.

Jacqueline Lucid has brought a fierce, genuine, human drama to lively fruition. I'm so taken in, I forget to get out of the way as the actors leaving the stage march past me. One has to come back and nudge me away from props that will soon be needed.

The scene that follows, Abigail Adams (Kelli Kruger), soulfully consoling of her all too human life partner, reignites one of American history's legendary romances. Nothing short of a feminist in her time, Abigail urges John not to give up but, poignantly, to go easier on himself, to soften.

This scene reaches a gratifying and even funny conclusion, leavening a dramatic moment with song and empathy.

You may think you know about the founding of America, but in 1776, the cast under the direction of Jacqueline Lucid at Main Street Theatre & Dance Alliance, makes its retelling irresistibly human.

Don't miss this show, opening Friday evening, March 23rd, with shows scheduled all weekend! Click here to get your tickets now.

Copyright and other restrictions prevent me from offering you full songs from this production - you'll have to enjoy those in person, but thanks to YouTube, I can give you a vibrant taste of what's in store with this clip from the movie, William Daniels as John Adams, suffering as his passionate idealism takes a bashing in Sit down, John!

 

1776 opens Friday in the Howe Theatre, 548 Main Street.