Exactly one month from when rehearsals began, College of Eastern Utah's Theatre Department opens its production of "1776" with a mixture of students, faculty, staff and community members.
Written by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone, the plot tells a "vibrant and exciting musical history lesson about the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress meeting in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania."
Opening on Broadway March 16, 1969, the play brings to life the debates and the compromises which would lead to the Revolutionary War and the birth of the American nation. Much of what Sherman and Stone wrote came from historic documents and letters and is historically accurate.
However, as with most historical plays, many of the events and/or characters have been compressed, omitted or combined for the sake of dramatic economy. We may recognize in our own governmental bodies, both nationally and locally, the same "piddling, twiddling and resolving" as depicted on the Geary Theatre stage and find our frustration is as old as our country.
"I love plays that are timely and relevant to our day," said director Corey Ewing. "It is interesting that the more we change the more we really stay the same. We are doomed to repeat the same mistakes because we just don't or refuse to learn from the past."
The cast, representing the Second Continental Congress of 1776, features Dave Hocanson as John Hancock; Cole Unsworth, Josiah Bartlett; Todd Olsen, "the obnoxious and disliked" John Adams; Russell Wilson pulls double duty as music director/arranger and plays Stephen Hopkins; Scott Zaborski, Lewis Morris; Kelton Wells, Robert Livingston; Russell Seeley, the Rev. Jonathan
Witherspoon; Grady McEvoy, set and lighting designer and plays Benjamin Franklin; Ewan, John Dickenson; Devin R. Skinner, James Wilson; John R. Behn, the Rev. Caesar Rodney; Rodney Scott, Colonel Thomas McKean; Kamron Perkins, George Read; Bill Gibson, Samuel Chase; Willy Woodruff, CEUSA President, Richard Henry Lee; Mitchell G. Ewan, Thomas Jefferson; Ron Patterson, Joseph Hewes; Michael S. Johnson, Edward Rutledge; Scott Westwood, Dr. Lyman Hall; and Braden Nelson, Congressional Secretary Charles Thomson.
"I think we are so lucky to have so many willing to lend their talents to this production," Ewan continued. "They have given their time and have really jumped into the deep end of the pool with this experience."
For many this is a first time on the Geary stage.
Rounding out the cast are Henry Rudolph Jr., Congressional Custodian Andrew McNair; Brian Powell, a leather apron; and Ryan Pugh, a military courier. Playing the two most important roles in the lives of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson are Rachel Ryan as Abigail Adams and Leisl Cope as Martha Jefferson.
This is not a typical musical in that there is a musical number every five minutes. In one case there is a 20-minute break between numbers. The music is witty, evocative and soul stirring. There are several solos that really have an emotional impact, explained Ewing.
"I believe our actors sing proud and brilliantly," he said. "This play makes me proud of my country and what we as Americans have done and will continue to do, it is a great boost of patriotism."
"1776" opens Feb. 4 and plays through Feb. 10. A matinee is offered on Saturday, Feb. 6, at 2 p.m. It runs approximately two hours.