Close to the ending of 1776, the enduring Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone musical on America's struggle for independence, the contrarian patriot John Adams sits all alone in Philadelphia, talking to himself like an American Hamlet. Once upon a time, this man, who will one day become president, dreamed of a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition of equality. Why was that dream met with such ugly resistance by his fellow countrymen? And can you prevail against all that without becoming ugly and shrill yourself? It's a sentiment anybody who follows contemporary politics or has ever drifted too close to online debates about virtually anything knows in our bones, and the question he asks is one any company mounting this 50-year-old meditation on America's stormy birth must also ask: "Does anybody care?"
Cecelia Wingate, the award-collecting actor/director best known for her work staging extravaganzas like Young Frankenstein and The Producers, knows people are raw and worn out on politics, but she thinks the answer is yes, and she's returned to Theatre Memphis with top-shelf acting talent like John Maness, Bill Andrews, and Kevar Maffitt in tow, to see if she can make something at least a little bit revolutionary on Perkins Ext.
"Our watchwords for this have been 'passion and urgency,' and we hope it works," Wingate says. "There's so much noise out there emanating from a political system that seems broken — the 'I'm right, you're wrong' mentality. Now is the perfect time to be doing this."
1776 loosely follows events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Its songs address everything from the literal and figurative temperature inside Independence Hall to the slave economy's tangled web. "It's my favorite time period to read about," Wingate says, in a characteristically salty turn. "I research the shit out of this stuff."