by Liz Lizama
While this year marks 240 years since the drafting and signing of the Declaration of Independence, the McLean Community Players brings to life the historical events in its production of “1776” premiering this weekend.
The Tony Award-winning musical follows the story of the Founding Fathers’ discussions in the spring and summer of 1776 in Philadelphia. John Adams leads the effort to persuade his colleagues to declare independence and break away from the British Crown. Eventually persuaded to draft the document, Thomas Jefferson finds himself in a series of debates between the delegates of the thirteen colonies. Meanwhile, General George Washington continues to send reports of the Continental Congress’ struggle against British forces.
Based on actual historical letters, the dialogue was written by Peter Stone with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards. Though audiences already know the delegates agree to declare independence, the director and cast members agreed the writing is entertaining.
“One of the things I love most about it is how you get pulled into the story, even though we all know how it ends,” said director Annie O’Neill Galvin. You develop a new appreciation for the sheer enormity of what our Founding Fathers were trying to do – overcome nearly impossible odds to create a new nation.”
Originally from Massachusetts, O’Neill Galvin said, “It’s no surprise ‘1776’ is one of my all-time favorite musicals.”
Actor Jeffery Westlake said the musical was near and dear to his heart. “It’s a wonderful, entertaining civics lesson in its own way,” he said. “In fact, it’s the most entertaining civics lesson that’s ever been created – to be able get a peek into what went on behind the scenes. We know all the big details, but this one shares the little details and the quirky ones.”
Echoing that sentiment, actor Shawn Cox (John Dickinson) said, “I joke with the cast that it’s entertaining and educational. You know how the show is going to end, but along the way, the writing is great.”
After previously playing Richard Henry Lee in another ‘1776’ production, Cox thought the antagonist role of John Dickinson would also be fun. “He’s boiling against John Adams, so it’s a nice meaty role,” he said.
Westlake described the score as a classic Broadway musical with “But, Mr. Adams” and “Is Anybody There?” as his favorite numbers. “The two songs contrast the light approach to the show, the comedy and the seriousness of the subject matter,” he said.
The cast’s energy has aided O’Neill Galvin’s vision for the production, which is her first in the director’s chair at McLean Community Players.
“The journey from idea, to pen, to action is an incredible one – and it’s an honor to be able to work with this cast and crew to bring history to life for McLean,” said O’Neill Galvin.
“1776” runs February 5 – 21. Performances are scheduled Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. The play will be performed at Alden Theatre in the McLean Community Center, 1234 Ingleside Ave., McLean. The production will also include accessibility services for both the hearing and visually impaired. Audio description services will be available on Feb. 14 and American Sign Language interpretation will also be offered at the Saturday, Feb. 20 show. Tickets are $25 for general admission and $23 for seniors, residents and students. For more information, visit mcleanplayers.org or call 866-811-4111.