This classic American musical about the Declaration of Independence, by Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards, plays at three levels. On a superficial level it is sometimes a light masquerade of famous faces from coin and currency. Deeper and heavier, though, it turns into serious musical theatre. And all is founded on a solid structure of historical drama that cleverly condenses but does not too greatly oversimplify some of the facts and problems of the American Revolution. The wonder is how these levels blend into a musical entertainment that is variously amusing, informative, thought-provoking, and moving--as indeed they do miraculously blend under the direction of Deborah Gilmour Smyth, who also steps into the role of Abigail Adams in gorgeous voice and vivacious character.
The different levels accommodate diverse performance styles. There stands Robert Smyth, who solidly anchors the show with his passionately exasperated portrayal of John Adams, singing with a windy Sprechstimme not unlike Richard Harris. And there struts Matt Davis, as lank and lithe as someone from the Ministry of Silly Walks, prancing through the sheer fun of "The Lees of Old Virginia." Moriah Angeline sings Martha Jefferson's "He Plays the Violin" with exuberant pop warmth. Paul Eggington brings the same drama and command to his singing as to his acting when, as John Dickinson, he leads the chorus in "Cool, Cool Considerate Men." And John Polhamus, a most supercilious Edward Rutledge, raises the show, technically and emotionally, to the height of grand opera during his rendition, haunting and kinetic, of "Molasses to Rum."
Other keen performances abound. David Heath makes John Hancock a long-suffering and grave eminence. J. Michael Ross' Stephen Hopkins is a crusty coot who never removes his hat. Rick D. Meads, as Thomas Jefferson, is unexpectedly sweet and shy. And Tom Stephenson's delightful Benjamin Franklin, looking like he just stepped off a hundred dollar bill, twinkles and limps with an authentic aura of that witty, worldly, gouty old goat of a genius.
For the rest of the Continental Congress, Jim Chovick, David S. Cohen, Nick Cordileone, Doren Elias, Andrew Fullerton, Ed Hollingsworth, Ralph Johnson, Scott Kunkel, Jesse MacKinnon, John Nutten, James Pascarella, Chris Reber, Walter Ritter, Robert Stark, and Greg Thompson compose the balance of what must be about the most individualized chorus in theatre history, under the musical direction of Vanda Eggington. The small band (keyboard, violin, fife, drums, and bass) makes for some good individual effects, although never achieving the sound of a unified ensemble. Mike Buckley's multilevel scenic design, with a backdrop of Revolutionary banners, is striking and effective; Jeanne Reith's 18th century costumes are richly varied and beautiful; the subtle lighting is by Nathan Peirson, and the tastefully unobtrusive audio design is by Greg Campbell.