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Singing about the spirit of ‘1776’

I have kind of a silly little confession to make: I like musicals. Maybe it’s because the genre used to be more popular, maybe it is because some of the older musical plays were better and maybe its just a reflection of my softer side, but I have always enjoyed a good show featuring song and dance, whether in person or on television.


I appeared in three plays while in high school and fortunately was always kept in the chorus or in the background of dance scenes. It’s easy to accept such placements when you have no talent.

Now my silly little confession within that confession: I really like the musical “1776.”

I mention this because, of course, Saturday is the Fourth of July and traditionally one of the movie channels will feature the play during the course of the day. If you read commentary about the show, you will find that it is generally regarded as a bad play and its main claim to fame was it helped to inspire the play “Hamilton.”

Despite its critical disdain, I connect with the play on several levels. The first, is yet another silly little secret.

When I was in high school one of the few places you could go to goof off was the library. I would use my time in the world of books to go to the audio area and listen to records. Unfortunately, the library didn’t have the latest works of “The Who” or “Chicago” so I would have to resort to soundtracks and show tunes. Remember, it was better than working.

Without ever having seen the show, I virtually memorized the score to “1776” and could belt out tunes at the drop of a hat, although no one really wanted to drop a hat to hear me sing. Sadly, I can still recite many of the lyrics and have caught myself on occasion humming one of the forgettable tunes. When I finally saw the play, it was in movie form. The lead in the show is John Adams, who was played by William Daniels, who I best remember as the voice of KITT in “Knight Rider.” If that connection doesn’t send goosebumps down your spine, I don’t know what will. Among some of the other stars in the movie were Ken Howard, Blythe Danner and James Noble. If you don’t recognize the names, look them up. If you watched movies or TV in the 1970s you saw them.

Another reason I connected with the show is the fact I am an history nut. I once spent a day trouncing around Boston, going to old cemeteries to see the graves of many of the founding fathers. Even though it was in musical form, and apparently not a good one at that, a chance to observe some of these historical figures and historic events being emulated was entertaining.

My final connection and probably the most significant was listening to the lyrics of the music which brought to life the fact that even at the inception of the country, there was political divisiveness.

One of my favorite lines in the show is early on and John Adams is lamenting to God: “Another flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere, a catastrophic earthquake I’d accept with some despair, but instead you sent us Congress, good God sir, was that fair?”

It helps to be mindful of history. Too often we think what we are observing in the world is new and worse than ever, when in reality it may just be another verse to the same song which has been wafting along for 244 years.

Ironically, it appears a new version of “1776” is being produced with a renewed intent of making it to Broadway. Much in the mode of “Hamilton,” the new version will be cast with alternative figures with women playing the parts of the founding fathers. Whether it will change history remains to be seen, but it will create an entirely different soundtrack.

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