Theater Review by Howard Steven Frydman
Theater: Connecticut Repertory Theater
Music & Lyrics: Sherman Edwards
Book by: Peter Stone
Director: Terrence Mann
“I Am Groot”, “I AM GROOT”!!! Ahem- I can see I have your attention- no this review is not about the “Guardians of The Galaxy” 1 or 2, or even a pint sized walking talking dancing lovable two-legged plant, however it is about another group of revolutionary “super-heroes” – those sons of Democracy, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and a pint-sized, unpleasant pheasant, obnoxious and disliked, John Adams – this my friends is the Connecticut Repertory Theatre’s (CRT) production of the Tony Award-winning musical “1776”. Directed by CRT Artistic Director and three time Tony Award-nominee Terrence Mann, from a book by Peter Stone and music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards. BELIEVE ME friends – it is totally “I Am Groot”- which, for those who do not speak “Groot-ish” means- this is Broadway caliber theater at its best- an absolutely amazing, heart-tugging thought provoking, stirring, inspiring, laugh out loud, tears to your eyes production. Yes – you guessed it – I Loved it!!!
The first of a trio of productions presented during the CRT’s 2017 Nutmeg Summer Series, “1776” is indeed a precious combination of the musical arts and political history – accolades and kudos to Director Terrence Mann- Mr. T you hit a home run with this one! Beautifully staged, incredible scenic design by Tim Brown, authentic colonial costume design by Fan Zheng, and capped with foot tapping memorable music and an energetic cast- oh! by the way the cast!! – what a talented team of over 26 theatrical artists including Jamie LaVerdiere as John Adams, Richard R. Henry as Benjamin Franklin, Gaelen Gilliland as Abigail Adams, Simon Longnight as Richard Henry Lee, Will Bryant as Thomas Jefferson and the Representative from Georgia, Nate Healey as Dr. Lyman Hall.
We all know what happened on that hot and humid day in Philadelphia on July 4th 1776, but the fun of the musical “1776” is that “will they or won’t they” factor regarding independency as the members of the Second Continental Congress slowly propose, vigorously debate and finally ratify the issue of American Independence, and its outcome, the climatic signing of the Declaration. One finds themselves fervently leaning forward with each Yea or Nay of the Tally board, hoping they make the right decision, and wishing you also had the opportunity to stand up and vote “yea” on the issue of American Independence. In the opening scene, the weather in Philly is hot, humid and insufferable – “don’t open the windows, you’ll let in the flies”, Congress is proceeding with business and that irascible delegate from Massachusetts, John Adams (joyously played by Jamie LaVerdiere) explodes onto the stage and loudly proclaims that he has come to the conclusion that “one useless man is a disgrace, that two are a law firm and that three or more become a con-gress”- yowzers – we sure need you back now in Congress Mr. Adams !!
As many folks know “1776” is one of my all time personal favorite musicals, (besides Grease) for its historic depictions of the birth of the United States Declaration of Independence intertwined with those extraordinary Sherman Edwards music and lyrics. In my minds eye I always associate the role of John Adams with that remarkable actor William Daniels ( Mr. Feeney on “Boy Meets World”) but within ten minutes and by the second syllable of con-GRESS, Jamie LaVerdiere had made the role his own- an absolutely brilliant portrayal – I say “Yea” Mr. LaVerdiere! I must also single out Richard R. Henry for his persuasive “bigger than life” portrayal of “Colonial Celeb” Benjamin Franklin – and a great little dancer as well!
Though the cast of 1776 is mostly made up of male characters, 24 in all, the two female leads, Gaelen Gilliland and Page Smith are brilliant in their respective roles of Abigal Adams and Martha Jefferson- I am completely captivated by both their singing and on stage presence. Miss Smith is enchanting with her performance of “He Plays the Violin”, while Miss Gilliland is a welcomed “scene-stealer” whenever on stage, we are deeply affected by her acting skills and her enchanting vocal renditions of both “’Til Then” and “Yours, Yours, Yours”. We additionally single out the stalwart Simon Longnight for his hilarious turn as the delightfully brazen Richard Henry Lee and his effervescent “The Lees of Old Virginia”. And lastly, I must remark on how proud I am of four lads, from the University of Hartford’s Hartt School, who are performing together in this production, Jayke Workman as Reverend John Witherspoon, Alessandro “Andy” Viviano – as Roger Sherman, Jamaal Fields-Green as General Washington’s Courier and that scene stealer in his own right – Nate Healey as Dr. Lyman Hall. You are all extremely talented-Good job all around!
“Howard Steven Frydman, from the Nutmeg state of Connecticut, How do you vote on the question of American Independence and the CRT production of “1776”? “I Am Groot”!!! ahem, I mean I wholeheartedly vote yea!!! “1776” is a “laser-blast” of a good time! There is no debating this fact – let me tell you that I am in a better place for seeing this production and so will you –
As my dear old father, Jack Frydman, would often say and especially in this case- to “Director Terrence Mann and to the entire cast of CRT’s “1776” ya did good-real good”!! Enjoy!
This production will take place at the Harriet S. Jorgensen Theater located on the campus of the University of Connecticut. CRT is the professional producing arm of the Department of Dramatic Arts at the University of Connecticut- Storrs, CT. For ticket information or to purchase tickets by phone: 860-486-2113 or visit online at http://www.crt.uconn.edu.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.