Asolo Repertory Theater opens season with patriotic musical '1776' in Sarasota

Tony-winning director brings founding fathers to Sarasota stage

wtatangelo@bradenton.comNovember 11, 2012 

Had the candidates been singing and dancing, election season would've been so much more entertaining.

Fortunately, our founding fathers can all carry a tune.

At least the ones who will be on stage in the Asolo Repertory Theatre's season opener "1776."

In light of all the partisan madness leading up to Election Day, there probably couldn't be a better time than now for a witty, patriotic comedy.

Aiming to please attendees of all political persuasions, the Sarasota company considered one of the best in the South presents a musical inspired by the events surrounding the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

While the founding fathers are often depicted as a unified group, at least beginning with our earliest elementary school lessons, "1776" shows the behind-the-scenes machinations were wrought with conflict and peril.

Frank Galati, most famous for his Tony Award-winning adaptation of "The Grapes of Wrath (Best Play, Best Direction of a Play), directed last season's Asolo Rep opener "My Fair lady" and the season before helmed "Twelve

Angry Men" in Sarasota. Both productions were critically-acclaimed audience favorites.

He returns to Asolo Rep to direct "1776," which opens Friday and runs through Dec. 22.

"I think the musical presents a very vivid account of how dangerous the situation was in Philadelphia in 1776 and how the future of the nation and its birth was hanging by a thread," Galati said. "It's so fascinating how close they came to not doing it. If not for Abigail Adams, her husband might have lost heart."

The story finds John Adams (Bernie Yvon, who appeared on Broadway in "Ragtime" as Harry Houdini) teaming up with Benjamin Franklin (another Broadway veteran who played Doolittle in last season's "My Fair Lady") to rally their doubtful peers.

Although Adams is described in the show as "obnoxious and disliked," that's not the view shared by the actor playing the man who would become the second President of the United States.

"He had strong opinions and didn't always know to shut up," Yvon said. "But it's people like that who change the world."

Although Franklin was the oldest member of the Congress and suffered from gout, Boyer sees him as an eternally vivacious figure.

"For me, Ben Franklin always has a twinkle in his eye," Boyer said.

"I think he had an amazing brain, an amazing sense of humor and a sense of fun, and yet he was one of the main driving forces in this country's founding."

As for the more fictionalized female roles, Abigail Adams (Abby Mueller) sings her letters to her husband and Martha Jefferson (Andrea Prestinario; Eliza in "My Fair Lady") serves as her husband's muse.

The original Broadway production of "1776" opened on Broadway in 1969 and won several Tonys including Best Musical.

Galati happened to be in New York and saw the show the day after it opened.

"The show was so moving to me and so beautifully crafted," he recalled. "The melodies were so haunting and the script was so tightly written and so funny and the characters so three dimensional."

He added, "It's a musical theater gem."

Wade Tatangelo, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.

If you go

What: "1776"Where: Mertz Theatre in the FSU Center for the Performing Arts, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota When: Nov. 13-15 (previews), Nov. 16 (opening night) through Dec. 22Tickets: $26-$75 Information: 941-351-8000 or www.asolorep.org.

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