Review: Independence from Dissent in Zao’s 1776

Jennifer Haaland | Independence from Dissent in Zao's 1776 | PHX Stages | November 13, 2016

Opening with a snapping snare during our nation’s first Continental Congress, ZAO Theatre in Apache Junction added timely historical perspective with their current musical production of 1776. The reminder of how to affect political change during divisive times was soothed and strengthened by music that seeped deeply into crevices of judgment and doubt this weekend.

Focused largely on John Adams’ (Jack Pauly) efforts toward America’s independence from Britain with important contributions from Franklin (Tim Fiscus) and Jefferson (Jeff Montgomery), the way-pre-Hamilton musical originally played Broadway in 1969, drumming up several Tonys, including Best Musical. Under Mickey Bryce’s direction, Zao’s presentation offered a moving demonstration of patriotic effort.

When John Adams implored heaven for action instead of idle talk in the opening scene, one of the more amazing male chorus sounds in the Phoenix Valley swelled in response. The cast of forefathers remained musically strong and reliable throughout the night with eager listeners at the ready.

Adams’ best moments were when he was joined by wife Abigail (Lizz Reeves Fidler). In a show with a scarcity of women, the two present on Apache Junction’s stage added exponentially to the evening. Martha Jefferson (Rebecca Bryce) and especially Fidler’s vocal quality as Abigail melted the big government work into personal and human messages.

Watch out particularly for the ” Molasses to Rum” number performed by Bryan Stewart as history’s nearly forgotten Edward Rutledge. Current day ethnic race tribulations charged the number with immediacy while dark red lighting shrouded the stage. The old world drums and anvil soundtracks paired with Stewart’s consummate delivery were showstoppers.

Tim Fiscus veritably embodied Ben Franklin, a gently wise and affable statesman, with uncanny timing. Richard Henry Lee (Kellen Garner) garnered applause for his high-stepping impish fun in “The Lees of Old Virginia,” while the Courier’s (Tyler Galley) somber rendition of “Mama Look Sharp” broke hearts.

For modern day musical lovers, 1776 is very dialogue heavy in the first act. The second act’s pace was perkier, with the happiest highlight being “The Egg” trio.

Though “obnoxious and disliked” as the opening number described John Adams, Pauly (as Adams) worked tirelessly–and with those opposed to him–to birth their vision of a strong nation. Watching the art of argument and compromise with benefit of excellent lyrics and music was well worth an evening out.

Forming the famous Declaration signing tableau as they each cast their yea vote for independence presented an excellent conclusion to the Zao’s show. During the rhythmic gavel strikes while the music continued to rise, the cast in Apache Junction delivered an emotionally charged blueprint for us today. 1776 offers the historic hope that when we are most divided, we are able to most profoundly unite.

Comments are closed.