Strongly positive reviews and audience interest following its Aug. 14 opening led to a second extension of the Roundabout Theatre's Broadway revival of 1776, past Nov. 9 to Nov. 16. Speculation immediately began as to whether the Peter Stone/Sherman Edwards musical could move to a larger Broadway house for a commercial run -- namely, the Gershwin Theatre.
The production, with its 25-person cast, will move to the Gershwin intact. Hallmark Entertainment is sponsoring the move, for which producers had to raise $3 million.
On Oct. 10, spokespersons for the show told Playbill On-Line that "unless a miracle happens," 1776 would not move. But in a world of see-saw stock markets, miracles sometimes do happen. As early as this morning (Oct. 29), spokesperson Erin Dunn (of Boneau/Bryan-Brown) was saying contracts had not yet been finalized. But now it's official: 1776 will transfer from the Roundabout to the Gershwin Theatre over Thanksgiving weekend (Nov. 27).
For weeks, the show's producers have been eyeing the 1,933-seat Gershwin Theatre for after the first of the year and discussing ways to make that huge space financially and aesthetically workable.
A production source told Playbill On-Line (Sept. 16) the potential move of 1776 was taking time, not only because of Gershwin logistics, but because of contractual dealings. That is, the show would need to go back into rehearsal, which would be necessary if several major performers don't sign on for the commercial run. As far as the venue goes, discussions are apparently under way to make the Gershwin feel significantly smaller, possibly by moving the stage closer to the audience and "irising down the stage." Spiner is known to musical theatre fans as Franz, the disgruntled German accented servant in Sondheim's Sunday in the Park, and to TV fans as Data on "Star Trek: The Next Generation." In 1776 he plays the "obnoxious and disliked" Adams, whose singleminded determination to win independence from Britain for the American colonies nevertheless gradually wears down the resistance of his colleagues in the Continental Congress.
Also starring Gregg Edelman, Pat Hingle and Michael Cumpsty, the Roundabout Theatre Company production recently lost Robert Westenberg, who played Dr. Lyman Hall. He left, Aug. 23, and has been replaced by Brian Sutherland (Victor/Victoria, Steel Pier). Production spokesperson Erin Dunn told Playbill On-Line Westenberg's quick exit from 1776 was amicable, and that he left both the cast and producers "with good feelings." Richard Fisher (of Duva-Flack Associates), representing Westenberg, told Playbill On-Line (Sept. 3) that the actor will be spending this season doing shows at the Denver Center in Colorado. He had no further details on Westenberg's decision.
Edwards and Stone's song and dance take on the signing of the Declaration of Independence co-stars Pat Hingle as Benjamin Franklin, Michael Cumpsty as John Dickinson and Gregg Edelman as Edward Rutledge. The cast additionally features Linda Emond as Abigail Adams and Lauren Ward as Martha Jefferson (the role that launched Betty Buckley's career). They are the only two women in the cast.
Also debating the Declaration are Merwin Foard as Richard Henry Lee, Richard Poe as John Hancock, Tom Aldredge as Stephen Hopkins, Jerry Lanning as Rev. John Witherspoon, Macintyre Dickson as Andrew McNair, Kevin Ligon as George Read, Paul Michael Valley as Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Marcus as Robert Livingston, Michael Winther as James Wilson, Ric Stoneback as Samuel Chase, Guy Paul as Charles Thomson, Tom Riss Farrell as Lewis Morris, Michael McCormick as Caesar Rodney, David Lowenstein as Joseph Hewes, John Herrera as Roger Sherman and Michael X. Martin as Dr. Josiah Bartlett. Erik McCormack plays the Courier.
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All preview performances beginning July 16 reportedly were sold out, and the show has been running at virtual capacity, possibly owing to many of Spiner's fans from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Sunday in the Park With George.
The production employs one of the more amusing advertising campaigns of the early season: The show is billing itself as "Independence Day -- The Musical." For the record, the show has neither aliens, nor space ships -- though it does take place in the days leading up to July 4.
The musical director is Paul Gemignani, with orchestrations by Brian Besterman and choreography by Kathleen Marshall. Sets are by Tony Walton (Forum), costumes by William Ivey Long (Chicago) and sound by Brian Ronan (sound).
In an interview with Associated Press writer Michael Kuchwara, Stone said of his craft, "Musical book writing involves two things: concept and structure. You have to know how to get to a song, specifically what to do in order to get to a song. If you can do that quickly and with some sure footedness, you'll probably come out all right."
Tickets to 1776 can be purchased by calling (212) 869-8400. Half-price tickets for children 17 and younger are sold for all performances