Late songwriter Sherman Edwards, who is well known for the pop hit "See You in September," penned the score to the musical that features a book by Tony-winning playwright Peter Stone. The musical focuses on the heated debates during the second Continental Congress in Philadelphia leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Sarah Crawford will direct the concert staging of 1776 that will run Aug. 12-29. She told Playbill.com that as a child her family would watch the historic musical on the Fourth of July and "when anyone asked me what role I would want to play if I could play any role in any musical, I always immediately thought to myself, 'John Adams in 1776!'"
Crawford, along with MTH executive director George Harter and associate producer Chad Gerlt, conceived of the production as a way to showcase the talent of female actresses in the Kansas City area. Though they were initially concerned that audiences may not accept women portraying the political figures in 1776, Crawford said, "When feelers were sent out to our actresses, the response was a resounding 'Oh yes, I would love to tackle that role.' This is what we expected and it gave us more reason to consider it further."
Crawford and her team contacted Music Theatre International, which licenses the title to professional and amateur theatre groups, for approval. The final say in the all-female 1776 came down to Keith Edwards, son of the late Sherman Edwards.
"This was a far cry from any production of 1776 ever done that I know of," Edwards told Playbill.com. "After giving it some thought I developed a viewpoint about this production. In this format the show's story can remain historically accurate, while at the same time be a 'sister' to the original that reflects our modern society. If the Continental Congress were formed today, there would undoubtedly be women members as well as minorities. An inclusive society is roughly what the founding fathers desired with the launch of the Declaration of Independence and although they did not emancipate slaves or women at that moment they prepared the way for both. So the all-female production, without eighteenth century costumes or set, is a natural evolution, an outcome of the original set in modern day. The facts of the show's story should still represented." Sherman also noted that the MTH production of 1776 opened up the musical to future licensing possibilities. "Many smaller towns and theatres find it impossible to cast the show because of the size and makeup of the cast - all men except for two parts. I would like to open up the show, to make it easier to cast, produce and license, and this is a great way to begin doing that." He also noted that he believed his father would have approved of the production "without hesitation."
1776 will be presented in concert, with minimal scenery and costuming. "Everyone [will be] in black with a suggestion of character, a bright colored scarf, a hat, a cane. We make literal choices sparingly; a handful of props, and in this case, a large calendar and tally board," Crawford explained. "It allows for the focus to be completely on the script and score – a celebration of the material at its heart."
The cast features Karen Errington as John Adams, Deb Bluford as Ben Franklin, Jessalyn Kincaid as Thomas Jefferson, Cheryl Weaver as John Dickinson, Julie Shaw as John Hancock, Sarah Kleeman as Abigail Adams, Lena Andrews as Robert Livingston, Allison Moody as Henry Lee, Vicky DeLaughder as Charles Thomson, Jill Szoo as Samuel Chase, Katie Karel as Edward Rutledge, Katie McCreary as Roger Sherman, Emily Harris as Andrew McNair, Eleanor Hill as Dr. Hall, Malena Marcase as Courier, Sarah Goeke as Rev. John Witherspoon, Emily Shackelford as Martha Jefferson, Diane Bulan as Caesar Rodney, Kristen Sullivan as James Wilson, Christina Burton as Joseph Hewes, Devon Roberts as George Read, Cathy Wood as Stephen Hopkins, Nicole Rockstad as Dr. Josiah Bartlett and Megan Alexander as Col. Thomas McKean.
1776 premiered on Broadway in 1969 at the Richard Rodgers Theatre (at the time the 46th Street Theatre). The production earned five Tony Award nominations, and took the honors for Best Musical, Best Direction and Best Featured Actor. The Roundabout Theatre Company revived the musical in 1998. A 1972 film adaptation preserves much of the original Broadway cast.
For tickets, priced $13-$27, phone (816) 842-9999 or visit MTHKC.com.