By Harry Haun
and David Lefkowitz
13 Jun 1998
John Adams will finally have to sit down.
Despite glowing notices and a Tony nomination for Best Musical Revival, 1776 will lay down its flag, June 14 after the 6:30 PM performance. The production will have played 34 previews and 109 regular performances at the Roundabout's Stage Right mainstage, followed by 224 more performances at the Gershwin, for a total of 333 regular performances.
The news came two days after the show was blanked at the Tony Awards in its three nominated categories: musical revival, direction, featured actor in a musical.
1776 is the second casualty of the 1998 Tonys. Thirteen hours after the June 7 awards, Honour announced it would close at the Belasco Theatre, June 14. The Diary of Anne Frank also announced a June 14 closing shortly after 1776.
A recent New York Post story noted that 1776 was running roughly $3 million in the red. Rumors have been circulating for weeks that 1776 was mulling closing, but the expectation was the show might wait until the July 4 weekend to go out with a bang.
No question it was a risk to move 1776, Dec. 3, 1997 from the Roundabout Theatre's 499-seat mainstage to the cavernous Gershwin Theatre (1,933 seats). Designer Tony Walton slightly expanded his set for the transfer, but the show has been running just over 50 percent attendance for several weeks now. As of the week ending May 31, 1776, which has a 25-person cast, grossed only $236,009.
For weeks prior to the transfer, the show's producers discussed ways to make that huge space financially and aesthetically workable. According to production spokesperson Erin Dunn (of Boneau/Bryan-Brown), set designer Walton had to make a few changes to expand the set for the Gershwin. "There's now a V-shaped platform raising up a portion of the stage that wasn't raised before. Also, on either side of the stage hanging from the walls are the flags of the original 13 colonies. Plus instead of one house front, there are two house fronts on opposite ends of the stage."
Variety reports that George C. Wolfe is considering bringing On The Town to the Gershwin, but he, too, may be daunted by the theatre's size and instead opt for the Barrymore (where The Life closed May 31).
The last round of cast-changes for 1776 came in early March. Brent Spiner (John Adams) left Mar. 1 and was replaced by Michael McCormick, who had been playing Caesar Rodney. Other Broadway roles include Kiss of the Spider Woman and La Bete.
David Huddleston, who stars in the new Joel and Ethan Coen film, The Big Lebowski, took over for Pat Hingle as Benjamin Franklin. The 67 year-old Huddleston also went in Mar. 4. Huddleston, who acted in Westerns opposite Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart, also appeared on Broadway in The First (1981), playing Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey. Other credits include Simon Gray's Molly at the Long Wharf.
Huddleston told the NY Post, "I love playing Ben Franklin. He was a very lively fellow, and he had a great command of the language."
Costumes for 1776 are by William Ivey Long (Chicago), lighting by Brian Nason and sound by Brian Ronan. The musical director is Paul Gemignani, with orchestrations by Brian Besterman and choreography by Kathleen Marshall.
Scott Ellis, who helmed Roundabout's revivals of Company, Picnic and She Loves Me directs 1776. His Steel Pier was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Musical of 1997.
The production employed one of the more amusing advertising campaigns of the 1997 summer season: Featuring an eagle with sunglasses, the show billed itself as "Independence Day -- The Musical," riffing on the hit sci-fi film Independence Day. For the record, the show has neither aliens, nor space ships -- though it does take place in the days leading up to July 4.
In an interview with Associated Press writer Michael Kuchwara, librettist 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 for 1776 at the Gershwin Theatre, 222 West 51 St., are on sale at Ticketmaster (212) 307-4100.