Whew! Sorry for the lack of posts, gentle readers - your pal Chuck was swamped this weekend with twin shows - the wrap-up of the excellent Seussical (which I'll talk about more tomorrow) and being part of the wonderful production of 1776, which wrapped up its first of two weekends yesterday!
I'll have much more to say about that show in the week ahead - and you can catch a photo gallery of shots like this one from the show (none of them, mercifully, include me) right here - and here's the article Dave Lavender wrote for the Herald-Dispatch:
Director Bil Neal gathers up his notes at the foot of the Renaissance Arts Center stage and gives the command for the play to begin — “Gentlemen, on stage please.” Indeed.
Armed with a cast that’s a who’s who of the Tri-State’s male leads, the drama-laden, music-filled birth of our country has never sounded so good as Arts Resources for the Tri-State dips its quill into history for a timely production of 1776 : The Musical that begins this weekend at the Renaissance Arts Center, 900 8th St., (the old Huntington High School).
The show is anchored by leads such as Clint McElroy (John Adams), Mike Murdock (Benjamin Franklin) and Stephen Vance (Thomas Jefferson).
The winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical, 1776, which premiered in 1969 and was revived on Broadway in 1997, splays open the hot mess in Philadelphia 1776 that is the rum-soaked second Continental Congress, a mix of walking cane-wielding businessmen, landowners and slave holders staring down history in the making.
Powered with music by pop writer Sherman Edwards and a snappy book by Peter Stone, 1776, whose catchy songs and dialogue are carved mostly from actual letters and memoirs by those involved, follows the agitator Adams (of Massachusetts), Franklin (of Pennsylvania), and the Virginia coalition of Jefferson and Richard Henry Lee played by the spirited Jon Lamp, as they try and convince the Congress to set aside their wide gulf of differences and vote for independence from the shackles of the British monarchy by signing the Declaration of Independence.
With his gray flowing locks, booming baritone and urgent delivery, McElroy commands the stage from the opening bars of “Sit Down John” as John Adams, a role he played for Huntington Outdoor Theatre in 2001.
McElroy said he jumped right back into this production because he couldn’t pass a show featuring so many fellow actors such as Jim Lamp (Dickinson), Charlie Woolcock (Caesar Rodney), and several others who have appeared in 1776 in Huntington, Ashland or both.
“It’s really been like a reunion,” McElroy said of the production that features such Tri-State theater elders as C.E. Wilson, Jerry Morse and even a rare appearance by Chuck Minsker. (A note from Chuck: Ha! There are few things more rare than me on stage. Hen's teeth, maybe?)
“A lot of the guys like Mark Near, this is his third or fourth time doing it and Jim Lamp too,” McElroy. “There’s just something really special about this show. It truly is a bonding experience. Both times I have done this, the guys who were in the show, we have stayed friends for years and years. The play is about that. People coming together and uniting for a cause and making it work, and making it work against all odds. There’s a reference in the play that Ben Franklin says, ‘We’re men, no more no less, trying to get a nation started against greater odds than a more generous God would have allowed.” McElroy said 1776 is that true underdog story that he feels every American should see to remind them of how and why and at what cost this country was founded.
“These men risked everything. They risked their lives and their fortunes and their families and their future and we forget that,” he said. “These were just men trying to put together this new nation and what it is all about is those compromises and the negotiations and working it out and trying to make as many people as happy as possible. What is fascinating about this play, and having seen it over and over again this is truly remarkable that you already know the outcome, you know they are going to sign the Declaration of Independence, but you get about a third of the way into 1776 and you are literally thinking, my gosh I hope they work this out. If they didn’t we would all be drinking tea at two in the afternoon and speaking with a British accent.” Not surprisingly, this history laden show has reeled in such educators as Cabell County Schools director of communications, Jedd Flowers (Roger Sherman) as well as Huntington Middle School science teacher Leann Haine (playing Abigail Adams, one of only two women in the play), Milton Middle School student teacher Jon Lamp (Richard Henry Lee) and Cabell Midland High School student Damon Noel (Leather Apron).