We hold these truths to be self-evident, that some plays make history come alive….

This afternoon we went out to the Actors Co-Op at the Crossley Theatre in Hollywood (MySpace) to see a Tony-award winning musical from 1969: “1776”. Before I go into the show, I’d like to describe the theatre and its company. The Crossley Theatres are located on the large campus of First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, and is the first Christian-based professional theatre company in the US that operates under a c0ntract with Actors Equity (I’ll note we’ve been to one other Church-based theatre company — ELATE Lincoln Steadman Theatre (where we saw “Songs for a New World”)). They’ve been around for 16 years, and did a remarkable job. It is an interesting company. I also note that we met shutterbug93 at the show — it is always a delight to see her when she is in town (her review).

On to the play itself. “1776” was produced on Broadway in 1969 and feature a book by Peter Stone (who did a number of other plays), and music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards (his only musical). It tells the story of what would normally not be viewed as a musical event: the events surrounding the Continental Congress’s Declaration of Independence. The lead character is John Adams, firebrand delegate from Mass., who is attempting to convince Congress to vote for independence. With his ally Benjamin Franklin, he convinces Thomas Jefferson to write the declaration, and then works to convince the other delegations, suffering moments of despondence along the way. The only female roles are that of Abigail Adams, which whom John has discussions in his head, and Martha Jefferson, who serves to eliminate some (uhh) “writers block” that Thomas Jefferson has. The play, although quite long (just under 3 hours), has delightful music, although it is not evenly spaced — there are along stretches of mainly dialog, making this much more a “play with music”. There are also points where the anti-war nature of the play comes through, especially in the song “Mama, Look Sharp” about the horrors of battle.

Actors Co-Op, for the most part, did a good job of the play with the resources they had. The principal lead was Bruce Ladd* as John Adams. Ladd did a very good job with the acting side of the role, creating a believable character with the requisite commitment. I felt his singing, at points, could have been a little bit stronger, but was certainly good. Larry Lederman, as Benjamin Franklin, also inhabited the character, and had a strong singing voice. The third member of our leading trio, Ben Hensley, was the strongest — great singing voice, great acting.

Turning to the two women in the cast: Leslie Spencer Smith was a strong Abigail Adams, with a delightful singing voice and good characterization. Also good was Erika Whalen* as Martha Jefferson. Although she only had one scene, I enjoyed her playfullness and vitality (although her singing could have been a tad stronger).

Looking at the rest of the Continental Congress and their aides, there are a few particular standouts. Stephen Van Dorn did a remarkable job as Edward Rutledge, especially on the song “Molasses to Rum”. Alson strong was Matt Lutz* as the courier, especially in “Momma Look Sharp”, the last number in Act 1. I also liked Michael Downing’s performace as John Dickinson, especially in one of my favorite songs, “Cool Considerate Men”. The last person I would like to single out is Don Robb as Stephen Hopkins, who was just fun to watch. Rounding out the cast was Tad Atkinson (Reverend John Witherspoon), Ryan Beringer (Josiah Bartlett), Gary Clemmer* (John Hancock), Rick Marcus (Andrew McNair), Stephen Folds (Roger Sherman), Greg Martin (Samuel Chase), Tim Farmer* (Caesar Rodney), Jim Keily (James Wilson), Mark Kinsey Stephenson (Richard Henry Lee), Carl Moebus (Dr. Lyman Hall), Michael Mulligan (Thomas McKean), David Nadeau (Leather Apron/Painter), Markus Parker (Philip Livingston), David Scales (George Read), Brian Sparrow (Joseph Hewes), Ronnie Steadman (Charles Thomson) and Gary Steelman (Lewis Morris).

Turning to the technical side. The music was directed by Johanna Kent, leading a four-piece ensemble (keyboard, piano, violin, and drums). I felt that this wasn’t enough for the show (it probably needed double that for the right sound), but was likely all they could fit in the space. The scenery was excellent for the space, consisting of the main congress room with adjustable lighting and two side areas for the outside scenes — Stephen Gifford is to be commended for his use of the space, Lisa D. Katz for her lighting, and Lori Berg for her props. Sound design was by Cricket S. Myers. The costumes by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg seemed reasonably period. Stage management was by Doirean Heldt assisted by Amanda Bell. Choreography was by Allison Bibicoff, who made excellent use of the small space. The production was directed by Richard Israel. The artistic directors for Actors Co-op are Micha Kobayashi and Mark Kinsey Stephenson, and the producing director is Paul Stuart Graham.

“1776” continues at Actors Co-Op until March 16, 2008.

As for us, the next show on the theatre calendar is likely one of the productions of Grease at Van Nuys High the weekend of March 6-8, although I may get tickets for something one of the remaining weekends in February (I’m keeping my eyes on a production of “Assassins”). Also sometime in March will be “W;t” at REP East (it runs 3/7 through 4/5). March 15 brings “Jekyll & Hyde” at Cabrillo Music Theatre, followed the next day by “Sweeney Todd” at the Ahmanson. That’s our current 1Q08 in theatre, as we know it now.