Welcome back to Lies Musical Theatre Told Me! This is one that I think about frequently this time of year.
With the exception of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson The Continental Congress was a bunch of indecisive idiots (and they were ALL super horny)
The culprit here is of course the amazing 1776.
If you aren’t familiar, 1776 chronicles the week leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. It’s insightful, funny, brilliant and, being that it’s a musical about the founding fathers, totally dorky.
I think it can go without saying that I love 1776. I love it because I love musicals, and I love American history, and I really love The Declaration of Independence. In my early American Lit course in college we read both the Declaration and the Constitution and analyzed them as non fiction literature and it was one of the best experiences of analysis I’ve ever had.
Anyway, my love affair with 1776 began when I was about twelve. Our local high school put on a production of the show, starring now almost famous Brad Weinstock as John Adams.
I’m pretty sure that Brad was great, but I don’t really remember because my memories of that production are clouded by my friend Joe’s older brother Sean playing Richard Henry Lee. To be fair, “The Lees of Old Virginia,” is a big show stealing number, but Sean was consistently stealing shows from the other kids. The next year he stole Into The Woods from the boy playing The Baker, but that’s a different story.
I was transfixed by this odd little show, which only had a few songs and no women. Well, 2 women. I loved it in fact. I wanted to go right out to Sam Goody or Tower Records and buy the OBC Recording. I didn’t, but that’s only because my mom owned it on vinyl. Because I wasn’t yet a full blown theatre geek, I didn’t quite understand how cool it was that my mother owned a vinyl copy of the 1776 OBC Recording. I did understand how cool it was that William Daniels was the original John Adams.
I also may be using the word “cool” incorrectly here. But I listened to the record over and over again. The reason that my mother owned this record was simple.
To celebrate the bicentenial in 1976, the parish my mom grew up in put on a production of 1776. My grandfather played Thomas Jefferson. Now, there’s a number, “But Mr. Adams,” that is basically John Adams trying to convince various members of the committee of five to write the Declaration of Independence. When he goes to Jefferson, who of course ends up writing it, (if you don’t know this go find your middle school social studies teacher and punch them in the face.) Jefferson simply says “Mr. Adams, leave me alone.” Here’s the thing though, the “alone” is on a high G and the entire phrase is belted. It’s incredibly difficult. So, when my Grampy would practice the song, while his five young children tried to sleep. He would reach that moment, this beautiful dramatic vocal fanfare and miss the note. Now messing up a note is not a big deal in rehearsal but can be quite frustrating. To vent said frustration, Grampy would shout, “God damnit Irene! (My grandmother) I can’t hit that note!” This is a little bit of family lore that my mother spins frequently and always giggles her way through it.
Anyway, this is all a prelude, because 1776, like so many other shows that I love is a big fat liar.
Lie #1, of course is that the congress was super lazy and petty. Except John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin. The first half of the show is Adams imposing his will on the congress about Independence. He is labeled as “obnoxious and disliked” and no one agrees with him. But no one else even wants to talk about independence. Not John Hancock, no one, except Ben Franklin, and Richard Henry Lee, sort of. Obviously Adams wins and then America becomes a thing.
Here’s the main reason that 1776 decides that the reason the Declaration of Independence almost didn’t happen is because Thomas Jefferson wanted to go home and have sex with his wife.
This is an actual plot point. Thomas Jefferson is asking John Adams to leave him alone, so that he can go home and boink Martha Jefferson. This is resolved when Adams and Franklin bring Martha to Philadelphia, somehow, and then she and Tom have sex in the middle of the day and it’s very scandalous. This also leads to one of the best character songs in the history of theatre, “He Plays The Violin.” It also leads to a really boring duet between John and Abigail Adams where they sing about how they miss having sex.
That’s the only reason there are even women in the show at all. That’s why you don’t see many amateur productions of it anymore. No girl parts.
Katie and I fight about it yearly, because I want to put it on with our company Tom Foolery Theatre so badly it makes my head hurt, and we can’t, because Katie refuses to allow gender blind casting. (She is, by the way mostly right, and I mostly start these fights after a few drinks.) However, if you’re in Allendale, New Jersey tonight and you see a dark blond haired girl and a red haired girl marching drunkenly through the streets shouting, “SOMEONE GO AND OPEN UP A WINDOW!” “WELL FOR GOD’S SAKE JOHN SIT DOWN!” at the top of their lungs, that’s me and Katie.
Happy Fourth of July Everyone!