Ken Kemp as John Adams and Matt Peterson as Thomas Jefferson in Milburn Stone Theatre's 1776. (Photo credit: Jacob Watkins)

Milburn Stone Theatre’s 1776 an Historic Event

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Scott Mason as John Dickinson in 1776, running at Milburn Stone Theatre through June 30. (Photo credit: Jacob Watkins)

There are a great number of wonderful community theaters in the Delaware Valley. But when it comes to quality and consistency we all have a few that immediately spring to mind. If Milburn Stone Theatre is not already one of those names on your list, their current production of  1776 will etch it there in stone!

Billed as ”The Great American Musical”, 1776, with book by Peter Stone and music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, is a musical look into the formative month of the American Revolution. We watch as the Founding Fathers debate, and create, the Declaration of Independence. Much of the action focuses around the efforts of John Adams (Ken Kemp), as he passionately presses the point of independence.  We follow the action right up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Along the way we discover just how close it was to not coming into being.

For this production, Milburn Stone Theatre and director S. Lee Lewis, have assembled a cast of 25 of the most talented male actors in the area, and two  female actors whose equally matched talents provide a perfect counterbalance (not to mention a much-needed aesthetic accent to a stage full of men in wigs and tights).  It is a collection of talent that only happens once in a super moon, and it too is a thing of beauty!

The acting in the show is outstanding.  Kemp’s portrayal of Massachusetts’s John Adams provides a strong anchor. We feel Adams’ burning passion for liberty. Pennsylvania’s Benjamin Franklin (David Wills) supplies, as he should, much comic relief, as well as fatherly advice for Adams. Wills’ sense of comic timing is a delight. Rounding out the three major players on that side of the aisle is Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson (Matt Peterson). Peterson plays Jefferson’s ”strong silent type” up quite well.

On the other side of the aisle, two characters prominently stand out.  Pennsylvania’s John Dickinson (Scott Mason), a strong supporter of England, is a constant nemesis to Adams.  Mason’s brilliant portrayal makes you want to hate this man so much, yet still appreciate his redeeming qualities.  South Carolina’s Edward Rutledge (David Allen) is a powerful force in his own right and Allen’s mix of swagger, charm, and hot-headedness breathes life into the role.

Musically, 1776 is a gem! Under the musical direction of Marji Eldreth, harmonies and blends are outstanding.  There are wonderful individual vocal performances as well.  Both ladies in the show, Abigail Adams (Kati Donovan) and Martha Jefferson (Amy Luchey) have enchanting voices. But perhaps the most heart wrenching number comes from a less prominent character, that of the colonial soldier (Chandler Smith) who is a courier for messages from General Washington, as he describes the death of a friend in battle in the song “Momma, Look Sharp”. He is ably accompanied by the Custodian (Phil Hansel), and two other Congressional assistants (Silas Taylor, Trevor Korn).  It is definitely a tear jerker.

Chandler Smith as the Courier in 1776, delivering perhaps the most heart wrenching number, “Momma, Look Sharp”. (Photo credit: Jacob Watkins)

Another nice touch for 1776 is the orchestra. Milburn Stone Theatre leveraged the power of the internet to raise money for the orchestra through a “Kickstarter” campaign.  It was apparently successful and a very, very welcomed addition.

From a technical standpoint, the sets and costumes are very well done. It is very easy to believe yourself a fly on the wall in Philadelphia that hot summer of ‘76.

If I were to mention every one of the glowing notes I took on this show it would take longer than the 2:40 runtime of the show itself. It would also be inaccurate as this production is so captivating that by the middle of Act II I transitioned from reviewer to enraptured audience member and forgot to take another note.  What an absolutely fulfilling night of entertainment this show offers!  If you are a fan of community theatre in the Delaware Valley, you cannot afford to miss this production. It is one that will be talked about for years to come!

1776
Book by Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Directed by S. Lee Lewis
Musical Direction by Marji Eldreth
June 21 – 30, 2013
Milburn Stone Theatre
Cecil College
1 Seahawk Dr.
North East, MD
410-287-1037
http://www.MilburnStone.org

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Chris Laning

Chris Laning

Chris Laning has been involved with theatre for almost 30 years. He has appeared in or directed numerous high school, college, and community theatre productions. Among his favorite roles were that of "Pseudolus" in A FUNNY THING HAPPENED..., and "Jesus" in both GODSPELL and SUPERSTAR. Chris was the Director of the Trinity Players in Mullica Hill, NJ from 1997 to 2007 where he directed nine musical productions. He has appeared in productions for other companies including Road Company, Sketch Club, and Chapel Street Players. In 2009, his festival entry for Chapel Street Players took top honors at the Delaware Theatre Association festival and placed third at the ESTA Regional Festival. In 2009 he helped found Inner Light Theatre in Newark, DE and directed the first two productions (GODSPELL and JOSEPH…). In addition to his active stage work, from 2006 to 2009, Chris produced and co-hosted the national community theatre podcast "Your Neighborhood Stage", where he interviewed representatives from theatre companies in nearly every state in the Union. He was also the producer and host of the "AACTFest Update" podcast for both the 2007 and 2009 American Association of Community Theatre's national festivals. Chris recently moved to Elkton, MD. He also has two wonderful children who also are interested in various aspects of theatre. He is a web developer for an internet retail website in Wilmington, active with the Boy Scouts of America, and sings regularly with the choirs of Elkton United Methodist Church.

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