By DOUG SMITH
Niagara Gazette — Students from Lewiston-Porter High School and Tonawanda’s St. Benedictine looked history in the face last Thursday morning at the Ellicott Creek Playhouse and some two dozen actors, when not arguing with each other, looked right back.
“Was it really that way?” one asked after a rousing presentation of the “1776” by Niagara Regional Theater Guild.
“Well, they didn’t sing,” admitted Director Dawn Marcolini Newton, but even the most fastidious historians concede that this remarkable musical is more accurate than the average musket.
The Adams family letters, the minutes of the confrontational construction of the Declaration of Independence, they’re all a matter of record.
Mustering two dozen men who can speak for themselves, not to mention such ladies as Judy Rodriguez, exquisite as Abigail Adams, Niagara Regional Theatre fancifully re-creates the pain and the strain by which our national was birthed 236 years ago. And when the air resounds with complaints of an inept New York delegation (“New York abstains – courteously”), it conveys the notion that, less than a month away from another election, things haven’t changed all that much.
Like voters in Dickens’ unfinished “Edwin Drood,” the teen-age throng rallied ‘round the skills of Fran Newton as “Obnoxious John” Adams, for whom the opening number, “Sit Down, John,” sets the tone.
They wondered if Jon May, as Carolinian Rutledge, “was always that happy,” and roared as Tom Turici and henchmen worked up the formula for converting molasses into rum.
Then there was Paul Bene, a Guild honoree, conveying a randy old Benjamin Franklin, father of invention.
Les Bailey was particularly convincing as the Pennsylvanian opposed to rebellion. Had it been he, and not John Dickinson, making the case for the crown, we might all today be talking out of the other sides of our mouths.
But “1776” will continue to enlighten adult audiences, through Oct. 14 at the Guild’s Ellicott Creek Playhouse, 350 Ellicott Creek Road, Tonawanda, with level parking and easy access.Doug Smith has been reviewing theater on the Niagara Frontier since 1969. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org