Friday, April 20, 2018
Features and More

Review: Asolo Theatre's rousing '1776' puts a human face on history

SARASOTA — A musical about the Declaration of Independence? With a virtually all-male cast? Was that the worst idea ever for a musical?

Or so I always thought. Now I have to say: Where has 1776 been all my life? I had never seen the musical, which premiered on Broadway in 1969 and won the Tony Award for best musical, until I went to the Asolo Repertory Theatre's splendid production Tuesday night, and it bowled me over.

Right from the start, this show by history-teacher-turned-songwriter Sherman Edwards (music and lyrics) and Peter Stone (book) is loaded with unexpected wit and charm in the rousing men's chorus Sit Down, John. It features Bernie Yvon in a terrific portrayal of the "obnoxious and disliked" John Adams, arguing with fellow members of the Second Continental Congress in sweltering Philadelphia.

Adams, Benjamin Franklin (Andrew Boyer) and Thomas Jefferson (Brandon Dahlquist) are the Founding Fathers with the most to do, as exemplified by their hilarious trio, The Egg, on what the national bird should be — the dove, turkey or eagle? But each delegate gets a telling little turn, such as Richard Henry Lee (Jay Lusteck) in The Lees of Old Virginia, or the tipsy Stephen Hopkins (Joe D. Lauck) of Rhode Island. As secretary Charles Thomson, Jim Sorensen keeps the congress posted on military matters, reading pessimistic dispatches from "Your obedient, G. Washington."

1776 has uncanny relevance to current events, with its depiction of politicians making compromises to reach a common good. Cool, Cool, Considerate Men, a minuet led by Pennsylvania's John Dickinson (Jeff Parker), could be the Tea Party anthem: "To the right, ever to the right / Never to the left, forever to the right."

As youthful, aristocratic Edward Rutledge, the delegate from South Carolina, Jarrod Zimmerman delivers the remarkable Molasses to Rum, a dark tour de force on Northern complicity in the South's "peculiar institution," slavery. In pained response, Adams moves to drop the clause that calls for freeing the slaves, singing the doleful Is Anybody There?

The only women in the 26-actor cast are Abby Mueller, playing the muse of Massachusetts, Abigail Adams, and Andrea Prestinario, who makes a single appearance as Martha Jefferson to sing a ravishing aria in praise of her husband, He Plays the Violin.

The production was smartly directed by Frank Galati, whose creative team is highlighted by Russell Metheny's handsome wood set and sumptuous period costumes by Mara Blumenfeld. Music director and pianist Michael Rice is the sole visible musician as he conducts the small orchestra that plays from underneath the stage.

1776 reminded me a lot of The Music Man. Both are pure Americana, of course, but they also have a combination of humanity and intelligence — thanks to near perfect books by Stone and Meredith Willson — that is rare in musical comedy.

•••

To mark World AIDS Day on Saturday, there is a performance that night at 7:30 at Freefall Theatre in St. Petersburg of Keith Haring: Radiant Child. Chris Rutherford stars in the late Jeff Norton's one-man play about the artist known for his drawings of barking dogs, flying saucers and "radiating" babies. Haring died of AIDS at 32 in 1990. Presented by the Suncoast AIDS Theatre Project and directed by Kerry Glamsch, the performance benefits HIV/AIDS programs of Metropolitan Charities of Pinellas. $10. (727) 498-5205; freefalltheatre.com.

John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.

Comments
Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

Spring break, hurricane relief boosted Tampa Bay hotels in March

The Tampa Bay area’s hotel occupancy rate rose to 87.5 percent in March, the highest level in three years. The rise was fueled by spring break vacationers as well as insurance adjusters and hurricane cleanup crews flooding the state to restore it aft...
Published: 04/20/18
In Bhutan, gross national happiness more important than GDP

In Bhutan, gross national happiness more important than GDP

Associated PressLAYA, BhutanPrayer flags whip in the wind, flying across steep valleys and roads. Buddhist temples, stupa shrines and majestic fortresses called zhongs dot the landscape. Giant water-powered prayer wheels spin from tumbling falls. Far...
Published: 04/20/18
The Holocaust connection that makes the Florida Orchestra’s Verdi ‘Requiem’ concert special

The Holocaust connection that makes the Florida Orchestra’s Verdi ‘Requiem’ concert special

The Florida Orchestra puts another exclamation point on its 50th season with Verdi’s Requiem, this weekend’s concert series, a major presentation of an iconic work. Composed by Giuseppe Verdi, Requiem debuted in 1874 but took on a new layer of signif...
Updated: 4 hours ago
On its 20th anniversary, Disney's Animal Kingdom credits conservation with longevity

On its 20th anniversary, Disney's Animal Kingdom credits conservation with longevity

ORLANDO — When Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened 20 years ago, it was light on thrills and heavy on conservation. On April 22, 1998, Earth Day, the Orlando park had a single thrill ride, Countdown to Extinction, and a handful of shows like ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
On 4/20, a Tampa distillery is releasing hemp-infused Touch Vodka

On 4/20, a Tampa distillery is releasing hemp-infused Touch Vodka

TAMPA — Appropriately enough, a local distillery is releasing a hemp vodka on Friday, 4/20.After more than a year of planning and research, Fat Dog Spirits — the parent company of Touch Vodka — is releasing its new Nirvana vodka.Served in 750-millile...
Published: 04/19/18
Graze all day at Armature Works

Graze all day at Armature Works

TAMPA HEIGHTS— Graze 1910 upholds the comfortable and relaxing, yet elegant setting of Armature Works with its "comfort food" offerings and dedication to serving breakfast all day."It’s the way I eat. I graze all day," said owner Raymond "Ray" Menend...
Published: 04/19/18
Tampa Bay disciples of 'Wild Wild Country' guru remember Oregon commune

Tampa Bay disciples of 'Wild Wild Country' guru remember Oregon commune

SPRING HILL Joe Lemieux sat on the cream sofa near several relics from another era in his life, out of place in this retiree’s pastel-tinged living room and brought into the morning light specifically for this occasion. There was a beaded nec...
Published: 04/19/18
Persall: Upon retirement, a look back at a star-quality career

Persall: Upon retirement, a look back at a star-quality career

Do you see what I did there? The comma and extra "E" in my byline? One last pun, just for fun. It’s the end, fin in French, and something unfortunately ruder in Swedish. Time to retire, nearly 25 years to the day after starting work as the T...
Published: 04/19/18
Freefall flavors 2018-2019 season with comedies and a pair of musicals

Freefall flavors 2018-2019 season with comedies and a pair of musicals

ST. PETERSBURG — In the coming season, Freefall Theatre is rolling out a world premiere, a different take on Christmas, a sharp comedy and a recent work by Pulitzer winner Lynn Nottage. The theme for the 2018-2019 season, "A Brighter Tomorrow," color...
Published: 04/19/18
Bar review: London Heights British Pub in Tampa

Bar review: London Heights British Pub in Tampa

As a person who has no intention of ever going into the bar business, I spend a good amount of time thinking about what makes bar concepts work. I think about themes, branding, menus, location and myriad other factors that ultimately play into a bar’...
Published: 04/19/18