For its first musical production of the season, Stage West Community Playhouse is stepping into an arena that has fueled the country's conversation these past few months: government and politics.
However, despite the fact that it's a musical dealing with the signing of the Declaration of Independence, director Barbara Everest believes that 1776, which opens Thursday on the theater's main stage, offers more about the ideals behind forming a democracy than what it takes to run one.
"Yes, it's a musical, but it's also a sincere lesson in history as well," said Everest. "I think most people will find it very moving."
Everest, who has directed such Stage West musicals as My Fair Lady and Sweet Charity, said the responsibility of the Sherman Edwards musical is to entertain its audience. Indeed, the purely historical facts in 1776, which opened on Broadway in 1969, are tempered with a generous dose of artistic license — and even humor at times.
Set in Philadelphia during the summer of 1776, the story centers on the men thought to be the brightest of their generation — John Adams, Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. A dramatic clash of personalities unfolds as the men hash out their differences on what they eventually hope will form a more perfect union.
The spirited discourse emerges early with Sit Down, John, a song that pits the enormously disliked Adams against his colonial peers. The musical cleverly deals with many issues of the day, including the inevitable question of slavery in Molasses to Rum.
Everest said working with a 25-member cast (22 of which are men) has offered several challenges, in that stage movements must be precise to avoid collisions.
In addition to Stage West veterans Dalton Benson (Cabaret, The Secret Garden) in the role of Ben Franklin and George Dwyer (Camelot, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum) playing Thomas Jefferson, the production also features Wayne Raymond in his stage debut as Adams.
Despite his lack of experience, Raymond, who conducts the Hernando Symphony Orchestra and has served as musical director for numerous Stage West productions, was a natural choice for the part, said Everest.
"I asked him to give me a spark, and he did," Everest said. "He just seemed to fit very comfortably in the role."
Everest said that one of the unexpected joys of the production is that special performances will be held for student audiences at some point during the musical's three-week run.
"I think they are going to go away very impressed with it," she said. "It's a terrific history lesson that hopefully they will remember for a long time afterward."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1435.