Backstage: Lamoille County Players, 1776

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(Host)  2008 has seen its share of political debate, from the presidential campaigns to the Wall St. bailout.

Now the Lamoille County Players take us back to the granddaddy of deliberation with their production of the Broadway musical, 1776.

VPR’s Neal Charnoff takes us Backstage.

(Charnoff)  The show takes place in the summer of 1776, as the Second Continental Congress argues about when and how the American colonies should declare independence from Britain. 

In the song, "But Mr. Adams", congressional members give John Adams excuses for why they each have to turn down the task of writing the Declaration of Independence. 

(But Mr. Adams plays)

The song "The Egg" follows a debate over whether the national bird should be the eagle, the dove or the turkey. 

1776 opened on Broaday in 1969, won a Tony for Best Musical, and ran for three years.  A film version was released in 1972. 

This production is directed by Dean Burnell of Johnson.

Burnell says 1776 is rarely done by community theaters because of the size of the cast. 

For the Lamoille County Players, finding 24 men to play members of the continental Congress was no easy task  But Dean Burnell says that once word got out, initial worries were put to rest. 

(Burnell)  I think the show has a good reputation, and the fact that it’s not done, that people who know it really enjoy and really are willing to travel for the opportunity to be in it, and that was our saving grace.

The full power of the cast is brought to bear in the song, Sit Down John, as the congress debates voting for independence. 

(Sit Down John plays) 

Dean Burnell says that one unusual aspect of 1776 is that the large cast functions as more than just a chorus.  He feels that with each actor portraying a delegate, all the cast members have their own moment. 

And to that end, cast members did research into their characters.

Of course, 1776 is first and foremost musical theater, and historical liberties are taken. 

But Dean Burnell says contemporary audiences need to be reminded that secession from British rule was not a foregone conclusion.

(Burnell)  I think the debate that they have, the serious debate about whether to do it or not is enlightening, for us to think about ourselves as a country, that it wasn’t just of course we’re going to become our own country, it wasn’t that simple.

Trevor Putvain of Wolcott plays Colonel Thomas McKean.  Putvain also happens to be a history teacher.

He says the debates offered up in 1776 provide insight into Congress as an institution.   And he adds that it happens to be very funny. 

(Putvain)  It’s not only the issue of "The British are Coming", but they’re going to deal with the slavery issues and the separation and differences between the states,and what it is to be a public servant, there’s all those little issues tied up in this, but with a lot of laughs as well. 

Director Dean Burnell says mounting the production was not an easy task. But he notes  that the spirit of community theater is helping the Lamoille County Players replicate the spirit of 1776.

For VPR News, I’m Neal Charnoff. 

(Host)  "1776" runs through October 12th at the Hyde Park Opera House.

 Photo: Adam Silverman

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