Thursday, July 4, 2013

Read and Watch: 1776 by Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards

Happy Fourth or Fifth of July! As we listen to the rumble of fireworks, we thought we'd share our festive celebration from today. (Of course we could have appropriately celebrated on July 2nd, the day the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, but we figured we'd save the fun for our own holiday.) The good news is that you could easily stretch the Independence Day holiday into almost a month of festivities since the greatest number of delegates signed on 2 August. We'll get back to you with our Second of August celebration plans next month. Maybe we'll do festive food then.

As to what we did to celebrate this holiday, we did a 1776 musical celebration. Susan has a well-loved copy of the book on her shelf, two separate cast recordings, a VHS and a DVD in her house. Alyssa has a DVD currently located in another state, and, failing that, a phone connection to Susan.

In a surprising turn-around, we recommend a watch and read policy for 1776 (rather than read then watch), but do go get a copy of the book! You can read a historical note, the complete Declaration of Independence with its changes noted, AND a select bibliography (woot!) in addition to all of your favorite lines (and excluded song lyrics, like the entire "Time's Running Out" number).

From reading this page, you'll see that the play makes a mistake in the scene where the secretary is reading the first draft to the Congress. The rights would not be "certain inalienable" ones; they would be "inherent and inalienable." From reading the entire historical note, your history geek credentials will be raised immeasurably.

Now, if you haven’t seen a performance (movie counts) of this show yet, get on it. It’s a musical about the writing and revising of the Declaration of Independence, and most of the founding fathers we learn about in school are present, singing and dancing (or walking in dramatic ways). You can watch it for the fun of seeing historical figures in a musical, or you can watch for its remarkably good history. (As a bonus READ THIS, a perfect follow-up is David McCullough's John Adams, which has to have been written for the 1776 fans based on the number of times Abigail Adams' request for pins comes up in the first chapters.) Here are some youtube links to help start your own enjoyment of 1776:

"Sit Down, John!" (opening number)
Final Vote on Independency

Both of us love the darker more political scenes of the delegates debating slavery late in the musical. Arguably the best song sequence is the young delegate, Edward Rutledge, speaking words that Thomas Jefferson wrote about the "peculiar institution" of slavery, and then singing about the hypocrisy of the northern colonies' delegates, who may not have slave plantations but who have made their fortunes from being slavers or investing in the slave ships. It's absolutely mesmerizing.

One of Alyssa’s favorite lighter scenes

is Richard Henry Lee, the delegate from Virginia who is not Thomas Jefferson, explaining to John Adams and Benjamin Franklin why he will be able to convince the Virginian legislature to propose independence (it’s because he’s a LEE, DAMMIT).

It’s a big deal for Virginia to present a resolution on independence because up until this happens, the only colonies that seem to care about independence are those radical ones in New England. But rather than just come out and say to Lee, “Hey, buddy, why don’t you start proposing independence? Massachusetts can’t get a vote, and we know you do care about this issue…” Franklin drops unsubtle hints until Lee is fired up to dance and sing about how great his old rich family is. In case you haven’t heard, he’s a Lee. Another half dozen Lees are notable (even a hundred years before the most famous Lee of all, Robert E. Lee).

That’s just the way things roll in 1776. There’s plenty of sober political debate, but then somebody jumps on a desk/park bench/staircase landing, and the singing brings it all home.

Anyway, here are screen caps for the cut sequence at the end of the Lee number. (It's only included on the laser disc, in case you were wondering where the shots came from.) Even without music Richard Henry Lee rocks.

Adams: Franklin, that Lee may have the most bad-ass family in Fair-gin-i-a, but that dude is bat shit crazy.

Franklin: Do you think so? I think I just played him so he'd go get a resolution on independency without owing him any favors.

Adams: At least he'll be traveling for a week. After the last interminable three minutes of dancing, I never want to see that guy again.

Lee: Hallo again, boys!

Adams: . . . I was saying?

Franklin: Hush, John! He's talking about Virginian bosoms again!

Adams: What do you mean hush!? That lunatic just charged his horse at me! I got pushed into a public fountain, and to make matters worse, he is still here.

Franklin: Oh, John. It's only water. Let me give you a hug and everything will be better.

Lee: How love-LEE! And you know you want to give me a hug too! (I have the coolest hat in the entire film!)

Susan's favorite lighter scene

is the playful debate between Adams, Jefferson and Franklin over the new National Bird of America. It too has a song! (No dancing. Can't have everything.)

Jefferson listens anxiously as the secretary reads the report of the Declaration Committee (the Continental Congress is extremely fond of committees).

In come Franklin and Adams, in high excitement over their trip to watch soldiers go duck hunting. To take Jefferson's mind off the idea of everyone criticizing his writing, the other two decide to sing a peppy song about the birth of the new nation.

Jefferson thinks this could be a good idea.

But then Franklin starts saying the National Bird is going to be the Turkey.

Jefferson and Adams check that they heard right.

No, really, the TURKEY?

Franklin: Oh yeah.

Crisis averted. Franklin wonders what just happened to his turkey proposal. (Probably Thanksgiving. Or the duck-hunting militia.)

And they all go happily into the chamber to hear everyone's praise of the Declaration.

Hahahaha. Yeah. "Praise."

In any case, Happy Day That Is Two Days After Independence Day!


Alyssa L. said...

Indubitab-LEE! :D

deadbookdarling said...

I love that this post EXISTS. I am such a 1776 geek - did the full Adams tour of Massachusetts when I was there and 97% of my US history comes from this movie. Guess I should get the book at long last...!

Susan said...

Isn't that a great tour? I went when I was ten or so (and had already watched 1776 enough to disturb/bore my mother), and I remember being really curious about the special courting sofas that let chaperones sit on one side while a couple flirts on the other, and really impressed by the Adams library.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...