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Musical offers way to celebrate freedom

Left to right, Shawn Hale as Benjamin Franklin and Lucas Schmidt as Thomas Jefferson help bring “1776” to life.

By PAM JOHNSON

For our upcoming Independence Day celebration, the Jonesborough Repertory Theatre is thrilled to present the patriotic musical 1776, June 29 through July 15. Join the cast for this fun and engaging look at the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, with well-known songs including “The Egg,” “Molasses to Rum,” and “But, Mr. Adams.”

“The story is of the writing of the Declaration of Independence,” said co-director Lindy Ley. “And the story specifically within that of John Adams. He’s the one really pushing and pushing for independence.”

In fact, the show opens with the song “Sit Down, John” because everyone is so tired of hearing him talk about independence. But during the course of the show, he does get through to them, because the final scene is the actual signing of the document.

“It’s a powerful scene,” said the other co-director, Lucas Schmidt, who also portrays Thomas Jefferson. “The final picture is the name of each delegate and state being called as he makes his way up and signs, and then they take their spot as another delegate comes up. And there are chimes in the background . . .  ching, ching, ching.”

What a poignant ending to what is a humorous, often chaotic, and lighthearted look into American history.

“There are very funny things in the show,” said Shawn Hale, who plays Benjamin Franklin, “but the story helps us remember where we started. How we became the country we are today.

“It’s such a reminder of the struggle they had,” said Catherine Squibb, who portrays John Adam’s wife, Abigail. “And that we’re here today is a huge testament to their belief that they could create a better union.”

And, the cast agrees, this particular show takes you further into the story than you would typically read in history books.

“This is really a wonderful look into the actual humans behind the writing of the Declaration of Independence,” said Ley.  “It’s telling history in a way that makes these people very real people. So you relate to them. So you connect to history in a new and interesting way.”

“They go into areas that you don’t usually think about when you’re watching anything historical on television,” said Schmidt. “You don’t consider how miserably hot it was because they had no air conditioning. And they had to wear wool or heavy cotton because they didn’t have athletic, sweat-wicking sportswear. Or that John Hancock carried a fly swatter with him because there was no pest control.”

“It allows the audience to look at them as people,” added Tom Flagg, a former Broadway actor, who portrays John Adams. “Like Ben Franklin says, ‘What will they think we were, demigods? We were men, pure and simple.’ And that’s the essence of it. We treat them like people, not like these austere figures that should walk around with halos and wings.”

Of course, one of the big questions audiences may have is if this is an accurate historical account. And, for the most part, they say, it is.

Music and Lyrics for 1776 are by Sherman Edwards, and the book is by Peter Stone. The show is directed by Lindy Ley and Lucas Schmidt, and sponsored by Henry & Flora Joy, Tennessee Hills Distillery, Denny Dentistry, and Sonia King/Mary B. Martin.

Rounding out the cast are Tim Barto, Steve Bashor, Guthrie Butler, Andy Cobble, Mike Elder, Paul Fagan, Sierra Ford, Joe Gumina, Donald Harvill, Gray Harvill, Karl Kapoor, Charlie Landry, Kyle Mason, Daniel Matthews, Paul McQuaid, Cody Shivers, Sylvann Thorne, Corey Tickles, Kari Tuthill, Alex Vanburen, Austin Wingate, and Kelly Wolfe.

Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays and Sundays at 2:00pm; and Monday and Tuesday, July 2 and 3, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $16 general admission, $14 for students and seniors. The theatre is located at 125.5 West Main Street.

To purchase tickets, call the Historic Jonesborough Visitors Center at (423) 753-1010 or go online to www.jonesboroughtheatre.com. (Mr. Flagg is appearing through the courtesy of Actors Equity Association.)