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Saturday, February 27, 2016

After/Before Hamilton--1776, the Musical

So, if you're busy teaching yourself or your children about the Revolutionary War, and you want to expand beyond Hamilton, get yourself  a copy of the 1969 Musical, 1776, book by Peter Stone, lyrics and score by Sherman Edwards and (The film was done in 1972.) 
The cast of the film, 1776, getting into it with words--and swords.  
The cast of Hamilton, getting into it with rap. (The guns come later.) 
So, you'll notice right away that the cast of 1776 is white, older and mostly male. (There are two women in the cast--we'll talk about them later.) But--this is a huge but--like Hamilton, 1776 is a musical about ideas and ideals--our ideas, our American ideals--freedom, equality, taxation only with representation, the value and the profound responsibility that comes with liberty. 

It's very funny, with lyrics like the oft-repeated, "You're obnoxious and disliked, that cannot be denied," in reference to John Adams, with domestic (and accurate) arguments between Adams and his wife, Abigail, over sewing pins and saltpeter (a prime component of gunpowder that required much housewifery.) 

Virginia Vestoff and  William Daniels-in both film and original cast. 
There is also much jockeying over who is going to get stuck writing the Declaration of Independence--T. Jefferson draws the short straw, but will only do so after his lovely wife arrives, "to waltz through cupid's grove" with him. 
Blythe Danner in the film/Betty Buckley on Broadway. And
isn't she full of the glow of pregnancy? That's Gwyneth in there.
The delegates to the convention, and their servants and messengers are men, yes, and  white yes, but human. Passionate. Stubborn. Angry. Many are fighting to defend their much vaunted way of life --mostly the wealthy and southern planters. Many are fighting injustice. Sure, it makes a buffoon of Richard Henry Lee "The Lees of Virginia," but it also presents a huge battle over including wording in the declaration of independence, wording to state that slavery is an injustice. 

1776 also lays plain, in music, no less, the terrible financial equation that linked northern merchants to southern slavery (Molasses to Rum to Slaves) and one song, Cool, Cool, Considerate Men, speaks so convincingly about the joys and values of conservatism-of political decisions only being made by men of property--that Richard Nixon successfully asked the film's producer (his buddy, Jack Warner) to remove that song from the film after his private screening of it. 

Don't worry. Though Warner demanded the song be destroyed, the film's editor saved it, and it is currently in versions that are available for sale.
The Brilliant Paul Hecht is the first full figure on the right. 

In this song, the men sing: 

"Come ye cool cool conservative men
The likes of which may never be seen again.
We have land, cash in hand
Self-command, future planned.
Fortune flies, society survives
In neatly ordered lives with well-endowered wives.

We sing hosanna, hosanna
To our breeding and our banner
We are cool." 

And while they sing, they dance their staid minuet (a dance of an earlier time) only to the right. And okay, that term is an anachronism--nobody called conservatives the Right in those days--but it is also philosophically dead-on.

In fact, it is during that section that John Dickinson states in both play and film, John Hancock tells John Dickinson, leader of the conservative opponents to signing the Constitution, "Fortunately, there are not enough men of property in America to dictate policy." 

Dickinson replies, in the most telling words of any musical I have ever heard, "But don't forget that most men without property would rather protect the possibility of becoming rich than face the reality of being poor.") Keep that in mind during this Presidential election cycle. 
William Daniels, Howard Da Silva and Ken Howard
as Adams, Franklin and Jefferson, waiting for the eagle of liberty to hatch. 
William Daniels is still alive, and better known for TV roles-- St. Elsewhere, Girl Meets World, etc. Howard Da Silva was a wonderful character actor, who played the original Jud Fry in the original Oklahoma, was called before the House Committee on Unamerican Activities and refused to testify, which resulted in his being black-listed for many years. 

I am a passionate believer that education doesn't have to be a slog. Watch 1776 with your children, and listen to Hamilton--or go see it, should you be so blessed. You might find yourself learning something, too. And I guarantee you that what you learn will stick. 

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