“1776” Offers a New on The Declaration of Independence
1776 offers a history lesson, updated costumes … and a cast that would shock the Founding Fathers
Most Americans have heard the story of what the Founding Fathers did in Philadelphia on July 4, 1776. But, they haven’t heard it this way before.
Winner of the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1969, 1776 tells the story of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence along with the debates, discussions and ideas that shaped it.
The story we’re all taught in elementary school is told here in song. Lulu Picart, who portrays Founding Father Samuel Chase, said, “The orchestration is honestly some of the most beautiful work I’ve ever heard. And, currently, there’s no cast album, so the only way you can hear it … is [live] on this tour.”
The touring company for the new revival has made stops in cities historically significant to the birth of the revolution – Boston, New York and Philadelphia – before traveling to Charlotte. (Sadly, 1776 does not incorporate the story of the Mecklenburg Declaration of independence.)
The current revival of 1776, co-directed by Diane Paulus (Pippin, Jagged Little Pill, Waitress) and Jeffrey L. Page (the Emmy Award–nominated director/choreographer who won an MTV Video Music Award for his work with Beyoncé), will play the Belk Theater June 6 to 11. Tickets are on sale now.
Picart said that 1776 explores why the Founding Fathers decided to put the Declaration of Independence together and the clauses they chose to keep in and those they debated, but ultimately left out.
A WELL-KNOWN STORY, TOLD A NEW WAY
Since its initial run on Broadway, 1776 has been revived twice – in 1997 and the current run, which debuted in 2022.
While the script remains the same, this production has some surprises in store – even for those who’ve seen a previous rendition.
The most notable change is in the casting. While there are crew and orchestra members who identify as male, all performers who appear on stage identify as female, transgender and nonbinary. They represent a diversity of races, genders and cultural backgrounds beyond what the Founding Fathers considered while drafting the Declaration and later, the Constitution.
“Nobody who’s in the show would have been let into the room [in Philadelphia],” said Picart. The cast is, in essence, giving power to the people who had none in the early days of our nation. And for centuries since.
The Founding Fathers’ New Groove
In addition to the cast, a notable addition to the current production of 1776 is the unique approach to costuming taken by designer Emilio Sosa.
The actors who portray the Founding Fathers wear costumes composed of a base of contemporary clothing accented by a bespoke coat the actors don once they’re onstage. These coats are designed to tie the actors to the historic figures they portray, but also to the actors’ own cultural backgrounds. Click here to see a large photo of all actors in costume.
According to Picart, the modern clothes under the coats represent what the actors wear in real life and not what her character would’ve worn back in the day. Then, in a very ritualized way, each actor “becomes” her character by donning his coat on stage.
Picart said Sosa worked with each actor to design their character’s coat, incorporating personalized elements into the design. In Picart’s case, her element is the lingling-o, which she wears as earrings and a necklace. The lingling-o is “the fertility symbol of my mother’s tribe in the Philippines,” said Picart.
These small, but intentional, details connect Picart to her heritage … and members of the audience to her and the larger story 1776 tells.
“I’ve been stopped at the stage door by people who wanted to talk to me because they saw my necklace,” said Picart. “I currently am the only connection to Asian heritages in the cast. [J]ust to be seen wearing it proudly at a time like now feels really brave … sometimes in a way I wish it didn’t. But, it also is just me being proud of who I am.”
Another notable aspect of Picart’s costume is that the names of the Broadway wardrobe team sewed their names into her coat so she, a member of the original Broadway 2022 cast, could carry them with her as she travels with the production.
Putting a Different Face on History
While Picart carries her family’s history with her on stage, she and the other cast members still bear the responsibility of bringing an actual signer of the Declaration of Independence to life. In her case, it’s Samuel Chase.
According to Picart, Chase was a “larger-than-life” character – a founder of the Sons of Liberty, a good friend to John Adams, a man of religious conviction and a polarizing figure. He has the dubious distinction of being the only member of the Supreme Court to ever be impeached. (He was exonerated and served on the Court until his death in 1811.)
Picart says that many sections of 1776 require her to lose herself in the character of Chase. But, others, such as the song Mama Look Sharp – where the cast sheds their coats and stands onstage to represent themselves and their ancestors – allow her to play herself for a moment. Some nights, she recalls her family’s history as Filipino immigrants to this country and as members of the U.S. military.
“In the span of my lifetime, I’ve seen the difference in how people who look like me are seen, talked to and treated,” she said. “[T]o be able to stand on stages around the country and tell this story and be celebrated for that feels great. And, it feels important.”
SIGN ON FOR 1776
The decidedly modern-day cast of 1776 performs eight shows at the Belk Theater from June 6 to 11. Tickets start at $25 and are on sale now.
This story was sponsored by Blumenthal Performing Arts. A portion of proceeds generated through it will help fund a H.U.G. microgrant awarded to a Mecklenburg County creative.
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