Original Production Logo
|Productions||1969 Broadway |
1997 Broadway revival
|Awards||Tony Award for Best Musical|
1776 is a musical with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone. The show is based on the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, telling a story of the efforts of John Adams to persuade his colleagues to vote for American independence and to sign the document.
The show premiered on Broadway in 1969, earning warm reviews, and ran for 1,217 performances. The production won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical. In 1972, it was made into a film adaptation. It was revived on Broadway in 1997; another Broadway revival is scheduled for 2021.
In 1925, Rodgers and Hart wrote a musical about the American Revolution called Dearest Enemy. In 1950, a musical about the Revolution was presented on Broadway, titled Arms and the Girl, with music by Morton Gould, lyrics by Dorothy Fields, and book by Herbert Fields, Dorothy Fields and Rouben Mamoulian, the show's director.
Sherman Edwards, a writer of pop songs with several top 10 hits in the late 1950s and early '60s, spent several years developing lyrics and libretto for a musical based on the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Edwards recounted that "I wanted to show [the founding fathers] at their outermost limits. These men were the cream of their colonies. ... They disagreed and fought with each other. But they understood commitment, and though they fought, they fought affirmatively." Producer Stuart Ostrow recommended that librettist Peter Stone collaborate with Edwards on the book of the musical. Stone recalled,
The minute you heard ["Sit Down, John"], you knew what the whole show was. ... You knew immediately that John Adams and the others were not going to be treated as gods or cardboard characters, chopping down cherry trees and flying kites with strings and keys on them. It had this very affectionate familiarity; it wasn't reverential.
Adams, the outspoken delegate from Massachusetts, was chosen as the central character, and his quest to persuade all 13 colonies to vote for independence became the central conflict. Stone confined nearly all of the action to Independence Hall and the debate among the delegates, featuring only two female characters, Abigail Adams and Martha Jefferson, in the entire musical. After tryouts in New Haven, Conn., and Washington, D.C. the show opened on Broadway at the 46th Street Theatre on March 16, 1969. Peter Hunt directed.
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NOTE: The show can be performed in one or two acts.
On May 8, 1776, in Philadelphia, the Second Continental Congress proceeds with its business. John Adams, the widely disliked delegate from Massachusetts, is frustrated because Congress will not vote on, or even entertain debating, any of his proposals on independence. The other delegates, too preoccupied by the rising heat, implore him to sit down. ("Sit Down, John")
Adams' response is that Congress has done nothing for the last year but dawdle ("Piddle, Twiddle, and Resolve"). He reads the latest missive to his loving wife Abigail, who appears in his imagination. He asks if she and the other women are making saltpeter for the war effort, but she ignores him and states the women have a more urgent problem: no straight pins. They bicker about it until Adams gives in and they pledge their love to each other ("Till Then").
Later that day, Adams finds delegate Benjamin Franklin outside. Adams bemoans the failure of his arguments for independence; Franklin suggests that a resolution for independence would have more success if proposed by someone else. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia enters, having been summoned by Franklin. The cocky Lee crows that he is the best man to propose the resolution. Adams has reservations, but Lee is convinced he cannot fail, as a member of the oldest and most glorious family in America: the Lees ("The Lees of Old Virginia"). He is prepared to ask the Virginia House of Burgesses to authorize him to offer a pro-independence resolution.
June 7, 1776. Franklin and Adams enter, and the delegates, along with the President of Congress, John Hancock, and the Secretary, Charles Thomson, take their places. Hancock gavels the 380th meeting of the Congress to order.
The entire New Jersey delegation is absent. Thomas Jefferson, a young delegate from Virginia, announces that he is leaving that night to visit his wife. Soon after Hancock opens the floor to new resolutions, Richard Henry Lee canters into the chamber, having finally returned from Virginia. Lee reads his resolution, but John Dickinson of Pennsylvania moves to indefinitely postpone the question of independence. A vote is taken; five colonies vote to debate the resolution and five vote for indefinite postponement; New York abstains "courteously" (which becomes a running gag throughout the play) and Stephen Hopkins of Rhode Island, after a momentary absence, votes for debate.
As the debate proceeds, Caesar Rodney of Delaware is forced to return home due to poor health; Edward Rutledge of South Carolina moves to end the debate and proceed with the vote. The New Jersey delegation arrives with orders to support independence, resulting in a 6–6 split; New York again abstains "courteously", and Adams reminds Hancock, who supports independence, of his privilege as president to break ties. Dickinson then moves that any vote for independence must pass unanimously, on the grounds that "no colony [may] be torn from its mother country without its own consent." The vote produces the same tie, which Hancock breaks by unexpectedly voting for unanimity, prompting an angry outburst from Adams. Hancock reasons that without unanimity, any colony voting against independence would be forced to fight on England's side, setting brother against brother.
Adams, thinking fast, calls for a postponement of the vote on independence, expressing the need for a declaration defining the reasons for independence. Franklin seconds Adams, but when asked why such a declaration should be written, both are lost for words until Thomas Jefferson provides them himself. The vote on postponement is called, producing yet another tie, with New York abstaining "courteously" yet again. Hancock breaks the tie by voting in favor of postponement. He appoints a committee of Adams, Franklin, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Robert Livingston of New York, and Jefferson to draft the declaration. Hancock adjourns the session over Jefferson's complaints that he must go home to his wife.
The five argue about who should write the declaration ("But, Mr. Adams"); one by one, each member gives a reason for being unable to do it, until all eyes turn to Jefferson. Jefferson tries to wriggle out, pleading that he has not seen his wife in six months. Adams, unmoved by Jefferson's arguments (as he, too, misses his own wife), quotes a passage of Jefferson's Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms, bluntly telling Jefferson that he is the best writer in Congress. Jefferson agrees to draft the document.
A week later, Adams and Franklin visit Jefferson to see how the work is coming along. Jefferson has spent the week moping, prompting a sharp rebuke by Adams, which is flatly rebuffed by Jefferson. Finally, Jefferson is brightened when his beloved wife Martha enters, having been sent for by Adams; he and Franklin leave the young lovers in peace. Adams, alone, again exchanges letters with his wife Abigail. They pledge each other to love each other eternally ("Yours, Yours, Yours"). Martha finally appears when Franklin and Adams return the next morning, and the two gentlemen ask her how a man as silent as Jefferson won a woman as lovely as she. She tells them that she loves him because of his musical talent ("He Plays the Violin").
On June 22, Congress has reconvened. By now, Adams is worrying and begins trying to win over some of the states, sending Thomas McKean to try to convince his Delaware colleague George Read and Franklin to convince Judge James Wilson of Pennsylvania, while himself trying to convince Samuel Chase of Maryland.
After receiving a request for help from George Washington in the field, Adams requests Chase accompany him to inspect a continental army training ground in New Jersey, and Chase agrees; after the pair leave with Franklin, the remaining delegates in favor of independence also leave the chamber. Alone with his fellow conservatives for the first time, Dickinson leads them in a minuet, singing of their desire to hold onto their wealth ("Cool, Cool Considerate Men"). During their dance, another dispatch comes from George Washington, warning them of British advances on Philadelphia; however, these warnings fall on deaf ears.
After the dance, the remaining delegates depart, leaving Andrew McNair (the custodian), the courier, and a workman in the chamber. The workman asks the courier if he has seen any fighting, and the courier replies that his two closest friends were killed on the same day at Lexington. He describes the final thoughts of a dying young man as his mother searches for his body ("Momma Look Sharp").
Jefferson is outside the chamber as Mr. Thomson reads the declaration to Congress. Adams and Franklin meet him delightedly: an exhibition of shooting by the Continental Army has convinced Chase, and Maryland will vote in favor of independence. They congratulate Jefferson on his work, and Franklin compares the creation of this new country to the hatching of a bird ("The Egg"). This leads the trio to debate which bird would best represent America; Franklin argues for the turkey, and Jefferson suggests the dove, but Adams insists on the eagle, and the others resign themselves to that choice.
On June 28, Hancock asks if there are any alterations to be offered to the Declaration of Independence, leading many delegates to voice suggestions. Jefferson acquiesces to each recommendation, much to Adams's consternation, until Dickinson demands the removal of a phrase calling King George a tyrant. Jefferson refuses, stating that "the King is a tyrant whether we say so or not. We might as well say so." When one delegate wants references to Parliament removed for fear of offending possible friends in that body, an exasperated Adams exclaims "This is a revolution, damn it! We're going to have to offend somebody!"
Edward Rutledge of South Carolina objects to a clause condemning the slave trade, accusing the northern colonies of hypocrisy because they also prosper from slavery, through the Triangle Trade ("Molasses to Rum"); he then leads a walk-out with the delegates from both Carolinas and Georgia. The resolve of the other delegates is broken, and most of them also leave. Franklin tells Adams that the slavery clause has to go; when Adams argues that it must remain, Franklin angrily reminds him that independence is the primary issue, and berates him for jeopardizing the cause. Adams' faith in himself is shaken, and only encouragement from Abigail, and the delivery of kegs of saltpeter from her and other Massachusetts ladies, bolsters his commitment.
Re-reading a dispatch from Washington, Adams, now alone in the chamber, echoes his words ("Is Anybody There?"). Discouraged but determined, Adams declares his vision of his new country. Dr. Lyman Hall of Georgia unexpectedly returns to the chamber, telling Adams he is changing Georgia's vote from "nay" to "yea".
It is now July 2. The delegates slowly return to the chamber, including the last-minute arrival of Caesar Rodney, Hancock calls for the vote on the Lee Resolution; Thomson calls on each delegation for its vote. Pennsylvania passes on the first call, but the rest of the northern and middle colonies (save New York, which, with some self-disgust, again abstains "courteously") vote "yea". When the vote reaches South Carolina, Rutledge again demands the removal of the slavery clause as the condition of the "yea" votes from the Carolinas. Franklin pleads with Adams to remove the clause, and Adams turns to Jefferson; Jefferson reluctantly crosses the chamber and scratches out the clause himself. Rutledge and the Carolinas vote "yea", as does Georgia.
Pennsylvania's vote, which is the last vote needed to obtain the required unanimous approval, is called again; Dickinson, intending to announce a “nay” vote, declares that "Pennsylvania votes...", only to be stopped by Franklin, who asks Hancock to poll the members of the delegation individually. Franklin votes "yea" and Dickinson "nay", leaving the swing vote to Wilson, who normally adheres to Dickinson. Dickinson and Adams both vie for his vote, until Wilson says he doesn't want to be remembered as "the man who prevented American independence" and votes "yea". The motion is passed.
Hancock suggests that no man be allowed to sit in Congress without signing the Declaration. Dickinson announces that he cannot in good conscience sign it, and still hopes for reconciliation with England; however, he resolves to join the army to fight for and defend the new nation. Adams leads Congress in a salute to Dickinson as he leaves the chamber.
Hancock leads the delegates in signing the Declaration, but is interrupted by the courier with another dispatch from Washington, "Commander of the Army of the United Colonies ... of the United States of America." He reports that preparations for the Battle of New York are under way, but expresses concern about America's badly outnumbered and under-trained troops. Washington's note to Lewis Morris that his estates have been destroyed, but that his family has been taken to safety, emboldens Morris to state that he will sign the Declaration, despite the lack of instructions from the New York legislature, saying, "To hell with New York. I'll sign it anyway." New York's vote is moved into the "yea" column.
On the evening of July 4, McNair rings the Liberty Bell in the background as Thomson calls each delegate to sign the Declaration. The delegates freeze in position as the Liberty Bell rings to a fevered pitch.
After out-of-town tryouts, the original Broadway production opened on Broadway on March 16, 1969, at the 46th Street Theatre (now the Richard Rodgers Theatre) and closed on February 13, 1972, after 1,217 performances. In its three-year run, it played in three different theatres: the 46th Street, the St. James Theatre (1970) and, finally, the Majestic Theatre (1971). The principal cast included William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, Paul Hecht, Clifford David, Ronald Holgate, David Ford, Virginia Vestoff and Ken Howard. Rex Everhart, who was Da Silva's understudy, replaced him on the original Broadway cast album after Da Silva suffered a mild heart attack, which required him to leave the show temporarily. Betty Buckley made her Broadway debut as Martha Jefferson in the original stage production. Clifford David left the production soon after opening. He was replaced as Rutledge by David Cryer who was in turn replaced by John Cullum who became one of the few Broadway replacements in history to recreate a role on film. (Cullum was succeeded in the Broadway production by Paul-David Richards.)
The musical toured for two years in the United States and was given a London production, opening on June 16, 1970, at the New Theatre. The production starred Lewis Fiander as Adams, Vivienne Ross as Abigail Adams, Ronald Radd, Bernard Lloyd, David Kernan as Rutledge, John Quentin as Jefferson and Cheryl Kennedy as Martha Jefferson.
1776 was revived by the Roundabout Theatre Company, opening on August 4, 1997, in a limited engagement at the Roundabout's home theater, the Criterion Center, before transferring to the George Gershwin Theatre on December 3, 1997, for a commercial run. It closed on June 14, 1998, after 333 performances and 34 previews. The production was directed by Scott Ellis with choreography by Kathleen Marshall, and featured Brent Spiner as Adams, Michael Cumpsty as Dickinson, Pat Hingle as Franklin, and Paul Michael Valley as Jefferson. Rex Everhart, who replaced Howard Da Silva on the original cast album, understudied Hingle as Franklin.
The musical was produced in an Encores! City Center staged concert from March 30 to April 3, 2016. Directed by Garry Hynes, the cast starred Santino Fontana as John Adams, John Larroquette as Benjamin Franklin, John Behlmann as Thomas Jefferson, Christiane Noll as Abigail Adams, Nikki Renée Daniels as Martha Jefferson, Bryce Pinkham as John Dickinson, Alexander Gemignani as Edward Rutledge, André De Shields as Stephen Hopkins, and Jubilant Sykes as Richard Henry Lee. The cast included MacIntyre Dixon, Ric Stoneback, and Kevin Ligon reprising their roles from the 1997 revival as Andrew McNair, Samuel Chase, and George Read respectively. The production notably sported a racially diverse cast in light of the recent success of another musical about the Founding Fathers, Hamilton.
The musical was produced in Chicago, Illinois by Porchlight Music Theatre as part of their "Porchlight Revisits" series in November 2018. Directed by Michael Weber, Music Directed by Jeremy Ramey, with Musical Staging by Michelle Lauto.
A Broadway revival of 1776 is planned for Spring 2021. It is expected to be a co-production between the American Repertory Theater and the Roundabout Theatre Company, and is expected first to be seen at the American Repertory Theater in May to June 2020, under the direction of Diane Paulus. It will then be expected to be performed in Los Angeles (at the Ahmanson Theatre) as well as other cities, before arriving at the American Airlines Theatre for Roundabout's 2020–2021 season.
Original casts and characters
|John Adams||William Daniels||Brent Spiner||Santino Fontana||Crystal Lucas-Perry|
|Benjamin Franklin||Howard Da Silva||Pat Hingle||John Larroquette||Patrena Murray|
|John Dickinson||Paul Hecht||Michael Cumpsty||Bryce Pinkham||Kerry O'Malley|
|Edward Rutledge||Clifford David||Gregg Edelman||Alexander Gemignani||Sara Porkalob|
|Stephen Hopkins||Roy Poole||Tom Aldredge||André De Shields||Joanna Glushak|
|Thomas Jefferson||Ken Howard||Paul Michael Valley||John Behlmann||Elizabeth A. Davis|
|John Hancock||David Ford||Richard Poe||Michael McCormick||Liz Mikel|
|Martha Jefferson||Betty Buckley||Lauren Ward||Nikki Renée Daniels||Eryn Lecroy|
|Abigail Adams||Virginia Vestoff||Linda Emond||Christiane Noll||Allyson Kaye Daniel|
|Richard Henry Lee||Ron Holgate||Merwin Foard||Jubilant Sykes||Shawna Hamic|
|Roger Sherman||David Vosburgh||John Herrera||Wayne Pretlow||Brooke Simpson|
|Andrew McNair||William Duell||Macintyre Dixon||Tiffani Barbour|
|Robert Livingston||Henry Le Clair||Daniel Marcus||Jacob Keith Watson||Allison Blackwell|
|Samuel Chase||Philip Polito||Ric Stoneback||Lulu Picart|
|James Wilson||Emory Bass||Michael Winther||Laird Mackintosh||Hannah Cruz|
|George Read||Duane Bodin||Kevin Ligon||Nancy Anderson|
|Caesar Rodney||Robert Gaus||Michael McCormick||Michael Medeiros||Jill Vallery|
|Charles Thomson||Ralston Hill||Guy Paul||Robert Sella||Mehry Eslaminia|
|Lewis Morris||Ronald Kross||Tom Riis Farrell||John Hillner||TBA|
|John Witherspoon||Edmund Lyndeck||Jerry Lanning||Tom Alan Robbins||Abigail Adams|
|Thomas McKean||Bruce MacKay||Bill Nolte||Larry Bull||Becca Ayers|
|Lyman Hall||Jonathan Moore||Robert Westenberg||John Hickok||Eryn Lecroy|
|Josiah Bartlett||Dal Richards||Michael X. Martin||Terence Archie||Sav Souza|
|Joseph Hewes||Charles Rule||David Lowenstein||Nicholas Ward||Oneika Phillips|
|Leather Apron||B.J Slater||Joe Cassidy||Vishal Vaidya||TBA|
|Courier||Scott Jarvis||Dashiell Eaves||John-Michael Lyles||Salome Smith|
Act I 
Act II 
Scene Three of 1776 holds the record for the longest time in a musical without a single note of music played or sung – over thirty minutes pass between "The Lees of Old Virginia" and "But Mr. Adams", the next song in the show. On the DVD commentary, Peter Stone says that he experimented with adding various songs in this section, but nothing ever worked. During this scene, dubbed "Big Three" by cast members, musicians were allowed to leave the pit, reportedly the first time in Broadway history that they were permitted to do so in the middle of a show. Stone also notes that people often told him that, because of the subject matter and the large amount of dialogue, 1776 should have been a conventional play rather than a musical. Stone believes that the songs create a playful, irreverent tone that helps bring the historical characters to life.
According to The Columbia Companion to American History on Film, historical "[i]naccuracies pervade 1776, though few are very troubling." Because Congress was held in secrecy and there are no contemporary records on the debate over the Declaration of Independence, the authors of the play created the narrative based on later accounts and educated guesses, inventing scenes and dialogue as needed for storytelling purposes. Some of the dialogue was taken from words written, often years or even decades later, by the actual people involved, and rearranged for dramatic effect.
The central departure from history is that the separation from Great Britain was accomplished in two steps: the actual vote for independence came on July 2 with the approval of Lee's resolution of independence. The wording of the Declaration of Independence—the statement to the world as to the reasons necessitating the split—was then debated for three days before being approved on July 4. The vote for independence did not hinge on some passages being removed from the Declaration, as implied in the play, since Congress had already voted in favor of independence before debating the Declaration. For the sake of drama, the play's authors combined the two events. In addition, some historians believe that the Declaration was not signed on July 4, as shown in 1776, but was instead signed on August 2, 1776. The authors of 1776 had the delegates sign the Declaration on July 4 for dramatic reasons.
Of the four principal characters, the musical also notably focuses on Jefferson's wife, Martha, and Adams' wife, Abigail, but omits Dickinson's wife, Mary Norris, who was actually in Philadelphia at the time, unlike the other wives, and had a different perspective than the other wives. Franklin's common-law wife, Deborah Read, was deceased at this point, and his mistresses are not depicted, although he does mention a "Rendez-vous" he has to attend to.
Many characters in 1776 differ from their historical counterparts. Central to the drama is the depiction of John Adams as "obnoxious and disliked". According to biographer David McCullough, however, Adams was one of the most respected members of Congress in 1776. Adams' often-quoted description of himself in Congress as "obnoxious, suspected, and unpopular" is from a letter written 46 years later, in 1822, after his unpopular presidency had likely colored his view of the past. According to McCullough, no delegate described Adams as obnoxious in 1776. Historian Garry Wills earlier made a similar argument, writing that "historians relay John Adams's memories without sufficient skepticism", and that it was Dickinson, not Adams, who was advocating an unpopular position in 1776.
Dickinson, who refused to sign Adams' and Jefferson's declaration based on "rights of man" and "natural law", was seeking to avoid reopening issues from the English Civil Wars, including Oliver Cromwell's Puritan regime, and the Jacobitism cause. In 1689, these issues had been definitively resolved in the Glorious Revolution and the constitutionalization of the English Bill of Rights based in "rights and responsibilities of person"; the word "man" is not used except in the context of treason. The last Jacobite rebellion, seeking to re-establish Catholicism and the religious concept of "natural law", had only just happened in 1745, however. None of this background of Dickinson's position is depicted. (Dickinson would later draft the Articles of Confederation, a codification of the Continental Congress system that governed the United States until the present United States Constitution supplanted it; the Articles draw upon the "rights and responsibilities of person" language.)
For practical and dramatic purposes, the play does not depict all of the more than 50 members of Congress who were present at the time. The John Adams of the play is, in part, a composite character, combining the real Adams with his cousin Samuel Adams, who was in Congress at the time but is not depicted in the play (though he is mentioned). Although the play depicts Caesar Rodney as an elderly man near death from skin cancer (which would eventually kill him), he was just 47 at the time and continued to be very active in the Revolution after signing the Declaration. He was not absent from the voting because of health; however, the play is accurate in having him arrive "in the nick of time", having ridden 80 miles the night before (an event depicted on Delaware's 1999 State Quarter). In the play, Richard Henry Lee announces that he is returning to Virginia to serve as governor. He was never governor; his cousin Henry Lee III (who is anachronistically called "General 'Lighthorse' Harry Lee", a rank and nickname earned later) did eventually become governor and would also become the father of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. John Adams was also depicted in the play and the film as disliking Richard Henry Lee. That is not the case as, according to David McCullough, Adams expressed nothing but "respect and admiration for the tall, masterly Virginian." He did, however, contrary to what was portrayed in the play and the film, dislike Benjamin Franklin. Martha Jefferson never traveled to Philadelphia to be with her husband. In fact, she was extremely ill during the summer of 1776, having just endured a miscarriage. The play's authors invented the scene "to show something of the young Jefferson's life without destroying the unity of setting." James Wilson was not the indecisive milquetoast depicted in the play. The real Wilson, who was not yet a judge in 1776, had been cautious about supporting independence at an earlier date, but he supported the resolution of independence when it came up for a vote. Pennsylvania's deciding swing vote was actually cast by John Morton, who is not depicted in the musical.
The song "Cool Considerate Men" is anachronistic because the terms "right" and "left" in politics were not in use until the French Revolution of 1789. John Dickinson, who is portrayed as an antagonist here, was motivated mainly by his Quaker roots and his respect for the British Constitution, having lived in England for 3 years in the 1750s. He was no wealthier than some members of the pro-Independence faction, and freed his slaves in 1777. Thomas Jefferson wrote that "his name will be consecrated in history as one of the great worthies of the revolution".
The musical also deviates from history in its portrayal of attitudes about slavery. In 1776, after a dramatic debate over slavery, the southern delegates walk out in protest of the Declaration's reference to the slave trade, and only support independence when that language is removed from the Declaration. The walkout is fictional, and apparently most delegates, northern and southern, supported the deletion of the clause.
The musical claims that Edward Rutledge led the opposition to the supposedly anti-slavery clause in the original draft of the Declaration. This is inaccurate on two counts. First, the musical does not mention the motivation of the clause, namely the fact that, following Lord Dunmore's Proclamation, England was granting freedom to runaway slaves who joined its army. Second, Rutledge's leadership against the clause is completely fictional. According to Jefferson, the clause was opposed by South Carolina and Georgia, plus unspecified "northern brethren"; that is the limit of known information about opposition to the clause.
Thomas Jefferson is depicted as saying that he has resolved to free his slaves, something he did not do, except for a few slaves freed after his death 50 years later. Franklin claims that he is the founder of an abolitionist organization, but the real Franklin did not become an active abolitionist until after the American Revolution, becoming president of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1785.
James Wilson is portrayed as subordinating himself to Dickinson's opposition to independence, only changing his vote so that he would not be remembered unfavorably. In fact, Wilson was considered one of the leading thinkers behind the American cause, consistently supporting and arguing for independence, although he would not cast his vote until his district had been caucused.
The phrase "We are about to brave the storm in a skiff made of paper", placed in the mouth of John Hancock, was actually stated by John Dickinson ("Others strenuously assert...we ought to brave the Storm in a Skiff made of Paper.") in his arguments against independence.
In both the play and the film, John Adams sarcastically predicts that Benjamin Franklin will receive from posterity too great a share of credit for the Revolution. "Franklin smote the ground and out sprang—George Washington. Fully grown, and on his horse. Franklin then electrified them with his magnificent lightning rod and the three of them—Franklin, Washington, and the horse—conducted the entire Revolution all by themselves." Adams did make a similar comment about Franklin in April 1790, just after Franklin's death, although the mention of the horse was a humorous twist added by the authors of the musical.
On the face of it, few historical incidents seem more unlikely to spawn a Broadway musical than that solemn moment in the history of mankind, the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Yet 1776... most handsomely demonstrated that people who merely go 'on the face of it' are occasionally outrageously wrong....  is a most striking, most gripping musical. I recommend it without reservation. It makes even an Englishman's heart beat faster... the characters are most unusually full... for Mr. Stone's book is literate, urbane and, on occasion, very amusing.... William Daniels has given many persuasive performances in the past, but nothing, I think, can have been so effective as his John Adams here. This is a beautiful mixture of pride, ambition, an almost priggish sense of justice and yet – the saving grace of the character – an ironic self-awareness.
John Chapman of the New York Daily News wrote,
This is by no means a historical tract or a sermon on the birth of this nation. It is warm with a life of its own; it is funny, it is moving... Often, as I sat enchanted in my seat, it reminded me of Gilbert and Sullivan in its amused regard of human frailties.... The songs and lyrics are, as I have indicated, remarkably original.
The New York Post noted,
In this cynical age, it requires courage as well as enterprise to do a musical play that simply deals with the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. And 1776... makes no attempt to be satirical or wander off into modern bypaths. But the rewards of this confidence reposed in the bold conception were abundant. The result is a brilliant and remarkably moving work of theatrical art... it is Mr. Daniels' John Adams who dominates the evening, as he did the Congress. Peter Hunt's direction, the choreography of Onna White, and the setting by Jo Mielziner are just right.
Recordings of the musical have included:
- Original Broadway cast (1969), available on LP and CD with Rex Everhart as Ben Franklin because of Howard da Silva's ill health at the time of recording.
- Original London cast (1970), available on LP
- British studio cast (1970), available on LP (Marble Arch MALS-1327)
- Original motion picture soundtrack (1972), available on LP
- Studio cast (The Ray Bloch Singers) (date unknown), available on LP
- Broadway revival cast (1997), available on CD
Awards and nominations
Original Broadway production
|1969||Tony Award||Best Musical||Won|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical||Ron Holgate||Won|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical||Virginia Vestoff||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Peter Hunt||Won|
|Best Scenic Design||Jo Mielziner||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Book of a Musical||Peter Stone||Won|
|Outstanding Design||Patricia Zipprodt||Won|
|Theatre World Award||Ken Howard||Won|
(Note: William Daniels, who starred as John Adams, was ruled ineligible for the Best Actor nomination because his name was not billed above the title of the show. He was nominated for Best Featured Actor, but refused the nomination.)
1997 Broadway revival
|1998||Tony Award||Best Revival of a Musical||Nominated|
|Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical||Gregg Edelman||Nominated|
|Best Direction of a Musical||Scott Ellis||Nominated|
|Drama Desk Award||Outstanding Revival of a Musical||Nominated|
|Outstanding Actor in a Musical||Brent Spiner||Nominated|
|Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical||Gregg Edelman||Won|
|Outstanding Director of a Musical||Scott Ellis||Nominated|
The 1972 film version of 1776 was produced by Jack L. Warner with Hunt again directing and Stone writing the screenplay. The film featured William Daniels as Adams, Ken Howard as Jefferson, Howard Da Silva as Franklin, John Cullum as Edward Rutledge, Ron Holgate as Richard Henry Lee, and Virginia Vestoff as Abigail Adams, all of whom had performed their roles on Broadway. The supporting cast was also mostly recruited from the Broadway production. The principal exceptions were Donald Madden and Blythe Danner, who took over the roles of John Dickinson and Martha Jefferson.
A Director's Cut of the original film has been released on DVD and Blu-ray. Both the look and sound of the original film have been improved through modern technology. Many cuts to the original film by the producer Jack Warner have been restored, including verses from the songs "Piddle Twiddle and Resolve" and "He Plays the Violin" and the entire "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men". Musical underscoring has been removed from several scenes without songs in order to strengthen the focus on dialogue. Bonus material includes commentary by Director Peter Hunt and by Peter Stone, the book/screenwriter. Among other topics, they discuss artistic liberties and anachronisms used to dramatize the events.
In popular culture
Throughout the course of the third season of the Netflix original series Grace and Frankie, Robert, played by Martin Sheen, and his husband Sol, played by Sam Waterston, are persuaded to audition for a local production of 1776 by the local gay men's theater group, resulting in Robert landing the lead role of John Adams, much to the disappointment of Sol who was not cast.
- List of the longest-running Broadway shows
- Hamilton (musical), a 2015 musical about Alexander Hamilton
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- Gans, Andrew. "Casting Complete for Encores '1776'" Playbill, February 2016
- Scheck, Frank. "Theater Review" Hollywood Reporter, March 31, 2016
- Bylander, Jessie. "Theater Review" Splash Magazines, November 25, 2018
- McPhee, Ryan. "Diane Paulus to Direct Broadway Revival of 1776" Playbill, May 6, 2019
- Clement, Olivia (April 16, 2020). "Cast of Broadway-Bound 1776 Revival Meets Online for a Zoom Workshop". Playbill. Retrieved April 17, 2020.
- Peter C. Rollins, ed., The Columbia Companion to American History on Film (Columbia University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-231-11222-X), p. 154.
- Stone and Edwards, pp. 153–65, describing the play's historical basis and dramatic license.
- Stone and Edwards, p. 158.
- Letter from Adams to Timothy Pickering, 1822 Archived November 17, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. Adams also described himself as "obnoxious" in his Autobiography Archived November 27, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, written in 1805.
- McCullough, David. John Adams (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2001), pp. 119–20.
- Wills, Garry. Inventing America: Jefferson's Declaration of Independence (New York: Doubleday, 1978), pp. 349–50.
- Stone and Edwards, p. 162.
- Stone and Edwards, p. 161.
- "Your Representative owes you, not his industry only, but his judgment; and he betrays, instead of serving you, if he sacrifices it to your opinion." Edmund Burke, Select Works of Edmund Burke. A New Imprint of the Payne Edition. Foreword and Biographical Note by Francis Canavan (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1999). Vol. 4. Chapter: Speech to the Electors of Bristol, .
- Jack Rakove: The Patriot Who Refused to Sign the Declaration of Independence, "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-09-21. Retrieved 2012-07-06.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- "Student finds letter 'a link to Jefferson'". CNN.com. December 8, 2009. Retrieved May 6, 2010.
- See comparison of First Draft of Declaration of Independence versus final version at: "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-01-19. Retrieved 2013-06-16.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link). (The paragraph in question begins with "He has waged cruel War".)
- The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia: a Comprehensive Collection of the Views of Thomas Jefferson (1900) by Thomas Jefferson, edited by John P. Foley, p. 246
- Isaacson, Walter. Benjamin Franklin: An American Life (2003).
- James Wilson: Founding Father, Charles Page Smith, 1956
- John Dickinson, 1 July 1776, as cited in Dickinson, John; Powell, J. H. (October 1941). "Notes and Documents". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 65 (4): 470. JSTOR 20087418.
- 'Old Family Letters', Archived copy. Archived from the original on 2014-07-05. Retrieved 2016-03-13.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
- New York Daily News review of the original production Archived April 13, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
- Original New York Post review Archived April 13, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
- "1968-1969 15th Drama Desk Awards" dramadesk.com, accessed June 8, 2011
- Mandelbaum, Ken.The Insider broadway.com
- "1997-1998 44th Drama Desk Awards" dramadesk.com, accessed June 8, 2011
- "1776". IMDb. Retrieved 7 July 2012.
- Stone, Peter, and Sherman Edwards. 1776: A Musical Play. New York: Viking Press, 1970. ISBN 0-670-63657-6.
- Bloom, Ken and Vlastnik, Frank. Broadway Musicals: The 101 Greatest Shows of all Time. New York: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, 2004. ISBN 1-57912-390-2
- Kantor, Michael and Maslon, Laurence. Broadway: The American Musical. New York: Bullfinch Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8212-2905-2
- 1776 at the Internet Broadway Database
- 1776 (1969 original production) at the Internet Broadway Database
- 1776 (1997 production) at the Internet Broadway Database
- 1776 at the Music Theatre International website
- Rational Magic review of stage version and CD
- Classroom Study Integrating Musical Theatre in the classroom, JoAnne Freed
- 1776 music tracks on Masterworks Broadway
- 2016 City Center conversation with William Daniels and Lin-Manuel Miranda about the legacy of 1776.