Christmas means multiple viewings of A Christmas Story.  Easter calls for Godspell.  And for me, Independence Day requires a viewing of 1776.  Or at least sometime during the week of July 4th.   Or maybe a week before; or after.  For me, this year, the annual viewing was on Sunday the 7th.

Though the film is NOT perfect (I could list all the items I would have liked to have seen, but no one likes an armchair director/producer), the cast IS.  There's not a weak link anywhere, which is pretty amazing.  

Although I did not see the original production (William Daniels, Ken Howard, Betty Buckley!) I envy those who did! I've been lucky enough to see two stage versions.  The 1997 revival with Brent Spiner who was an excellent John Adams.  (Who knew the man could sing?)  I wish I could say the same of the late Pat Hingle, who might have been the right build for Ben Franklin, but carried none of the fun that Howard Da Silva conveyed in the movie version. And so I also assume in the Broadway production in which he appeared briefly, sidetracked by heart issues early in the run, his understudy Rex Everhart took over and can be heard on the original Broadway recording.  It is my understanding that Mr. Everhart was also the understudy for Franklin during the revival.  I truly wish I had seen him in the role instead of Mr. Hingle.)  I also saw the show more recently (10 years ago) and locally at the Paper Mill Playhouse.  Though there I saw what I felt was a weak John Adams, Conrad John Shuck (if you are a kid of the 1970s you might remember him from Macmillan and Wife or more infamously, playing the robot in Holmes and YoYo) was a brilliant Franklin and the Griffin Matthews gave the most heartfelt and moving versions of "Mama Look Sharp" I have ever heard.  I also have to mention that James Barbour sang a chilling version of "Molasses to Rum To Slaves" that rivaled John Cullum's version from the movie.  It goes without saying that I am eagerly anticipating the show's return to Broadway in 2021.  (I better start saving now!  I'd for the three of us to have seats in the orchestra!)

One of the things that I love about the show (be it the film or stage production) is that it is honest and entertaining.  These men (there are only 2 women in the cast) are not characters in a history book, but are HUMAN.  Something that we seem to forget.  Or as John Adams says: "It doesn't matter. I won't be in the history books anyway, only you. Franklin did this and Franklin did that and Franklin did some other damn thing. Franklin smote the ground and out sprang George Washington, fully grown and on his horse. Franklin then electrified him with his miraculous lightning rod and the three of them - Franklin, Washington, and the horse - conducted the entire revolution by themselves." Don't we dangerously put historical figures into mythical status where they can do no wrong?

The show reminds us that history is real.  History is not a story; it is flesh and blood.  It is often quite ugly.  Below is just one example of the skilled writing and brutal honesty of the time.

"Edward Rutledge: Oh, really. Mr. Adams is now calling our black slaves "Americans!" Are they, now?

John Adams: Yes, they are. They are people, and they are here. If there's any other requirement, I haven't heard it.

Edward Rutledge: They are here, yes, but they are not people sir, they are property.

Thomas Jefferson: No, sir they are people who are being treated as property! I tell you, the rights of human nature are deeply wounded by this infamous practice!

Edward Rutledge: Then see to your own wounds Mr. Jefferson, for you are a practitioner are you not?

Thomas Jefferson: I have already resolved to release my slaves.

Edward Rutledge: Oh. Then I'm sorry, for you've also resolved the ruination of your own personal economy.

John Adams: Economy. Always economy. There's more to this than a filthy purse-string, Rutledge! It is an offense against man and God!

Hopkins: It's a stinking business, Eddie, a stinking business!

Edward Rutledge: Is it really now, Mr. Hopkins? Then what's that I smell floating down from the North? Could it be the aroma of hy-pocrisy? For who holds the other end of that filthy purse-string, Mr. Adams? Our northern brethren are feeling a bit tender toward our black slaves. They don't keep slaves! Oh, no. But they are willing to be considerable carriers of slaves to others."

It's not pretty.  But it IS accurate. It is a reminder of the give and take; of the compromise that was necessary to create a new country.  It reminds us that the creation of our country was not unlike childbirth.  It was harsh and painful; it came out bloody and crying.  But with love and care; it was and SHOULD be a thing of beauty.  

Personally, I think the movie, or better yet, the stage play, should be required viewing.  Every citizen; every one who wants to be a citizen should see it.  It should be shown annually to every member of congress...perhaps they could learn something about what they SHOULD be doing.  (Or maybe that is expecting too much?)  Though a musical and does take some historical liberties (Martha Jefferson did not visit her husband in Philadelphia), the vast majority of the show is historically accurate.  Even the songs have lyrics that were taken from historical documents.  ("Is Anybody There?" uses passages from a letter written by John Adams to his wife on July 2, 1776.)  It is a deeply moving look into the creation of our country.   

Don't we ALL need to be reminded of WHY we celebrate July 4th?    Don't we all need to be reminded about the foundation of the USA and WHY it is so important to continue to move forward based on the principles set forth by those brave, yet utterly human men 243 years ago?


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