life in and around NYC is insane

Thursday, March 31, 2016

the more things change

New York City Center has a series called "Encores", in which they present concert versions of Broadway musicals.  It's a whirlwind -- 8 days of rehearsal, 5 days of performances, and the actors are allowed to take the stage with their scripts in hand.  The focus in on the music -- there might be choreography, props, some scenery and suggestions of costumes, but the music, presented by a full orchestra, is the most important aspect of the show.


The current "Encore" production is 1776.

Two passions that Drew and I share -- American history and Broadway musicals.  And those passions come together in the musical 1776.  We've watched the movie dozens of times.  We each saw the Broadway revival starring Brent Spiner back in the late 1990's.  And Drew played the role of John Adams in a high school production of the show.

So you can imagine our excitement.  Of course we got tickets. 

So the orchestra is set up at the back of the stage, the actors/singers take their place in front of the orchestra.  The "set" consists of some tables and chairs meant to represent Independence Hall.  The actors are clothed in 21st Century attire, the members of Congress in business suits, Abigail Adams on the farm back in Braintree is wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, the young soldier who delivers dispatches in camouflage pants and a gray hoodie.  Takes a few minutes to get used to the costuming, but yes, it works. You get lost in the story and in the music.

Yes, some of the actors are carrying their scripts.  But as delegates to Congress, it's not odd to see them carrying books, reading, etc.  There are a few noticeable flubs, including one where McNair put "Delaware" into the wrong column.  And we know the script so well that we see exactly where dialogue was cut or lines missed.

And I really loved John Larroquette as Ben Franklin.  We had the pleasure of seeing him in two previous Broadway productions,  How To Succeed in Business, and The Best Man.  Very talented man.


Now, why did I title this blog post "the more things change"? 

Because, 240 years later, we are still dealing with the same issues.

Adams' opening monologue is a prime example:

I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a called disgrace, that two are called a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress! And by God, I have had this Congress! For ten years, King George and his Parliament have gulled, cullied, and diddled these colonies with their illegal taxes! Stamp Acts, Townshend Acts, Sugar Acts, Tea Acts! And when we dared stand up like men, they have stopped our trade, seized our ships, blockaded our ports, burned our towns, and spilled our BLOOD! And still, this Congress refuses to grant ANY of my proposals on independence, even so much as the courtesy of open debate! Good God, what in hell are you waiting for?

A few minutes later, as he's singing about Congress sitting in Philadelphia, doing nothing, he says:

A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere, or a cataclysmic earthquake, I'd accept with some despair. But no, you sent us Congress! Good God, Sir, was that fair?!

Given today's political climate, those lines got a very strong response from the audience.

This exchange of dialogue always gets the attention of a New York audience.



Lewis Morris: [as John Hancock is about to swat a fly] Mr. Secretary, New York abstains, courteously.
[Hancock raises his fly swatter at Morris, then draws back]
John Hancock: Mr. Morris,
[pause, then shouts]
John Hancock: WHAT IN HELL GOES ON IN NEW YORK?
Lewis Morris: I'm sorry Mr. President, but the simple fact is that our legislature has never sent us explicit instructions on anything!
John Hancock: NEVER?
[slams fly swatter onto his desk]
John Hancock: That's impossible!
Lewis Morris: Mr. President, have you ever been present at a meeting of the New York legislature?
[Hancock shakes his head "No"]
Lewis Morris: They speak very fast and very loud, and nobody listens to anybody else, with the result that nothing ever gets done.
[turns to the Congress as he returns to his seat]
Lewis Morris: I beg the Congress's pardon.
John Hancock: [grimly] My sympathies, Mr. Morris.


And then there's a song, "Cool, Cool, Considerate Men."   It was filmed, but cut from the movie at the request of then-President Nixon.  It's been restored, of course, and if you buy the DVD or catch the movie on TV, you'll see it. 







Yes,  a truly enjoyable production.



I should mention, we had a slight change of plan last night.  City Center is on 55th between 6th and 7th.  Given the location, and the early curtain, we thought we'd grab some dinner at the Carnegie Deli, just down the street.  You know I am genetically programmed to crave Jewish deli foods.   The deli recently reopened after several months of remodeling (a messy business involving Con Ed and some improperly placed gas lines).  We got off the subway at Columbus Circle, walked down to 55th Street...the line was out the door, the wait for a table over 45 minutes.    So we went to plan B, walked back up to 57th and went to the Brooklyn Diner instead.  And yes, I was able to satisfy my pastrami craving.

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