1776 (1972) – Musical Mondays
I have been obsessed with the musical HAMILTON for the last month. Composer/Actor Lin-
And then I remembered, wasn’t there another musical about the United States founding fathers?
1776 is the story of John Adam (William Daniel) trying to convince the American congress to move forward with the process of declaring independence from Britain. It was originally staged in 1969 and it’s immense popularity led to it being adapted for the screen a mere three years later by the original theatrical director Peter H. Hunt – the H. separating him from the other Peter Hunt who edited/directed a bunch of James Bond films.
None of the music in 1776 worked for me. It’s epic orchestral stuff that never feels essential to the story and is not lyrically or thematically interesting enough to exist on its own. For a show written for Broadway, it’s odd that the musical numbers stick out like such sore thumbs. They rarely feel organic to the story, beyond the SIT DOWN number that opens the film. Worst of all, the songs take a back seat for such long stretches of the running time, that when they pop up again it’s a jarring shift grinds things to a halt.
From a talent perspective, everything is top notch. The actors are well seasoned veterans of the material (most of them coming from Broadway show), the first time director shows a satisfying amount of visual flare with the material, and when things get good, they get good. I’m fascinated with procedural dramas, especially when they take place in a court/democratic setting, and when the film settles down to hash those issues out it sings (metaphorically ironically). It’s the languid pacing (Three hours!) and lack of focus that sinks the overall production.
Maybe this material works better on stage. Perhaps my ear is too attuned to more modern poppy kind of musical theater. Or maybe this one just isn’t for me. I may be able to return to the film (or cast album) far in the future and find all the gold I so foolishly missed this first time around.
Maybe it didn’t work for me because it wasn’t HAMILTON.
I have to admit, I may have been listening to HAMILTON while writing this article. I am a weak man.