Burning Coal - Artistic Director's Page

Burning Coal Artistic Director Jerome Davis weighs in on topics theatrical and otherwise.....NEW RULE: ONLY RESPONSES THAT SHOW FULL NAME OF BLOGGER WILL BE POSTED ON THIS SITE. - JD

Thursday, September 21, 2006

WRITE YOUR OWN REVIEW of the Burning Coal Theatre Company production of 1776, directed by Matthew Earnest. We want to know what YOU think of our shows. Please pull no punches - if you like it, yell from the roof tops ... and if you don't like it, maybe yell SLIGHTLY less but let us know, none the less. Thank you and enjoy your moment as Theatre Critic!

(just click on "comments" below and fire away).

-Jerome Davis/Burning Coal Theatre Company


Blogger Andronicus said...

The Problem with the musical 1776 is this: How do you make it more than a historical reenactment? Everyone knows the outcome (hopefully). How do you grab the audience and get them on the edge of their seats, uncertain of the outcome?

Burning Coal figured it out. Matthew Earnest directed this production and did a marvelous job. Saint Mary’s School Pittman Auditorium is a wonderful setting for this historical musical. You feel like you are there. But onstage, it is a world transformed. The stage is painted stark white, with just the merest hints of a meeting room in the form of a suspended crown molding and hanging light bulbs.

But why do tey use light green and red chalk on a white board? I can’t see it. If the tally board is going to have its own light special, make it easy to see! It’s important!

The actors costumes are from the 18th century in silhouette, but are ragged and torn and supplemented in one case by rubber wading boots. The actors pose, gesture, and stand in tableau in much the fashion I always picture Moliere and other period drama. In a few numbers, everyone stands in a line, and poses.

It is stylistic and fun, but it also places the work in a world of its own. It creates the world around it as it goes with its own logic. And that is its brilliance. The audience is always waiting to see what will happen next.

1776 is a tour de force led by David Henderson as John Adams. Adams’ final song “Is there any body there?” will make your heart soar as he envisions fireworks, cannonades, and a new nation. It is moving and it rocks!

Carolyn McKenna lends her amazing voice to the part of Adams’ wife. And when she dons an American flag dress and is held aloft by three men and sings in a spotlight hand extended, she is the living embodiment of Adams’ dream of a new nation. Her singing the names of the church lady organizations sound boring in theory, but it is breathtaking.

George Jack as Benjamin Franklin is John Adams’ partner in crime trying to convert all of the states over to the idea of declaring independency. You really see them struggling and arguing and convincing and compromising. And the whole time you’re worried they won’t pull it off even though you know they will.

Oh but back to Franklin. He is hysterically funny, with just the right amount of outrageousness and subtlety. I could give you a list of my favorite lines of his and tell you how funny they are. But I don't want to spoil it for you. Ok, just one: "Do I have to talk to Dickinson?" It'll be funny when you watch it. Trust me.

Robin Dorff portrays Richard Henry Lee and sings the vaudevillian number “Lees of Old Virginia.” The first time I saw it I didn’t like it because the staging wasn’t what I expected, but the second time I viewed it I loved it and laughed out loud at his antics and word play. Dorfffff also plays the president of the Congress, John Hancock, a role for which he dons an eye patch. And what role cannot be enhanced by an eye patch? He is authorities and caring at the same time and is great.

I didn’t get to see much of Ian Finley’s “Momma Look Sharp” song sadly because I was running around desperately re-patching lights all during it, but from what I hear it will tear your heart out.

The lighting is poor and leaves the actors in the dark a lot. There is too much back light and not enough front light. The backlight I am sure makes the actors stand out from the background. Is this done on purpose? I want to see my actors. Some of this is the restrictions of the space I am sure. But it makes me sad when I can't see actors. I need to see them to hear them.

There are a few weak actors and a few weak voices, but overall the ensemble is strong. And for the most part can be easily heard over the music. I hate going to musicals because I usually cannot hear the actors singing over the orchestra or I am subjected to popping crackling and failing of wireless microphones. 1776 was a nice refresher, only occasionally drowning out the cast.

Adam Twiss as Rutledge was very well portrayed and sold the slavery song well. I did not particularly like the staging of this "Molasses and Rum" number, but I’m not sure how else you can do it without it being cliché. Were the bags over the heads supposed to have something to do with the enemy combatant abuse scandals of late? That seems out of keeping with the rest of the show and is confusing. A dim spot on an otherwise shining production.

Robert Kaufman depicts John Rutledge, an opponent of independence. His what you would typically think of as a character actor, but he is fantastic as the ‘villain’ who is not a villain. He, too, is fighting for what he believes in. He is a little hard to hear in the minuet song, but is otherwise entrancing in his role. You understand his cause and you kind of agree with him for a moment or three.

John Moletress as Jefferson is enigmatic and brooding, but also a little smirky which makes him arrogant which makes me not quite take to him. I wonder if this is purposeful? It doesn’t fit. But he is not all good or all bad and that makes him interesting to watch. He owns slaves, but wants the emancipation paragraph left in the declaration. Those wacky patriots.

The Strings are Unstrung (“He plays the Violin”) song performed by Becca Easley as Jefferson’s wife Martha is sexually charged and it is great fun to see Adams and Franklin lusting after her. This seems to be the way the song was meant to be staged, and it is a wonder why it is not usually done this way.

What this production serves up is an environment where you fully expect the British troops to burst in and arrest them all any minute.

And that is exactly what 1776 needs to make it work, to grab you and not let go until the end.

I don't have a program so I cannot name all of the good actors one by one. Al Singer is great in multiple roles. As is the fellow who plays McNair. Hopkins from Rhode Island is is too young for his role, but Jason whoselastnameIcanneverremember pulls it off anyway with humor.

I won’t tell you how this one ends! But you should go see it yourself.

6:16 PM  

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