Sit Down John – What I Like About the 1776 Musical

Last week on July the Fourth my mom and I sat down to watch 1776, a film adaption of the successful Broadway musical by the same name. It is has become a bit of a tradition for my mom and I to watch this film on or around America’s Independence Day. It is also is one of my top favorite musicals which is why I am talking about it on “A Few of my Favorite Things.”

1776-poster-artwork-william-daniels-howard-da-silva-ken-howard
1776 DVD cover (2002).

For those who are not familiar with this musical let me give a brief plot summary. The story focuses on John Adams as tries to get the Continental Congress to pass a resolution on independence in light of the state of war between the colonies and Great Britain. But Adams is rather “obnoxious and disliked” by many of his fellow members of Congress and quickly learns that only way to succeed in this goal is through the help of others, among them being Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. This ultimately leads to the creation of the most influential documents in U.S. and arguably World History; The Declaration of Independence.

1776-03
Good God! What in Hell are you waiting for?

I will be the first to admit that not everything in 1776 is historically accurate and I am sure some the founding fathers if they were alive to see it may take offense with how they were interpreted. However that is what you get when there two centuries separating these men from the script and song writers for this musical. Despite this Sherman Edwards did great adapting the writing of Peter Stone into an engaging musical that could be hilarious and serious at the same time. The actors, most of whom were from the original Broadway show run, were amazing and the actor that played John Adams is none other than William Daniels who would later be known for playing Mr. Feeny on Boy Meets World.

blog-daniels
So this guy…
william-daniels-mr-feeny-boy-meets-world
…is also this guy?

 

 

 

 

 

One of the most well known songs of the musical and probably the most entertaining is “The Lees of Old Virginia” where we formerly introduced to Richard Henry Lee who was responsible to proposing the resolution for independence. It is funny to see how may adjectives that ole Richard can add “Lee” to along with Benjamin Franklin’s encouragement and John Adams’ unamused countenance.

But my one of my favorite songs in the entire production would have to be “Molasses to Rum” which vividly portrays the concept of the Triangle Trade which those of us in the U.S. probably learned in history class. In this song South Carolina delegate Edward Rutledge points out the hypocrisy of the North over their opposition to slavery when they was just as responsible for the existence of the salve trade as much as the South. Actor John Cullum delivered such an amazing and haunting performance that has to be seen and heard in order to be appreciated. Because I am unable to find a video of that particular performance, I am only able to post the audio soundtrack from the film in order to give a taste of what it is like.

This film has seen it fair share of edits, including the original theatrical version from 1972, a laser disc version from 1991 and finally making its transition to DVD in 2002. The most complete version is from the 1991 laser disc which first included the song “Cool, Considerate Men” that was cut from the theatrical release as well as additional music and film sequences which made it run a total of 180 minutes or 3 hours. However Director’s Cut for the DVD shortened the length by 20 minutes which included cropping the song “Pwiddle, Twiddle and Resolve” to its original length from the 1972 release, which is a shame because it is a rather enjoyable sequence and it can be seen in its entirety down below.

Oh and another scene that was cropped was a reprise of “The Lees of Old Virginia that involve John Adams “falling” into a water fountain. Needless to say it is amusing.

Despite of the changes to its content over the years 1776 is one of the best musicals out there and it handles one the most important events in American history with depth as well as humor. Nowhere is this displayed more than with the songs between John Adams and his wife Abigail. The lyrics were inspired by actual letters that the couple wrote to each other around the time the musical is taking place adds a degree of authenticity to both characters.

By the way for those following my Facebook page here is an answer to the role of saltpeter in this movie.

In conclusion I would recommend this to anyone who would like to see a film that can make history fun as well as relatable, of course don’t take this musical interpretation of history as gospel. By all means look up the history for yourself and learn something new about the people who made the formation of the United States possible.

UPDATE (7/15/2016)

After posting this blog post I realized that “The Lees of Old Virginia” youtube video I had used included the extended reprise sequence in full glory. I did some digging and found out that they had release a Blu-ray edition in 2015 where there is an option to watch an extended cut of the movie. There is also extra audio commentary featuring William Daniels who played John Adams and the late Ken Howard who played Thomas Jefferson. Needless to say I know what to ask for Christmas now, that’s if I don’t purchase it myself sooner 🙂

Sources:

“1776: The Movie – 1776 Pioneer Special Edition Laserdisc”

“1776: The Movie – VHS vs. DVD”

July 4 Special Reissue Theory: “1776: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”

Advertisements

God & Country – Presenting Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom

On this day 240 years ago the Declaration of Independence was adopted after long weeks of deliberation within Continental Congress. On such an historic occasion I bet you thought I might look at something that honors the history of the United States. But that’s not what I am going to be looking at that today. Instead I will looking at the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he was presented in Focus on the Family Radio Theatre’s production, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Freedom.

975156_f450
Revised Cover circa 2007

Now I know what some might be thinking, why am I talking about a German theologian on America’s Independence Day. Why I am not talking about George Washington, John Adams or Thomas Jefferson? That will be revealed in time, but first a little personal history of how I was introduced to this audio drama.

51RyW98MtuL
Original Cover circa 1999

My family had purchased audios from Focus on the Family  before, mainly The Chronicles of Narnia which were being produced around the same time and I remember listening to The Cost of Freedom was when very young. I say that because I recall listening to it on cassette tapes, and that was a long…long…long time ago (sarcasm is hard to express via text). I don’t remember exactly how old was anymore, but looking at the release dates of the productions I was younger than 10. While it was not the norm for children our age and generation to be listening to audio drama, my brother and I were the exception. And it was thanks to the people at Focus on the Family that I was able to learn about the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

For those don’t know Bonhoeffer was German theologian and pastor, known for his resistance against Hitler and the Nazis regime. He paid the ultimate price and being executed only a month before Germany’s surrender to the Allies. The Cost of Freedom starts off with the allusion of the theologian’s death in which a military officer is heard stating the charges of Bonhoeffer’s treason and that the penalty for such an offense was death by hanging. After the pounding of a gavel, the sound the rope straining against the weight of suspended body can be heard. It is a sobering mental image to start off, and this knowledge remains in the back of the mind of the listener as they learn about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and how the events and influences of his life, both as boy and as an adult made him into the man he would become. All in all Focus on Family demonstrated excellent storytelling and the Peabody Award it received for this audio drama was well deserved.

One thing that remained with me till this day was conversation that occurred within the story between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the fictional character Philippe who was based off of French pacifist pastor Jean Lasserre whom Bonhoeffer interacted with in 1930-31 while he was at Union Theological Seminary in New York. It starts when Philippe calls into question Dietrich’s view of following both Christ and his Country, asking what he would do if his government were to condone something that would be contrary to Christianity.

“Imagine a situation where you have to choose between your government or your faith? Which do you choose? Are you a German first, or a Christian?”

Later after experiencing racial prejudice through being refused service at diner because his African American companion, he and Philippe continue their discussion. In this conversation Bonhoeffer expresses that if the situation he witnessed happened in Germany with blessing of the government, he as follower of Christ would have to speak out against such actions. He goes on to say,

“Our allegiance must be to the eternal, to Christ himself over and above all things. I am a Christian first and foremost, a German second. And I can only hope to God that the two will never oppose each other.”

While the conversation itself fictional, it does reflect events that took place as well as the beliefs of Bonhoeffer that can be found in his writings as well as actions.

Two days after Adolf Hilter was elected as Chancellor of Germany, Bonhoeffer gave a radio address entitled “The Young Generation’s Altered Concept of Leadership.” In it he introduced the idea of the Führer Principle which described the younger generation’s desire for a leader who could provide the authority to solve the problems their country was facing in the aftermath of the Great War aka WWI. But the authority was not derived by God but rather was derived from the leader which made him a messianic-like figure. As a result Bonhoeffer explains,

Thus the Leader points to the office, but Leader and office together point to the final authority itself, before which Reich or state are penultimate authorities. Leaders or offices which set themselves up as gods mock God and the individual who stand alone before him, and must perish. (Metaxas p. 142)

It can be said the Führer Principle is around even today, although it would have to be renamed the President Principle. Many in the U.S. look to the individual and the office of President to be the savior of the country’s problems. However no can fully put their faith into one person, because they have the potential to lead people astray. The people of Germany put their faith in Hitler and it led to the greatest atrocities the world had ever seen up until that time. As Christians we should respect authority, but we should also remember there is a heavenly authority that takes precedence. The greatest service anyone can do for one’s country is stand up for what’s right even if their country opposes them.

Dr. Karl-Hermann Muehlhaus summed it up best in his paper “True Patriotism- Aspects of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life and Theology” saying,

…(Dietrich Bonhoeffer) was truly German and loved his country very much, but even more he was a Christian, and his love to his country was qualified by his even greater love to God who has revealed himself in Christ, and by his belonging to the universal church, the body of Christ, which comprises all nations, peoples and races. (p. 1)

Know that that true hope of those who profess faith in Christ is not found in political leaders, but in the God of the universe.

“This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance (and for this we labor and strive), that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe.” (I Timothy 4:9-10)

Sources:

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

“Patriotism and the Führer Principle” by Walker Wright

http://presentdaypatriot.blogspot.com/2012/01/patriotism-and-fuhrer-principle.html

“True Patriotism- Aspects of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life and Theology” by Dr. Karl-Hermann Muehlhaus

https://www.academia.edu/13105152/True_Patriotism_-_Aspects_of_Dietrich_Bonhoeffer_s_Life_and_Theology

Blast from the Past – Looking Back at Quo Vadis

When I searching through some forgotten folders on my computer, I found a series of Word documents that I had written almost 10 years ago. It was the very short lived series of newsletters that I wrote in the summer of 2007 entitled History Plus Literature Monthly; in each issue dating from July to September, I would focus particular historical fiction novel where I researched the historical period it took place as well as review/summarize the novel itself. Since I have discussed topics relating to more recent movies in my past two blogs, I thought I switch up and take a look at the book in my first issue of my newsletter: Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz…don’t ask me how to pronounce it.

3753241222_32bfc1be26_b
An Altemus Edition of Quo Vadis from 1897.

As I looked back at my amateur newsletter, besides thinking how scary it is that this document was written close to 10 years ago I noticed thought how simplistic it was. It consists of three pages: the first page I gave the historical background in which the novel was set, the second I summarized the novel itself, and the final page I complied a Works Cited or bibliography if you will. Having reread it again I then decided to research additional information that I might have left out.

75o145a
“Quo vadis?” “Romam eo iterum crucifigi.”

Title of the book comes from the Latin phrase which means, “Where are you going?” The phrase has significance within the Christian tradition as being the words that Apostle Peter asks when he encounters Christ as he was fleeing from Rome to escape the coming persecution. In response Jesus replied, “I am going to Rome to be crucified again.” This then gives Peter the courage to return to the city and to continue his ministry until he is martyred by upside-down crucifixion. This story found within apocryphal resource known as Acts of Peter (Actus Petri cum Simone) was among the many resources that Sienkiewicz used as he wrote his novel.

It was because of Quo Vadis that Henryk Sienkiewicz received the Nobel Prize for Literature ten years after it was published. Not only that but the book was a bestseller, and was adapted into other forms of media throughout the years. First a stage play in 1900, then it was adapted into film 4 times in 1901, 1912, 1924, and 1951, and it was also made into 2 miniseries in 1985 and 2001. The 1951 film adaption was nominated for 8 Academy Awards in the same year for Best Motion Picture, Best Supporting Actor twice (Leo Genn & Peter Ustinov), Best Dramatic Score, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Costume Design, and Best Film Editing. This demonstrates the quality of the story; while there are elements that are fictional the main focus on development of early Christianity is pretty accurate.

Poster - Quo Vadis (1951)_03
Poster for 1951 film adaption of Quo Vadis.

To close I will give a brief summarization Quo Vadis. It takes place during around the time of the Roman persecution of Christians by Roman Emperor Nero, following the unfolding love story between Roman commander Marcus Vinicius and a Christian woman named Lygia. Through Vinicius, the readers are guided through the worlds of Roman society and as well as the early Christian community. Unlike my previous reviews I will not spoil any further, because I would recommend you read or watch the story for yourself. It actually has been awhile since I read the book myself. Perhaps I might refresh my memory and enjoy the experience all over again.

Sources:

24th Academy Awards

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/24th_Academy_Awards

Acts of Peter

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Acts_of_Peter

Quo vadis?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quo_vadis%3F

Quo Vadis (1951 film)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quo_Vadis_(1951_film)