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.”
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂